Last week, I read the book Grace Under Pressure: A Masterclass in Public Speaking by Lisa Wentz. It was a book gifted to me by LID Publishing, and one that I found very practical and helpful.
You’ll see the review for this one in my next book review post along with four other books that I’ve recently read. If you’d like to check out the book reviews of the past 30 books that I’ve read, you can find those here.
But back to public speaking. I haven’t often had the opportunity to speak in public, usually during school at competitions or giving presentations at university and then during my final year of university I was invited to Greenwich University to speak to the PR students there – my first ever public speaking gig.
I’m not the most confident of speakers – my accent often being a barrier to understanding – and I don’t like to have a lot of eyes on me at once. But I’ve found a few useful ways to help when I do speak in public and the book that I’ve recently read also gave a lot of good advice and new pointers.
1. PRACTICE (OBVIOUSLY)
I don’t think it would be a good idea to get in front of an audience and read from or give a speech that you’re only seeing for the first time or thinking of on the spot.
It’s also not the best idea to read your entire speech from a document as this adds extra ‘noise’ (read: barrier) between you and your audience.
Practice makes perfect, as they say and the more you practice your speech, the more comfortable you’ll become with it. You’ll know when to take breaks, what words to emphasise and when you can look at your audience.
Don’t leave it too late to start practicing and you can even practice by recording yourself speaking or by performing the speech to members of your family or friends.
2. SLOW THE HELL DOWN
I’m probably one of the faster talkers I know. I don’t know if it’s an Irish thing or just a ‘me’ thing, but from I was young, I’ve spoken at a rapid pace.
Everyone is forever telling me to slow down and I become more conscious of it when I’m in a different social setting or talking in front of a large group.
I think it is an Irish thing because if you put two Irish together in front of people from the UK, they usually stare bewildered, like you’ve just had a conversation in a different language.
So, if like me, you find yourself talking quicker than the words are even forming in your mind, then you may want to slow down. And then slow down even further.
Often when I think I’m talking really slow, I’m usually still talking really fast, so try talking at a snail’s pace and you should be fine.
It’s not a race. As I said above, take your time and slow down, but also remember to breathe. What seems like a lifetime of silence while you’re on stage, is usually only a millisecond.
Take a breather, calm yourself down and keep going. Keep calm, keep focused and keep breathing.
Slowing down your speech will also help you to breathe better and to keep calm and centered. You’ll also want your heartbeat to stay quite low before you end up panicking and fainting under the pressure.
Not speaking from experience there, but there’s been times when I’ve forgotten to take a breath on stage. Take your time and try to relax!
Fail to prepare, prepare to fail. I’ve grown up on that saying and it was especially drummed into me in school. Plus the fact I spent the majority of my pre-18 life in the Girl Guides and ‘Be prepared’ was the motto there.
When you’re giving a speech, know what you want to say and how you’re going to say it. Have your speech prepared, structured and learnt.
You’ll want to have practiced (see point 1) many times in the mirror, to yourself, in front of friends or in front of your pet before you take to the stage. The more you practice your speech the more comfortable you’ll be with it.
Try not to ‘wing it’ or waffle, that’s not the making of a good speech.
5. SPEAK TO YOUR AUDIENCE
Don’t forget that your audience are watching you. They’re there to hear what you have to say, so engage with them. Look at them from time to time, or if that makes you uncomfortable, pick a spot on the back wall and look at it.
It would be best to skim the tops of people’s heads if you can, otherwise you may look a little scary fixated on one spot for the entire speech.
It may take a bit of time and confidence-building, but once you can look your audience in the eye while giving a speech, you’ll know if you have them hooked and whether you need to give more to keep them engaged.
Grace Under Pressure: A Masterclass in Public Speaking is a great book to help improve your public speaking abilities and there are many great exercises in the book to help you do this.