The Scary Art of Public Speaking
Public speaking can be one of your greatest assets as a professional. After all, you are a capable, experienced professional in your chosen field. Why wouldn’t you be able to address a crowd for a few minutes and explain to them a skill or project you spend at least 40 hours a week working towards perfecting. Piece of cake, right? Wrong. Wrong. Wrong.
The phrase “public speaking” makes our knees turn to Jell-o, we forget what our last name is, and we proceed to revert to a toddler hiding under our desk until our obligations go away. Now that we’ve admitted how scary public speaking can seem, let’s do something about it. After all, hiding from something scary, never actually makes it go away.
We’ve gathered some great tips and resources to get you through your next presentation, and hopefully, prepare you for many public speaking engagements down the road.
SLOW DOWN & LOWER YOUR PITCH
Who is the most memorable narrator you can think of in cinema? Morgan Freeman. There is a good reason why he has narrated the voice of God in multiple movies. His slow, deep voice gives off a tone of incredible authority. He could read the phone book and fascinate his audience.
Then there’s the rest of us. We start a presentation, our voice gets progressively faster, our pitch climbs higher. Suddenly we sound like we’re thirteen again.
If you want to captivate your audience, slow down and speak in lower tones. Your audience is hearing your material for the first time. They need time to hear, understand, and digest the information. If they can’t hear you or understand you, the presentation has the potential to go nowhere fast.
Our first inclination when we end up in front of a crowd is to stare down at our notes, start reading, and hold onto the podium for dear life until it’s over. Audiences, however, are much more engaged with speakers who are not dependent on notes, who use their hands, and who don’t stay behind the podium. I know, I know – the idea of wandering anywhere beyond your one square foot of space sounds horrible. That podium is the only thing hiding the fact that your knees and hands are shaking. Moving beyond the podium, however, allows the audience to feel like they are engaging in a conversation with you – not just listening to your lecture.
As cliché as it may sound, stand up straight and smile. Your mother was right when she drilled this into your head as a child. Your voice is much stronger and you look more confident when you’re standing up straight and not slouching over.
KNOW YOUR AUDIENCE
Personal stories, jokes, and cultural references resonate differently with different audiences. Your joke about the Kardashians could definitely fall flat when speaking to a group of Harvard professors. Along those same lines, if you’re speaking to a group of junior high students, they may not pick up on a reference to Watergate, Johnny Carson, or The Beatles. Take the time to research and learn a little bit about your audience before speaking to them.
It’s also important to know your own strengths and weaknesses. Are you naturally funny and witty or is trying to inject too much humor into your speech only going to seem awkward?
If this is your first run at public speaking, don’t commit to a 30 minute speech. You know your capabilities and personal experiences. Use that knowledge to improve your experience and your potential audience’s experience.
There’s a famous saying, “The expert at anything was once a beginner”. No one is born with a microphone in his or her hand, and even the best public speakers were once standing behind a podium with palms sweating and knees shaking. The only way to improve is to practice. Don’t shy away from speaking publicly. View it as an opportunity to learn and improve. The more you do this, the more you will perfect your skills.