Public speaking is something that fills many people with dread. And it’s especially hard for those of us suffering from social anxiety.
I’ve only had to do it a few times. Mostly at school, but also at my first wedding reception. I break into a sweat just having to talk to one other person (as I had to do today, at the bank), and my voice starts to shake.
But having to speak in front of a group of people? Well, I would rather die. And I’m not exaggerating or joking.
However, it can be a very useful skill to have, to be able to speak in front of a group of people. In particular, professionally-speaking, it is often required that you make presentations. As it’s a difficult skill to acquire, if you’re good at them, it can make a very good impression on your co-workers and your bosses. It can make a real difference to your career. Conversely, if you’re not so proficient at them, it can hold you back.
Like anything though, if you want to excel at public speaking, it’s going to take work and preparation. There are techniques and skills which can be learnt and which will help you to improve quickly.
Here, I will outline the techniques I believe to be the most useful.
To start off with, you have to decide whether you’re going to read from a script or not. I wouldn’t do this personally, but if you do this, look up from your notes frequently. Some speakers memorise their speech, word for word. This is another method I would caution against, as it’s easy to forget.
In my view, it’s best to speak freely, using notes to remind you of the main points you’re going to make. Take some notes in with you, to have in front of you when you’re speaking. Note down the main areas you’re going to cover during the speech.
To prepare well, practise several times making your speech in front of other people. There are even coaches that help people to practise and perfect their speech-making skills, and this might be something to consider, if speech making is going to be a regular occurrence for you.
Now, on the day, before you begin the actual speech, take a number of very slow, deep breaths from the abdomen, in order to relax. The inhalations and exhalations should each last around four seconds.
During your speech, be confident! Command the room. Even if you’re scared, which everyone is to some degree, put a front on. If the audience senses that you’re feeling intimidated and nervy, you will find it more difficult. Act confidently, and establish eye contact with several members of the audience.
Be overly knowledgable about your subject. Be able to answer any questions that might come up during the question and answer section, if you’re having one.
Even if you’re not having a q and a section, try to bring some interaction with the audience into the proceedings. This can make everyone feel more ‘involved’ and stop people from feeling bored. You could just ask the audience the odd question. Perhaps do a quick survey, asking for a quick show of hands. There are several techniques you can employ.
Try to start off the talk well. If you have a good beginning and the audience finds you engaging, you will have their interest!
Don’t worry unduly about screwing up. Speeches are hardly ever terrible, so just relax and focus. If you do, you’ll be fine.
Lastly, once you’re done, review how your speech went. Note down what worked and what didn’t go so well, and make a plan for next time.
Speech making is a skill, but with a little preparation, it’s not too difficult to become good at it.
I would appreciate any comments or suggestions you have on the subject.
I also have a blog, at www.ibeatmysocialanxiety.com. Please stop by, if you can, and subscribe to the site to get information about social anxiety and mental health in general. Many thanks! John