1. Preparation is everythingHopefully, it goes without saying that you should thoroughly prepare what you’re going to say. Yes, there are people who can give an entire speech off the cuff, but for the rest of us mere mortals, we need to think through what we want to include. Practice giving your speech – ideally in front of an audience, if you can co-opt a family member or friend to sit and listen to you. That way you can get useful feedback.
2. Give them what they wantA best man’s speech at a wedding shouldn’t be the same as a formal presentation at a board meeting. Set the tone. If it’s a speech to a group of friends and relatives, use informal language, include a few jokes and reminiscences – your main purpose is to entertain. On the other hand, a progress report to the board of directors needs to be formal and to the point. Establish the key points you are trying to convey and emphasise these with concise sentences, backed up with a few significant facts, figures and examples.
3. Equipment? Check.If at all possible, get into the room before your audience in time to make sure everything is in working order. If you are giving a PowerPoint presentation, make sure you know how the projector works, how to move on to the next slide, and check you can open your presentation. If you will be using a microphone, run through your presentation using it so you can get used to the acoustics.
4. Take a breathYou can spot a nervous speaker by the way they start speaking as they’re walking up to the lectern, their notes still in their clammy hands. It will feel like the longest silence ever, but keep your mouth shut! Just walk quietly up to the lectern, get your notes arranged, then face your audience. Take a breath, smile, make eye contact…then begin. This will communicate that you are in charge of the situation and completely confident.
5. Pause. Often.The temptation is to gabble your way through your talk at top speed, so that you get it over with as soon as possible. Don’t. Give your audience a chance to process what you’re saying. After each key point, make sure you leave a gap. This will create the subliminal message that what you just said was important, and will generate anticipation for the next point.
6. Watch my faceIt’s one of the hardest things to do for an inexperienced speaker, but look your audience in the eye. If you look at the floor, first of all you will mumble and nobody will hear you, plus you look unconvincing – think of a five-year-old claiming she didn’t take that chocolate biscuit from the cupboard. If you unwaveringly fix your eyes on your notes, your audience will think you haven’t prepared. Pick a member of the audience, look them in the eye and address your first sentence or two to them. Glance at your notes, then move your gaze on and pick somebody else for the next couple of sentences, and so on.
7. Go with the flowYes, you should plan what you want to say. But if you get a question from the audience half-way through your prepared speech, don’t be tempted to defer the questions to the end of your presentation. A question means you are engaging your audience – great! Go with it, answer their point, then try to bring your talk back on track. If you were going to cover their point in a few minutes, then skip ahead to that slide – you can come back to the ones you missed out afterwards.
8. Know your stuffFollowing on from the point above – if you are going to feel confident deviating from your word-perfect prepared speech, you need to know what you’re talking about! Make sure you do your research and know your topic and what you’d like to say about it. You will not feel confident if you go up to the lectern thinking ‘I hope they don’t ask about X!’ Instead, plan ahead – if they do ask about X, how will you handle it?
9. Leave them wanting moreKnow how long your presentation is supposed to take, and don’t go over your allotted time. You may feel you cannot adequately cover everything expected of you in the time allowed, but do not be tempted to overrun. Better to tell your audience “There is a lot more to say about this topic, but I’m afraid I haven’t time to cover it today” rather than have them covertly looking at their watches and phones wishing you’d shut up! If you have prepared properly, you will have decided in advance which bits of information you have time to cover, and what depth of detail you can go into.
10. Be memorableEven if it’s only a few minute’s presentation, give your talk a structure to help people remember your key messages. A great way to do this is: Tell them what you’re going to tell them. Tell them. Then tell them what you told them! In other words, outline the key points. Then expand on these – the ‘meat’ of your talk. Conclude with a summary. It’s the way trainee teachers are taught to structure their lessons, and it works by focussing your audience on what you are trying to communicate.
Most people feel uncomfortable with public speaking, but follow these tips and your presentation should go off without a hitch. Good luck!