How To Be A Better Public Speaker

Unless you have the uber ego of Donald Trump, you'd probably do everything in your power to get out of having to speak in front of a large crowd. But most of us will find ourselves on display behind a microphone at some point, so to keep you from blowing it, get familiar with these 13 simple tricks.

1. Admit you’re nervous

Don’t be afraid to freak out. Try clenching your fists, breathing deeply, and standing confidently to help curb your nervous energy and anxiety beforehand; doing so will subconsciously calm you down. It’s also not a bad idea to admit to the crowd up front that you’re nervous; it invites empathy and can make you feel more comfortable.

2. Make mistakes intentionally 

This psychological trick, like admitting you’re nervous up front, can also induce empathy in the crowd. “Accidentally” drop your notes, or fiddle around with the PowerPoint slides as if they’re out of order. It seems counterintuitive, but it will also work to keep the crowd engaged.

3. Redefine your audience

Don’t imagine everyone in front of you is naked or that they’re all just friendly pigs, because that’s absurd. Instead, change how you see them in a more meaningful way: maybe they’re fellow students who are all equally nervous because they’ll be presenting after you, or they’re a bunch of old friends whose vaguely familiar faces are watching you with nothing but support.

4. Always run short 

The last thing you want is a restless crowd. If you’re scheduled for 30 mins, shoot for 20-25. People are more likely to walk away with your message when it’s presented tightly and quickly.

5. Visual aids are your friends

Even if what you’re discussing doesn’t necessitate aids, bring in something to display beside or behind you. When people are given something other than you to look at up there, you’ll feel more comfortable. However, don't look up at them yourself—keep an eye on your laptop or memorize what's on them so the presented information appears like a seamless extension of your brain.

6. Repeat yourself

Repeating key phrases once or twice is a great way to reinforce important points, and repeating audience questions will not only give you an extra minute to come up with a good response, but also ensure everyone else hears it, and gives the effect that you’re especially engaged.

7. Know your speech

This sounds obvious, but it's crucial that you're very, very familiar with your remarks. That means practicing it several times or even memorizing it if you can, all while paying particular attention to your pacing. Most people talk in a slower and more stilted manner in front of people compared to how they would in casual conversation. Practicing will keep you from seeming stiff up there.

8. Control your pauses

If you find yourself pausing for any reason, hold it for at least 10 seconds. Pauses of two to three seconds make it seem as though you’re stumbling, while a long one seems intentional and will catch even the most uninterested peoples’ attention. 

9. Create contingency plans

Nothing will throw you off your game like a (non-accidental) PowerPoint fail. Identify a couple of your biggest “what if?” fears and create backup plans. If they do happen you’ll look like a rock up there, but even more importantly it will put you at ease throughout and boost confidence.

10. Speak to one person at a time

Direct your focus on a particular person for each section of your speech, especially if that person has just asked you a question. Not only will it slightly distract you from the sea of other faces staring up at you, but it’ll make the experience feel more personal for everyone.

11. Make it personal

To make what you’re saying more memorable, experts recommend adding personal anecdotes. Whether it’s a funny story or a personal opinion you have about something, it’ll get peoples’ attention and make you seem like more than just some dude pontificating up on the dais.

12. Blow off steam beforehand

Burn off that cortisol that’s causing your jitters by exercising beforehand, and eating a protein-packed snack an hour or so before to boost mental alertness.

13. Pay attention to your body

Stand up straight with broad shoulders and your arms loose; it’ll help to subconsciously boost your confidence.

Joe McGauley is a senior editor at Supercompressor who very much prefers private speaking.

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