Public speaking is a significant part of my job, but it still terrifies me – wherever possible I use a lectern, just to hide my visibly shaking knees from the audience! But there are a few tricks I have developed over the years that have helped me pull off some great speeches… despite the internal meltdown that is simultaneously occurring!
I believe that memorising your speech is the single most important thing you can do.
Growing up, I was a good public speaker, but not the best. I wasn’t the funniest, or the cleverest or the most confident, and yet I would always make an impression on those listening to me. What set me apart from my peers was that I would memorise my speech – no palm cards! Yes, this took a little extra time and effort, but it was worth it. By not having to glance down at my hand-held notes every three seconds I was able to maintain consistent eye contact with my audience. It also made me appear more professional and confident than I actually was!!
Memorising your speech may seem daunting and unachievable, but take it from someone who can’t even remember what they had for dinner last night – it can be done if you are prepared to practice! I use the twenty-minute drive to work to rehearse my speech each day in the lead-up to a presentation. This works really well because there is no way of cheating and checking your script without causing a horrific car crash.
Now that you aren’t awkwardly holding onto those palm cards, you are free to move your arms around in all sorts of interesting ways. Hand gestures make you look professional. Because let’s face it, if your hands can move to the rhythm of your words, then you must know what you are talking about!
Keeping your hands held stiffly at your side seems unnatural. Think about how you speak when telling a story to friends – then, let your arms and hands move in that same natural way when in front of an audience.
There is a fine line, of course – you don’t want to do a K Rudd! He had the right idea, but tended to go a little over-the-top at times. You want your hands to emphasise what you are saying, not draw attention away from what you are saying!
3. Visualise… my dad
When I was younger, my dad would regularly come along to support me at various public speaking competitions. The one biggest criticism he would have afterwards was that I spoke too fast. I spoke too fast in general (still do, if I’m honest) but put me up on stage in front of a group of people and I would whizz through my speech like – well, like something that goes really fast. My dad was determined to fix this. He would sit at the back of the room while I was presenting, and whenever my eyes met his, he would give me an indication of how I was going. Every now and then, I got two thumbs up. But more often than not, I saw his two hands slowly moving downwards: that universal symbol to “slow down.” At first this would completely distract me, and I would stumble over the sentence I was in the middle of… but after awhile it started to work. I would see his hands moving, and intuitively slow down my speaking speed.
Ever since then, no matter where I am speaking, I can see my dad at the back of the room, gesturing his hand downwards. It is this mental image that keeps me in check, and forces me to focus on my speaking speed, and slow down if necessary.
Now, I understand it may not be possible for you to visualise my dad! But if you can keep this story in the back of your mind nonetheless, it may just be what you need to remind yourself to slow down.
Talking too fast is one of the biggest giveaways that you are not a confident speaker. If you can find something that encourages you to speak at a regular, conversational pace, then your performance will be all the better for it!
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