How to Speak Confidently in Public: 7 Tips for Eloquence From a Formerly Shy Person
Speaking eloquently is well nigh impossible when you're self-conscious. The first time I recall having trouble speaking in public was for an Oral Communications class when I was a teenager, and I was so terrified, I could hardly breathe. Alas, I never did manage to get the trick of relaxing while speaking to a high school audience. But by the time I was working as a customer service supervisor, I felt like an old pro. Between childhood and then I learned how to speak confidently in front of an audience...facilitate meetings...give good-bye speeches that made people laugh and training presentations without collapsing in a heap at the foot of the podium. The tricks that helped me learn were not new, but they worked. Here are tips and strategies that helped me to speak more eloquently and confidently in public.
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Tips for Public Speaking
Big Words Do Not Equal Big Speech.
Don't worry about your vocabulary. You can be eloquent without having an elaborate vocabulary, and misusing a word not normally in your natural vocabulary won't impress anyone. What you should worry about is clarity. Say what you mean. Say it exactly. Say it simply.
In Public Speaking, Notes Aren't Cheating.
Write out your speech ahead of time, either in the form of an outline, notes or an exact transcript of every single darn word--whatever helps you best while you're speaking in public. If the public speaking you're doing isn't a speech, but more interactive, then research your topic thoroughly so you're not floundering for something to say.
Rehearse Till You're Hoarse.
Practice. Practice. Practice so much you practically have your speech memorized and wake up the morning before the speech saying sleepily, "In conclusion...". Practice in front of somebody who'll offer you honest feedback. Don't worry about getting the words precisely as you have them written; worry about communicating your meaning to your audience.
Easy, There. You're Really Just a Dot in the Universe.
Relax. Don't worry. Don't be nervous. There's no reason to be self-conscious. Sure, you're going to be the center of attention for a while. But honestly, even if you hear yourself stuttering, hesitating or sounding like a total dodo, you're likely the only one noticing. And there's something else.
A big lightbulb went off one day in my head years ago: Don't aim to entertain. That's too high-pressure. Aim to bore. That's attainable. You can bore people in your sleep.
Boring an audience is not hard, believe me. Most people are intensely bored by speeches, meetings, training sessions, etc. They couldn't care less about you or what you have to say, and however avidly they seem to be watching you, they're really only tapping their feet, waiting for a chance to light into their tuna melt.
They'll perk up and get interested in only one of two scenarios: Either you say something fascinating and show fabulous charisma, or you sound so nervous they start watching you to see if you'll literally turn blue right there on stage. There's a far greater chance that you'll become a charismatic orator right there at your podium if you're relaxed.
Never Be Fake. Always Be Real.
Use conversational language. When you take questions, if you don't know the answer, don't be a politician and hedge around. Say, "I don't know, but that's a good question. Let me get back to you with the answer. Or--hey, anyone else have an idea?" If you're so nervous you can't breathe, visualize your mother or your spouse or whoever you'd be blunt as a doorknob around, and say, "I'm going to puke right here." After you hit that nadir of embarrassment, it's all gravy, honest.
Look Relaxed, Even--No, Especially--If You're Not.
Make eye contact. Let me revise that: Make eye contact only as long as it doesn't shell-shock you into stopping breathing, as it did me. Otherwise, make chair contact, floor contact, and ceiling contact. Your audience won't know the difference. If you do catch someone's eyes, take that as a positive sign. They're looking at you! It means that either you're turning blue, or you've managed to hook someone into listening to what you're saying. Woo-hoo!
Talk With Your Ears As Well as Your Mouth.
The last secret of speaking in public is to silence the roaring in your ears and the monotonous sound of your own voice enough to actually hear what's going on around you. That's right--listen to what people are saying. Listen to somebody cough and another person blow their nose. Listen to the sirens coming from outside. Listen to the announcer whispering from next to the podium that you've gone over your time limit.
When you listen as you give a public speech, your thinking is directed outward instead of inward. You can stop thinking of yourself as an idiot blathering senselessly on and on in front of everybody and your mother and start thinking of yourself as a person again.
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