7 Keys to Successful Public Speaking

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The year was 2001. I was asked to give a “toast” at my sister’s wedding; I reluctantly agreed to do so.

The wedding day came and the wedding ceremony seemed to go by in a flash. Before I knew it, I was the next person to speak. My arm pits began to sweat profusely. I felt a cold chill run down my spine. I began to think of the thousands of the things that could go wrong. My heart started to pump blood as if my life was in imminent danger. I thought: “Why am I so nervous!”

Have you ever felt this way? There was a time when I would literally “recoil” at the thought of speaking in front of an audience. I even had trouble saying my name in front of a small crowd. Now, however, after following the tips below, I have come to love speaking in public. I created this guide for people who “don’t” speak regularly, but who want to look “professional” when they are required to speak in public.

1. Read From Your Notes

It’s okay and it’s a whole lot better than fumbling around. Just remember to look-up often and make good eye contact. If you think about it, this is how the President of the United States conducts many speeches.

Reading your speech is like using “training wheels.” In other words, it’s very difficult to fall off a bike with “training wheels” and it will be very difficult to mess up a speech if you read it.

Note: Write your speech with clear headlines or bullets so it’s easy to follow. Also, write your speech on relatively small pieces of paper (or 3×5 cards), unless you have a “podium” to place the speech. Why? Because it may look awkward if you’re holding several full size sheets of paper in your hand while reading your speech.

2. Take Control

Ask an opening question or use humor to take control of the audience when you commence your speech. The first 15 seconds of your speech is crucial, if you can take control of the audience in the first 15 seconds, you’ll be fine after that.

You can safely do this by asking the audience a “fun” question. This puts “you” in-control and takes your mind away from being nervous. It also transfers some of the nervous energy from “you” to the audience; the audience is now awaiting “your” approval to see if they’ve answered the question correctly. [Note: Don’t make the question too difficult, or no one will respond.]

Use your nervous energy to excite the audience by “acting” like you’re excited, ride your “nerves” like a wave. Don’t let the nervous energy toss you into the water, think of your “nerves” as a good thing, something that will make your speech great. Nervousness is like electricity (its energy), and when it’s controlled it will allow you to give amazing speeches.

Once you get more advanced you can use “humor.” Humor not only relaxes the audience, but it also relaxes you. Don’t be afraid to open up with an appropriate clean “joke.” If no one laughs, just make it your last joke for that speech.

What else can you say?

You can complement the audience, ask them to raise their hand, or stand-up and stretch; get the audience involved and keep them involved through-out the “entire” speech. Remember: you have to take control of the room. If you involve your audience in your speech, they will enjoy what you have to say (as long as it’s not too long and boring). Give them 3-5 main keys, because it’s all most people can remember anyway.

3. Practice

Practicing, of course, is the obvious thing to do, so make sure you do it! Practice in a mirror so you know how you look. Practice with someone staring at you as to re-create an uncomfortable speaking situation.

If you’ve practiced enough, you should be able to quote a majority of your speech, this way you won’t have to read every single word of the speech.

Practice at least once in the same room you’ll be speaking in, if possible. This will be helpful, but is not necessary.

Practice, but don’t over prepare. In other words, don’t take yourself too seriously. Remember: you’ll be just fine, you’re just going to be reading some notes; it’s nothing to be nervous about.

Also, never apologize for being an amateur speaker, often when you’re nervous the audience won’t even notice. Don’t give the audience something to look for by saying, “I’m sorry, but I’m very, very nervous!”.

4. Dress for Success

You will feel better about yourself and you will perform at your best, if you look your best. A sharp and neat appearance breeds confidence; the audience will see that confidence and respond accordingly.

Note: It’s always better to be over-dressed compared to under-dressed when you’re speaking. Be sure to dress as good as you want your speech to be (although a “tuxedo” at family re-union “picnic” is probably overkill).

5. Speak Slowly and Clearly, and Make Eye Contact

If you speak slowly and clearly you’ll sound more profound and less nervous.

If you make eye contact you’ll further engage the audience, so be sure to do it.

Note: If you have time, talk to a few folks in the audience before you begin your speech. This will calm you down and assist you when it’s time to make eye contact with individuals in the audience (you may even decide to call out someone’s name, if applicable and appropriate).

6. Be Yourself

Act like you’re talking to your friends; know that people want you to do well. Don’t fear how you’re going to look, you’ll be just fine!

What should you do about the nerves?

When your heart is beating seemingly “out-of-your-chest,” and they’re about to call your name to speak, decide to use that nervous energy to your advantage: Take all of that nervous energy and use it as excitement. The key is to “act” like you’re not scared. Fake-it until you make-it, go up there and say, “How’s everybody doing!” No one will even notice you’re nervous. Then ask an opening question, soon you’ll have the audience “eating out of your hands” and the nervousness will be gone. Now all you have to do is: be yourself, plant your feet, and use natural hand expressions…

7. Say That You Love “Public Speaking,” and Visualize Yourself Doing Well

Don’t say that you hate public speaking; say that you “love it” until you convince yourself that you do. Also, visualize yourself doing well, and see people congratulating you afterwards on a job well done. “If you can see it, then you can have it.”

In Closing

Follow these keys and you’ll do great. The nervousness that comes from thinking you will be perceived in a negative way will dissipate. You will recognize that FEAR (False Evidence Appearing Real) can’t stop you. You will be prepared, you will look great, you will be great!

You’ll have your notes; you’ll be poised and impressive, so let me be the first to congratulate you on a job well done!

FAQ: Should I use “Bullets” or “Write-Out” my entire speech? Use bullets if you’re familiar with the topic, write-out the speech if you’re not.