Networking, presentations, client pitches, reports to the Board, conference presentations, even interviewing for a new job – they all require some form of public speaking.
Simon Scriver, from Toastmasters International, has seven basic rules to help you speak well, confidently and without giving a hint of the nerves you may be feeling:
1. Don't apologise
People generally only notice your mistakes when you draw attention to them. Don't tell people you've forgotten something...they don't know that. Just take a pause, have a drink of water, and move on.
2. Speak slower
You're almost certainly speaking too fast. Slow down a bit. And a little bit more. Perfect.
3. Speak to the back of the room
If you're projecting your voice to the back of the room then you know everyone can hear you. If people need to strain even the tiniest bit to hear you, then you'll lose them immediately.
The pause is one of the most effective tools in public speaking. It emphasises the point you just made. It allows your audience to digest information. It grabs people's attention. It allows you to compose yourself and remember what's next.
Don't be afraid to pause...even for 10 or 15 seconds - it feels a lot longer to you than to your audience.
5. Look at your audience
Don't look at the slides behind you - have a copy in front of you so that you never turn your back. Don't look at the floor. Don't look at the walls. Try and take the time to make eye contact with every person in the room. Even if you only make eye contact once, an audience member will come away feeling as though you spoke directly to them.
6. Remember your audience wants you to do well
They're there because they want to learn and want to be entertained. Even if they were forced to attend, they still want to get the most out of it. They want you to succeed. They are on your side...even if it doesn't feel like it.
We often only speak to an audience during the most important and stressful events of our life. So, take the time to practice in situations where there is less pressure: practice on groups of co-workers or your cats, join Toastmasters, or get 121 coaching from a professional.
I can’t emphasise how important practice is.
Putting myself in a public speaking scenario weekly has made a huge difference to my own ability and my own confidence. Within a few short years I’ve gone from a petrified speaker to a paid, professional public speaker. I love it. I don’t lose sleep at night. And I can handle it when things go wrong.
Practice is the key to being able to cope when there is unexpected chaos. If you know what you’re doing, then a ‘problem’ won’t throw you. And knowing you can cope does wonders for your confidence.
For example, I was recently at an event waiting to be introduced. I took a sip of water and…oh, no…spilled water all down the front of my trousers.
Now five years ago the notion of getting up in front of a room full of strangers with a wet patch on my trousers would have sent me running for the fire exit. Not anymore…now it was a mild inconvenience that turned in to a great speech opener with an easy laugh from the audience!
So, what would you do if disaster struck? Practising your speech and some ‘back up plans’ will get you out of trouble time and again – build your confidence and ensure you never waste a public speaking opportunity.
By Simon Scriver, Toastmasters International is a nonprofit educational organisation that teaches public speaking and leadership skills through a worldwide network of meeting locations. Headquartered in Rancho Santa Margarita, California, the organisation’s membership exceeds 313,000 in more than 14,650 clubs in 126 countries. Since 1924, Toastmasters International has helped people of all backgrounds become more confident in front of an audience. There are nearly 300 clubs in the UK and Ireland with over 7000 members. Find your local club. Follow on Twitter.