Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Public Speaking Tips

Today New Voices tackles one of America's greatest fears: public speaking.

Ryan's three tips
It's normal to be nervous public speaking and my best advice is just to keep doing it. While this tip might not help much for any individual talk, every time you step in front of people to speak, it gets easier.

If you have a serious complex about giving a specific talk, write down what you want to say for each slide. The act of thinking through your message for every slide and putting in on paper will help you organize your thoughts and might calm you a bit as well.

Feed your audience

Here's a nontraditional tip that works: if you can provide food, even just a pla
te of cookies or fruit and some coffee, do it. Something about speaking to an audience chomping and chewing makes them seem non threatening. Be forewarned - if you feed them too much, they will inevitably fall asleep afterward.

Alissa's advice on slowing down

The hardest part of presenting, at least for me, is speaking at a pace that the audience can understand. It is easy to get too nervous or excited and start rushing through your talk, frantic to get to the end. However, people tune out fast or incoherent speech, so they won't listen to or retain anything you say.

So in order to make sure you get your point across, follow these rules to speak at a good pace for your listeners:
  • Breathe. It seems obvious, but taking some deep breaths before your presentation and between sentences can help you slow down if you're getting ahead of yourself.
  • Look people in the eye when you're speaking. This way you can see if people are understanding what you're saying and slow down if they aren't.
  • Take a pause. Pausing between phrases allows your audience to absorb and make sense of what you're saying, and helps you make your point.
Heather's keys to staying still
When it comes to public speaking, I find presentations to small, intimate groups of people I know MUCH harder to speak to than rooms with 1,000 listeners (I’m guessing this has something to do with my theater background). My biggest issue has always been fidgeting. I’m of Italian heritage and talking with my hands comes pretty naturally to me – especially if I’m nervous. To keep from flailing all over the place, I try to rest my hands on the edges of the podium in front of me. If I don’t have a podium, I try to not carry pages of notes. Papers make noise in motion; so if there has to be something in my hands, it’s going to be note cards.

Also, if you find that your legs are as fidgety as your arms, slide one foot just slightly forward so they are a bit staggered. (I find placing the ball of one foot at the midpoint of the other to be least obvious and most functional.) This prevents you from rocking (unless you want to fall over) and gives you a stance to come back to if you are prone to pacing. The pictures below demonstrate what I mean: the left shows balanced even feet and the right shows how to simply slide one foot back a few inches. Staggered feed will make a huge difference in how you can (or can't) move while presenting.

Thanks to our New Voices co-blogger Emily for demonstrating!

What tips would you give to burgeoning public speakers? What is the most difficult thing for you to overcome when public speaking?

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