What is the first thing that comes up for you when you think about addressing a group of people, whether it is a wedding toast, a speech to a live audience at a music performance or a presentation at your local charity?
If the answer is “fear” or “dread”, you are not alone! Fear of public speaking or glossophobia is common. And why? Many people feel judged when they have to address an audience, thinking that they do not have anything valid to say or that they do not know enough to share about it. Others believe that they have to be “perfect” when making a speech and fear that they will miss the mark. And for those who are not comfortable in social situations, having to address a group only exacerbates the fears. This translates into nervousness while delivering a speech, further feeding the feelings of humiliation and failure.
Public speaking is a skillset that can be taught!
Let’s take a closer look at how you can improve your ability to speak to an audience.
For starters, think about what a speech really is: an exchange between you and a live audience where you have a purpose to your speech and the audience has its own expectations of what they would like to experience.It helps to know that audiences are not there to judge you! Your job in making a speech is:
- to shape your content from your own experience and knowledge; and
- deliver it in such a way that your audience will learn something and/or be inspired to take some new action.
So here are my top tips that can help you to overcome your fears in order to craft and deliver a great speech.
Tips for Crafting a Great Speech
1. Know Your Audience
Step one is to think about your audience. Who are they? What is their age and life experience? What do they expect from your speech?
When speaking to audiences before a live performance, remember that they are there to experience something special. Your speech can enhance the quality of that experience. How old are the audience members? What is their level of familiarity with the work of art? Your speech will be different if your audience is a group of public school children, a university audience or a general classical music audience.
2. Share from your Personal Experience
When crafting a speech, be sure to tell a story since people love stories.
Audiences relate to speakers who are able to share about their personal challenges and stories because we have all been there and it creates common bond. Your audience will appreciate hearing how you learned to love a piece of music even though you did not understand it at first because many people are intimidated by classical music and it is a relief to hear from an experienced musician that you too were initially baffled by a work.
3. Speak from the Heart
Many people are intimidated to speak in public because they believe that they have nothing to say. Yet we all have a life experience and know certain things to be true. As the amazing 23-year old slam poet Sarah Kay shared in her TED talk, no matter what your level of experience, there are things that you know to be true. And when you share from your heart, you are connecting to your passions and you can overcome your fears of speaking to the public.
And be sure to share your passions because passion is infectious and will inspire your audience!
Tips for Preparing to Give Your Speech
1. Prepare your Remarks
Once you have considered who is in your audience and what you can share about from your personal experience, write down your thoughts. You may want to journal about your speech, come up with an outline or create a series of bullet points. If you prefer, you can write out your speech (I do this!).
Practice delivering your speech before the presentation date. If you have written out your speech, try memorizing key portions so that you do not have to read from your text. If you have written an outline or made bullet points, say your speech out loud so that you know what to say.
3. Pay Attention to Tone and Body Language
Giving a speech involves three different aspects of communication:
- The words, i.e., the content of your speech
- Your tone of voice
- Your body language
Your goal is to minimize distracting body tics and unnatural tone, which might undercut the effectiveness of your delivery.
To gain awareness of your tone and body language, practice your speech in front of the mirror to see yourself in action.
How and where do you place your hands? Practice keeping your arms and hands in a comfortable position and reduce unnecessary movement.
What is your posture like? Aim to be relaxed and stand upright rather than slumping over.
Be aware of nervous tics like “um” “ok” and work on reducing them.
Pay attention to your inflection and make it a goal to sound conversational.
4. Use Visualization
Visualization is a technique that can help you to overcome some of the fear of delivering a speech. There are two different ways to do this.
One technique is to visualize giving a great speech. Imagine yourself finishing your speech and stepping off the platform or the stage to thunderous applause. What helped you to do that?
Another visualization technique that helps some people is to run through all the potential disaster scenarios and devise with strategies to overcome the challenges so that you will be prepared with solutions to these obstacles.
Tips for Delivering Your Speech
1. Draw the Audience In
On the day of the speech, remember that audiences are there to learn from you, not to judge you. Your objective is to share your experience and passion and draw the audiences in.
Use a conversational tone and control your body tics (which if you have practiced should be a lot easier!). Be sure that your body language is relaxed and welcoming. Do not read from your remarks and use your bullet points. Refer to your notes as needed during the speech.
In order to make people feel that you are speaking them individually, make eye contact with your audience members. Depending on the space that you are in, walk around the room.
2. Be Yourself
Speak from your point of view and use your personal approach by playing to your strengths and inspiring yourself to be the best version of yourself. Then, use these two confidence-boosters: Strengths and Flow:
- Tap into your strengths
If you are an intellectual, share your knowledge. If you are known for your humor, be sure to add that in! If your strengths are in relating to other people, public speaking is an opportunity for you to use those people skills on a larger scale.
- Channel yourself at Flow
FLow is the elevated state of energy where you are at your best. Remind yourself of what you are like in Flow which can help you overcome your fears and project the best, more authentic and confident version of yourself.
3. Think “Service”
Finally, think about being of service to your audience since service can help to override fear. By thinking about what the audience needs and how you can help them, not only can this help you to overcome your fears but it will also tell your audience that they matter. This is a great way to establish a connection with your audience!
Public speaking can be fun when you master these principles and put them to use. So zero in on what aspect of public speaking is the biggest challenge for you and then commit to taking the actions that will help you to be an effective public speaker.