Public speaking is an essential skill. Whether you need to make a presentation in front of your colleagues, speak up in a team meeting, or give a toast at a wedding, expressing yourself effectively and persuasively is crucial.
Many people are intimidated by the thought of speaking in front of a group, and as much as 75 percent of the population is downright afraid to talk in public. This fear is very natural and biological and likely stems back to the fears our ancestors may have felt while living and working in tribes. Thousands of years ago, being judged by a group of tribe members could mean immediate danger or even death. It is no wonder that even in our evolved, modern societies we still carry remnants of this primal fear.
Luckly, there are some tried and true strategies for improving your public speaking performance—even if the thought terrifies you. Here are 10 strategies for increasing your confidence, eloquence and effectiveness when speaking in front of a group.
- Listen to great public speakers. Certain leaders throughout history have just had a way with words and speaking to a crowd. If there are certain speakers you admire, listen to a recording or watch video clips of their presentations and notice their verbal and physical strategies. Write them down and try practicing them yourself.
- Accept your fear. By judging yourself or telling yourself you “shouldn’t” be feeling a certain way, you can make your fear worse. To address your anxiety, you need to come from a place of self-compassion instead of self-criticism. You might even let your audience know that you are feeling nervous, which can take the pressure off trying to appear otherwise.
- Eliminate filler words. Verbal pauses like “um,” “like,” and “y’know” can clutter speech and make the speaker sound immature or unintelligent. Practice speaking in front of a mirror so that you can become more aware of your filler words and eliminate them from your vocabulary.
- Don’t over-apologize. An apology can be a powerful tool that signals responsibility and maturity. However, over-using apologies or apologetic words can backfire on the speaker, causing them to appear hesitant or unsure. Making excuses or apologizing for things that are not your fault can come across as unprofessional.
- Practice body language. Nonverbal communication has a major impact on how we are viewed and judged by others. Not only will good posture and strong, purposeful gestures help you become a more persuasive speaker, but studies have shown that using confident body language will help you feel more confident internally as well.
- Turn your anxiety into excitement. Physiologically, anxiety and excitement look very similar. Both can manifest as a fast pulse, shallow breathing, sweaty hands and elevated levels of adrenaline. By reframing your anxiety as excitement and concentrating on the benefits of your public speaking opportunity or the importance of your content, you can relieve some of the discomfort and you may even find yourself having fun.
- Eliminate qualifying words. Qualifying or hedging words and phrases, such as “sort of” or “kind of” or “a little bit,” can make the speaker sound hesitant and unprofessional. Using these words can also reduce the impact of what you are saying and make your speech less persuasive.
- Record yourself. One of the best ways to identify the weak spots in the way you speak is by taking an audio or video recording of yourself talking. You may be making verbal mistakes without even realizing it. It’s not always easy to listen to your own voice, but doing so will help you learn to speak more confidently and professionally.
- Outline what you’re going to say. Whether you are speaking over the phone or in person, planning your points ahead of time can make you sound organized and professional. Make a brief outline before important meetings and interviews so that you can state your points clearly and confidently.
- Visualize your success. If you go into a public speaking situation thinking about everything that could go wrong, you may create a negative self-fulfilling prophecy. Instead, visualize yourself succeeding and doing well. You can even imagine feeling confident and relaxed, which may trick your body into following suit and calming down, creating a positive self-fulfilling prophecy.
Athlete on Demand connects organizations with motivational sports celebrities for a range of events and speaking engagements. We empower current and retired professional athletes transitioning to entrepreneurship by eliminating middle men like booking agents and giving athletes more control over their business careers.