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Tricks to improve your public speaking
Speak or Death?
The Fear of Public Speaking - Worse than death?
Speaking in front of a large group is everyone’s biggest fear, so they avoid it. Public speaking is always listed as the biggest fear right above death. It’s true that most people feel extremely scared to give a speech in front of a large audience. It’s also true that most children are scared of riding a bicycle and swimming for the first time. These are all fears that once we overcome become gateways to new and exciting experiences.
Public Speaking is a Survival Skill – Overcome the fear or suffer the consequences!
"Be skillful in speech, that you may be strong." - Merikare (2135-2040 B.C.)
Think of public speaking as a survival skill. You need it to better communicate your ideals to more people. By communicating better, you can get a better job. With a better job, you can have nicer things in life and more opportunities. There is a whole new world out there when you find yourself communicating with larger groups of people. No matter what your interests are; if you want to make more money, get a better job or meet new and interesting people; it can all be amplified by learning to be comfortable speaking in public.
If you treat public speaking like it’s a survival skill then only the strong will survive. The timid and fearful will not survive. You must be determined to pull in front of everyone else by improving yourself in order to survive.
Start with a quote from a famous person – A few wise words sets the tone.
"A wise man speaks because he has something to say; a fool because he has to say something." - Plato
Sometimes a simple quote is the best way to start your speech. It's easy to find a simple quote from someone who said it best in a single sentence. Your speech could be an elaboration of that one quote.
I find quotes offer wonderful insight in a very accommodating package. You can always fit a quote into your speech because there are millions of quotes for every subject. Try searching for a quote the next time you are struggling with something to say. Reading the quote will give your brain an extra boost of creativity and spark more thoughts to be put into your speech.
Talk about what you know – Be able to talk endlessly on the subject
“Best way to conquer stage fright is to know what you’re talking about.” – Michael H Mescon
Find a subject you are familiar with and start to write a speech about it. This isn’t as hard as it sounds. If you have something you are passionate about, start writing. The more you write, the more material you will have to pick through to compose a speech. This also give you practice talking on the subject.
Start by listing out several points to the speech and arranging them in a meaningful way. Arrange each point flows into the next. These points will eventually become paragraphs of the speech. Continue to arrange the points while adding sentences to describe or clarify each point listed.
What is your biggest fear?
Three Basic Elements of a Speech
Speeches are actually very simple. You start with three basic things: a beginning, then a middle, and finish with an ending. If you keep it simple it takes the fear out of it.
- Beginning: I like to start with an outline of what key elements I want to talk about. The key elements might just be one word each or a few words like talking points structured into a logical order. I want my beginning to setup the speech. I want to tell my audience what I will be talking about. My first sentence might not be clear so I leave it until later once the true meaning of the speech evolves. Don’t worry too much about the opening line because it will evolve as the speech progresses and you can write once your speech is more defined.
- Middle: Contained in the middle is the most information or details. This is where you lay out what the key points of your speech, like “step one is to…..”. I like to use only three strong points in the middle. "Step one, "My first point is", or "The three most important things of..." Most people can only remember the first three of any list, so keep it simple for yourself and your audience. The middle of the speech has three key elements you want the audience to remember. Make sure you clearly state what you want them to know or do.
- Ending: The ending sentences are my hardest to complete and most difficult to decide. I might start working on my ending first because I want the last line of the speech to be memorable. Your ending sentence might not be clear until you have completed the majority of your speech writing. Don’t worry too much about it, focus on getting the basics of a beginning and middle so the ending has time to evolve.
There is three parts to a good speech: the beginning, the body and the ending but inside the middle there should be at least three key elements to persuade or inform the listener.
Can you break down your speech into three key elements?
Here is a simple format to use for the "Three-Points Speech."
- Introduction of yourself and the speech (optional)
- Strong opening sentence.
- Supporting sentance or paragraph.
- Lead into the key elements by telling the audience the list of three elements..
- Element #1- Elaborate on the first element.
- Element #2- Elaborate on the second element.
- Element #3 - Elaborate on the third element.
- Tie them all together in a sentence.
- End with a strong ending which repeats the three key elements and explains the result of doing all three.
Once you have a speech written, practice giving it by reading it out loud. It’s amazing how many problems and corrections I have once I read it aloud. Read it out loud several times until it sounds like a speech and not like reading a book.
The next step is to record your voice reading the speech then playing it back to yourself. Hearing your speech is a perfect way to find flaws not found by reading it. This gives your mind time to process the words and meanings of the speech not the spelling, grammar and punctuation.
Start with a small talk then grow into giving a speech – Scale up your experience.
Start by talking to a friend about a subject. It’s OK to let them know you are using this opportunity to prepare yourself for a speech you want to give later. You can tell them that you want as much feedback and questions but not to interrupt until the end. Be polite about it because you want them to not derail your thoughts and get you off the topic.
