For most of us, the knowledge that we're going to have to speak in public fills us with fear. It can be nerve-wracking to stand up in front of people and make a speech, whether it's at a wedding for our best friends or a conference at work. No matter what your occasion is, here are five tips that will help you beat the nerves and deliver a great speech.
1. Know Your Audience
First of all, make sure that you know your audience and that you tailor your speech specifically for them.
For e.g., if you're making a speech at a wedding, you should be aware that your friend's grandmother may not want to hear any bawdy stories about their college days - but if you're making a toast at the bachelor night, those details will be more than welcome.
Make sure that you know approximately how many people will be there. Not only will you be able to prepare yourself mentally so you won't be struck dumb when you see a large crowd of people, but you'll also be able to ensure that you have the required equipment to make sure your voice reaches the back of the room.
2. Be Prepared
It's important to make sure that you're prepared. A lot of people think that the best tactic is to learn an entire speech word for word off by heart - but the truth is, that's far too rigid, and it means that you'll be instantly thrown off if you get one small thing wrong.
Instead, think about your speech as a series of bullet points. Not only will it be easier to fit onto an index card - or even the back of your hand - but you'll seem more relaxed and fluent when you're speaking.
However, don't get too relaxed - if you're totally unprepared, you'll find the whole experience even more nerve-wracking. If you're at a work conference, make sure that you have the facts and statistics to back up every point that you're making.
3. Consider Your Body Language
When you're speaking to large groups of people, it can be easy to focus on the words alone. But the truth is that up to 70% of our communication is done using our body language, which means that you need to consider that as well.
When you're speaking to a large group of people, make sure that you look at individual people, but not for too long - imagining yourself in their shoes will make you aware that that would be more than a little disconcerting.
Make sure that you move around, but not enough to distract people watching, and make sure that your body language is open - don't fold your arms and make sure that you're facing your audience at all times, even if you have a PowerPoint presentation open behind you.
4. Speak Slowly
We've all been in a situation where we simply can't enjoy what's going on because we can't hear the speaker. It's important to make sure that when you speak, you slow down.
More important than slowing down is to match the listening speed of your audience and take it along.
Use the punctuation as a chance to take a breath and remind yourself not to speak too quickly. To make your voice louder and clearer, speak using your chest and your diaphragm instead of your throat - this will make it effortless for your audience to hear what you're saying. If you're using a microphone, don't hold it directly on your lips - that will just end up making your words blurred and indecipherable.
5. Be Interactive
Finally, make sure that you interact with your audience. Naturally, if you're giving a professional presentation then you shouldn't keep asking your audience questions or inviting them to participate through it.
But it is important to ask them rhetorical questions and give them some thinking time so that they have space to contemplate the issues that you're bringing up.
At the end, giving your audience time to ask questions is also invaluable so that you can clarify what you've said and help the whole room gain a better understanding of the topic.
If you're giving a speech at a social occasion like at a wedding or party, it's a great idea to make the whole thing personal and to involve other friends and family members - in that case, formality isn't always a great thing.
Finally, breathe deeply, learn your material, and remember that audiences are a lot more forgiving than you might expect them to be.