10 Tips to Improve Public Speaking Skills
When I ask my audiences their number one challenge with public speaking, they overwhelmingly say, “to overcome the fear of public speaking.” It's okay to have "butterflies.” The key is how to get them organized, focused and flying in formation. Here are 10 tips for delivering a more powerful, persuasive presentation. Practice these techniques consistently to improve public speaking skills.
195% of your success is determined before the presentation. Your audience will know if you didn't rehearse. Rehearsing, or “rehearing” yourself minimizes 75% of your nervousness. Rehearse standing up, or better yet, ask someone to videotape you. The camera will be your most objective ally. The more comfortable you become with your material via rehearsing, the more comfortable you will be with your body language.
2Either memorize or “know cold” your opener and close. Two minutes each for an opener and a close is enough. The most important thing your audience will remember is your closing. Second most important thing they'll remember is your opener. Start with something attention grabbing, like a quote or statistic, which relates to your topic. Never start with, “Good Morning.” It is obvious and boring.
3Public Speaking: 24 hours before your presentation:
A. Have a quiet dinner with a quiet friend. (This may or may not be your spouse!) You won’t be as concerned about your public speaking skills if you can put your nervous system on glide.
B. The evening before, put your presentation on audiocassette as background noise one hour before retiring. Listen to your opener and close before bedtime as a review.
C. No massive changes 24 hours before. Nothing increases the fear of public speaking more than rewritting your material at the last minute. Impromptu speeches notwithstanding.
D. Visualize your presentation going smoothly and successfully. All Olympic athletes use this technique, and it works with public speaking as well.
E. Review your notes and visual aids the evening before. Your notes should only be “fast food for the eyes” in bullet form, and are NEVER read to the audience.
F. Eat a good high protein breakfast the morning of your presentation. Even if you're not speaking until that evening, feed your mind and body the proper fuel.
4Before your presentation, check yourself in a full-length mirror. A dear friend of mine forgot to do this. During her keynote speech in front of hundreds, someone quietly pointed out that her skirt was tucked into her pantyhose!
5Public speaking and purpose: When organizing your talk, define your purpose. Why are you there? Why are they there? Is this a sales presentation? A community watch group? If you present technical information, is this an information/knowledge transfer or a decision briefing? When presenting technical information make certain not to overload your audience with too much detail, or too much on each slide. Tailor your message. Define your objective.
6Know your audience before designing your opener and close. It is imperative that you “speak the language” of your audience. What are their ages? Percentage of males/females? Are they highly technical or non-technical? Do they want to be there or is this mandatory? What are their expectations? If you are a scientist or engineer, speak to the “lowest common denominator.” Technical presenters have a propensity to use a lot of technical jargon. Does the person in charge of funding understand the language?
7Avoid using too many slides. Visual aids are wonderful tools as long as they're used to enhance the information. A common mistake is using the visual aids as the presentation. Look at the audience frequently to establish rapport and a connection. In almost every presentation, you are there to “sell” them not simply “tell” them. Do not look at your visual aids other than a quick glance, and never read them. Never turn your back on the audience to read slides. They will not look at your slides. Their minds will start to wander. Remember, you are your own best visual aid.
8Good public speaking skills mean being prepared. As the saying goes, prior planning prevents predictably poor performance. Planning and preparation will reduce nervousness 75%. Again, your audience will know if you didn't rehearse. Consider hiring a public speaking coach. The dollars invested may well be worth their weight in gold.
9The Q & A period and how to handle a hostile audience. The second most frequent comment I hear in my public speaking seminars is “What if they ask a question and I don't know the answer?" Or, “What if someone in the audience is a know-it-all and doesn't like me?” Avoid being argumentative. If you don't know the answer, ask if someone in the audience has the answer. Or, simply let them know when you will get back to them. Make certain you do. When you lie you die. It destroys your credibility.
10 Variety and venue. Variety serves as a “wake up call” to your audience. Examples of adding variety: humor, relevant stories, quotes, voice inflection, paired and group activities, pauses, audience participation in the question and answer period, and slides or other multimedia. As for your venue, are your visual aids appropriate to your size of audience? Will everyone be able to see them?
Lastly, make sure to confirm the time, date, and place with the appropriate contact person. If possible, arrange to see the room ahead of time so you can practice visualizing in the exact location of your presentation. At the minimum, arrive at least one hour ahead of time. To improve public speaking skills, and overcome nervousness, nothing works like being prepared.