Try to pursued or educate one person on a subject you are very familiar with. Write down their questions and concerns after you conversation. Use that information for the next time you speak to a larger group of people on the same subject. Incorporate their questions and concerns into your talk. The more information you gather from these talks the better the speech information you will have to compose a comprehensive speech with detailed information.
Keep increasing the amount of people you talk to so that you are the provider of the information and they are your audience. You will be graduating up to a larger group of people each time. Soon you will have a well prepared speech you can give.
Learn the tricks of Effective Communication
Stand up and DO IT! – It’s just that simple.
Giving a speech in front of a large group of people is scary but wasn’t getting on a bicycle for the first time? Wasn’t going under the water in a swimming pool without holding your nose for the first time equally as scary? When did we stop taking on our fears in life? Once you got behind the wheel of a car was the last time you conquered a fear? How about taking on a equally fearful skill as public speaking?
The best way to extinguish your fear is to do over and over again until the fear goes away. As the fear is going away, your skills are getting better. You are learning new techniques and also helping your brain focus on thinking and less on being nervous. Remember how you got up on the seat of that big bicycle for the first time and only focused on how far it was to fall down to the ground. You conquered that fear by doing it anyway. You got up, you fell down. You brushed off the dirt, bandaged the scrape on your knee and you got back up on that bike again. Do the same for the fear of public speaking.
Volunteer to speak at any occasion. Start small with just a few close friend or family. Ask them to be your audience and listen while you practice for your speech. You could volunteer to give a speech at a meeting at work. Some offices have safety moments before each meeting. You could give the safety moment for the group. Start with something very small but it’s just you in front of a few people. The more you do this, the easier it gets.
Use a script – Reading from your notes is OK
Using a script or notes and reading from them on every word is the same as using training wheels on your bicycle. Everyone can see you are just starting to become comfortable with public speaking and you need a little help. No one will complain as long as you are making progress on each speech you give. Everyone loves to see a person make progress in their passions. It’s OK to show you are a beginner, as long as you truly are a beginner. If you are on your tenth speech in front of the same group of people and you are still using your notes, then everyone will see you haven’t conquered your fear and it looks as if your training wheels are still on your ten-speed bike.
Start using your notes or a script. It’s a good way to get past the fear of being on stage or at the lectern or podium. Once you get comfortable with using a script then move to an outline or a single word or sentence for each section of the speech.
Use pauses – Stop talking but don’t fill with “uhhh”
“The most precious things in speech are the pauses.” – Sir Ralph Richardson
“Well-timed silence hath more eloquence than speech.” – Martin Fraquhar Tupper
“The right word may be effective, but no word was ever as effective as a rightly timed pause.” – Mark Twain
Pause here for reflection on the last three quotes, they were powerful.
Join a Toastmaster’s club – put into practice all this advice
There are almost 15,000 clubs around the world with over 300,000 members. There should be a club near you that you could visit and eventually join. They are very welcoming to guests and you will have many opportunities to participate and volunteer at every meeting you attend. Toastmasters is a very supportive organization working to be supportive and encourage all members in their personal growth to overcome their fears of public speaking and also to provide opportunities to improve their leadership skills.
Visit a group meeting and someone there will help and guide you through your journey. Here is a script of a typical Toastmaster’s meeting. As you can see it’s designed to give as many people an opportunity to stand in front of the group and speak. If you’re not ready to give a speech you can try the table topics or even a small role like timekeeper or vote counter for the meeting.
The trick to becoming a good Toastmaster is to participate. The more you decide to participate, the more experience you gain. With more experience comes more confidence. By increasing your confidence you improve your skills of communicating with a large audience and it will show on the next job interview or you will have the ability to persuade or educate more people with each speech.
Toastmasters provide you the opportunity to grow your skills quickly by regularly attending the meetings and participating in each activity. Participating in Toastmasters clubs is a fast track to increasing your public speaking skill and decreasing your fears.
Don’t worry about all the techniques – Refining your skills is for advanced users.
"All you need is something to say, and a burning desire to say it... it doesn't matter where your hands are." - Lou Holtz
Most of what you read about on how to overcome your fear of public speaking is frightening. There are books filled with what not to do.
Don’t worry about making these mistakes until you get comfortable giving a speech.
Here are just a few examples of typical “advice” given from most websites or books:
- Don’t fidget with your hands.
- Don’t lean on the podium.
- Don’t use filler words like “uhh”, “umm”, “and so”, etc.
- Don’t stare at only one person.
- Don’t use superfluous (non-essential) words.
- Use proper grammar and refrain from using slang words.
- Don’t over-use statistics or math problems
No one expects you to be a highly-skilled motivational speaker using the most effective communication skills when you are just starting out. It takes time and it takes lots of practice. Worry about the fine tuning later. Your first goal should be getting up onto the seat of the bike while knowing you can and will fall down at some point. Get up on the bike.
Once you are comfortable on the seat and you know that falling down isn’t as bad as it seemed, you can worry about using the pedals correctly. Small steps will make small improvements and that’s fine for anyone still fearful of public speaking.
© 2015 Alan Lehmann