25 Apr Don’t Fear the Podium

By Lisa Wentz

“I’ve always wanted to do this. I finally decided to not hold myself back.”

I often hear this statement and others like it within the first few minutes of my private coaching sessions.

Public speaking can intimidate even the most extroverted personalities. And it’s no wonder, given that it’s not something we’re trained in and aren’t faced with until we’re required to deliver a speech—sometimes without much notice.

Speaking in public is a broad topic that isn’t limited to professional speakers. It can include anything from speaking to a board of directors to delivering a toast at a wedding. The common denominator is that, no matter the setting, the prospect of speaking publically evokes fear in even the most surefooted of us.

But believe it or not, that doesn’t have to be the case. Here are some proven tips that you can apply to reduce nerves and deliver your speech with impact…

Acknowledge Nervousness

Ever notice that pretending something isn’t there makes it worse? I have. The first step to a great speech is to embrace the fact that you may be nervous. Think of this as a good thing. You are feeling a racing heartbeat, sweaty palms, and so on because you care. If you didn’t care about the outcome, I’d question whether you should be speaking in the first place.

Reduce Nerves and Focus

The fastest and most effective way to reduce nervousness, shed excess tension, and focus your thoughts on delivery is to warm up with breathing exercises. I recommend using long, deep breaths. Breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth. Whenever you breathe out, make the sound of a long, sustained “S.” Six to eight slow, deep breaths 30 minutes before your speech is ideal.

Create Rapport

Start with a warm vocal tone, eye contact, and slow down the rhythm of your speech. This will let the audience know you’re talking to them instead of at them.

Insert Pauses

If you’re someone who uses filler words, like “actually,” “so,” or “um,” consider instead pausing in those moments. The pauses allow the audience time to digest the information in your speech. They also allow you time to breathe and focus. You can also use pauses strategically to get a point across. For instance, pausing after asking a question gives the audience time to think, and shows that you care about their mental involvement in your speech.

Consider Your Purpose and Setting

Adapt your speech to your specific audience and venue. This will help you decide on the level of complicated information you need to share and help you determine your word choices. You may be able to use specific ice breakers or humor, depending on the audience is and where and when the speech is taking place.

Match Tone to Content

You can use different tones within the same speech to keep the audience engaged. Start with a warm and welcoming tone. Then if you’re delivering great news, your tone could be happy or excited. When delivering a problem, try a somber but resilient quality. Higher energy is a way to create excitement while quieting your tone creates thoughtfulness.

Body Language

Nonverbal communication can help emphasize your message. You can use your hands whenever delivering verbal bullet points, such as a list of problems you’re tackling.

Avoid pacing and replace it with deliberate movement, such as walking a few steps after you finish one section to start another. Additionally, allowing yourself to freely move while matching your movement to your content is a great way to dissipate nervous energy.

Prepare and Practice

Prepare so you have a clear road map to follow as you deliver your speech. As part of this preparation, I suggest assigning objectives to each section. Think through what you want the audience to take with them. Practice on your feet and out loud with an audio recorder. You’ll have a better sense of flow and what content can be cut or added to make the speech more effective.

There are many wonderful resources where you can see the above techniques applied. TED Talks, commencement speeches, and Toastmasters International are great places to find inspiring speeches that use these techniques.

As you watch these speeches, remind yourself not to fall into the “compare and despair” trap. Although we can learn a lot from speakers who’ve crafted their delivery over the years, it’s your job to sound like you and find your own authentic style. Be fearlessly authentic and you will always be interesting to watch.

Lisa Wentz is a public speaking expert who coaches executives and managers from Fortune 500 companies and the nonprofit sector. Her new book, Grace Under Pressure: A Master Class in Public Speaking (LID Publishing), is available now in the U.S.

Below Post Spring-Summer 2019

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