Tricks of the trade: Public speaking

Ten tips on how to shed the public speaking jitters and captivate your audience.
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It’s a classic nightmare: you’re caught on stage in front of a crowd of people in just your underwear, petrified and embarrassed under their laughing gaze.

Thankfully, when awake public speaking is typically done while fully clothed. But the same feelings of anxiety can still arise. From the seasoned professional to the writer on a book tour, sweating palms, increased heat rate and stammering are all common issues people struggle with.

How can you calm your nervous to hold your own in a panel discussion, deliver a captivating keynote, or introduce a guest speaker at a conference or festival in style?

ArtsHub asks public speaking experts to share their tips and techniques to help you and your colleagues conquer your fears and master the art of speaking in public.

1. Be prepared

Getting familiar with the content of your presentation as well as the pauses and inflections in your speech will help set you at ease and reduce nervousness. Practicing in front of family, friends or even the mirror will allow you to be prepared and ready to go on the day.

Director of Public Speaking Australia Greg Stockwell said that practice is vital, but it’s important not to “over prepare” so that your speech remains natural when delivered.

2. Structure your speech

While Stockwell finds that most of his client’s first draft of their speech is 80% correct, it’s important to ensure you set out your speech with a clear beginning, middle and end. Not only will it make it easier for them to follow, it will make sure you have touched on all your key points adequately and convey your message to your audience effectively.

The opening is where you grab the audience’s attention – it should be innovative but clear. The body is where you develop your points. Present all sides of the argument and back up your information with quotes, figure and examples. At the end be sure to summarise your argument simply and effectively.

3. Control your breathing

Taking a few deeps breaths before you begin will clear your mind and help steady your nerves. Shallow breathing restricts the diaphragm’s range of motion and the small blood vessels that carry oxygen to cells don’t get the amount of air that they need which can make you feel short of breath and anxious.

Public speaker and speech coach from Improve your Public Speaking Sarah Denholm was spurred on by her own issues with stage fright to become a public speaker and speech coach. She said the clarity of your voice and the control of your breathing is vital to good public speaking. 

4. Utilise your voice

What we say is just as important as how we say it.

Denholm agrees that pace, tone and inflection all have an impact on what kind of message is conveyed. For example, pausing before emphasising a word or concept lets the audience know it’s important, whereas speeding up can make your voice more compelling and intense.

5. Join a public speaking club

Since 1930 the team at Rostrum has co-ordinated hundreds of public speaking clubs across Australia to help people to literally find their voice. By becoming a member you will be able to find a club in your area and work with experienced coaches in a supportive environment. 

Director Jenny Blain said she has ‘watched people improve in confidence, find their voice, face personal challenges, overcome stuttering, reach their leadership potential, improve their English language skills and increase their personal and business networks.’

6. Humour

Blain said that humour is a very effective tool. Including an amusing story either during or at the beginning of your speech to get the audience laughing will put them on your side but will also create a relaxed atmosphere. Anecdotes, jokes or quotes that relate to your speech can be very effective.

7. Use visuals

Pictures speak a thousand words. Rostrum recommends using technology like a PowerPoint presentation can make effective use of colour and graphics. Make sure to use contrasting colours so that your images and text are clearly visible. However don’t overcrowd the slides with words – dot points listing the key points are best. Sound or video clips can also be added for extra emphasis.

8. Use notes effectively

Rostrum also recommends keeping your notes small, preferably in card form – this will make them easier to hold and shuffle. Make sure they are numbered and written or printed using a large type size so you’re able to see the words clearly. It’s also helpful to highlight or underline any points that you want to emphasise.

9. Hire a coach

With courses specifically tailored for women, coach trainer and speaker Geraldine Barkworth from Goddess of Public Speaking works to help clients gain confidence and find their authentic voice. Although based in Melbourne, GPS courses can be online, over the phone or via Skype.

10. Smile

All of our experts agree that confidence is key when speaking in public. Smiling is one of the most effective tools in conveying confidence and a warm demeanour. Triggered by the movement of the muscles in your face, smiling (even if it’s a fake one) releases endorphins which lowers stress and improves your mood. This release of endorphins also reduces levels of the stress hormone cortisol – so remember to smile like you mean it!

Brihony Tulloch
About the Author
Brihony Tulloch is a content writer for Jobs Portal Watch.