As for most other skills, public speaking abilities come as a result of persistent practice. Stage freight must be faced and overcome through continuous exercise both on and off the stage. But there are a few tips you might find helpful and insightful on your journey to becoming a great public speaker.
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1. Memorize concepts, not the entire content
Some feel more comfortable and secure about learning their speech by heart. But that of course has its downsides, like sounding unnatural or even falling in awkward silence if your mind goes blank and you're left on stage without knowing what to say. So instead of memorizing your speech word for word, try to focus on the concepts. This can easily be done by creating a list of focal points, stories, data or key takeaways you want to make sure you get across. Then try your best to speak naturally about them - the second tip will help you in this.
2. Talk to audience members before your presentation
Whether you are addressing a large company or a small department, try to conversate with your audience prior the meeting and then exploit the conversation to your advantage by including the content in your speech as an example or a transition point. For instance, if you are talking about Business Strategy and a member of the audience tells you a good story or gives you a good example while casually conversing, try to include it in your speech like "As Emma in third row mentioned before..." or "One of your colleagues, John, gave a great example of this earlier talking about...". This creates a sense of intimacy with the audience that dramatically increases engagement.
3. Make eye contact with your interlocutors
Some people have the impression that starring at the different walls in the background or at the floor is the best strategy to elude stage fright. On the contrary, it’s much easier and effective to directly look at specific audience members during your speech. Optimally, try to dedicate to the person that you are looking at an entire sentence or concept, without looking away.
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Then when you have finished the sentence move on to another person, thus connecting with as many people as possible until you are done speaking. “It’s like you’re having a conversation with your audience. You’re not speaking at them, you’re speaking with them." says Simon Sinek, one of the world's most viewed Ted speakers.
4. Speak very slowly
When you are about to get on stage and the adrenaline kicks in, not only does your heart pound faster but also your words speed up. Unfortunately though, as soon as your speaking gains pace the audience loses sight of your concept and gets immediately turned off. Great speakers are the ones that speak unusually slowly and that occasionally do go quiet for a few moments. As Sinek says, “it’s incredible that you can stand on stage and speak so slowly that there are several seconds between each of your words and people… will… hang… on… your… every… word."
5. Turn nervousness into excitement
It is perfectly normal to feel nervous before speaking publicly. The symptoms are similar for almost everyone: hearts start pounding and hands get sweaty. But very few know how to transform the fear into excitement thus making their body able reinterpret the nervousness with a positive connotation. Before you go on stage, convince yourself that you are not nervous but excited, as this will completely change your bodily behavior and mental attitude to what you are about to do.