For some, public speaking is as frightening as the thought of running through the hallways of your high school naked. For others, it’s only marginally more appealing. But sooner or later in the working world we have to do it. Whether it’s leading a meeting, presenting a pitch or training new employees, it’s part of being a professional.
If the thought of public speaking makes you sweat, try some of these tactics to gain confidence and build your skills.
Practice with Strangers
There are lots of organizations out there tailored specifically to strengthening speaking skills. One example is Toastmasters. Toastmasters caters specifically to people who want to improve their communication and leadership skills and provides a safe, non-threatening environment in which to do so (no running through the halls with your clothes off!).
There are locations around the country (and world!) and if you really want to be anonymous, try joining a group in another city. You will gain a new network as well as new skills.
Another way to gain practice with strangers is to take an introductory improvisation class. I know, I know, you’re not necessarily interested in learning how to be a comedian, but many people don’t realize the skills that can be learned in improvisation especially the beginning courses.
Improv is about learning how to “play” onstage. To show up and remove our inner editor that often gets in the way of communication. It’s been said that “Improv gets us out of our heads and into our bodies” – a great way to gain perspective and confidence about our speaking.
Our nerves have a funny way of making themselves known when we are speaking to an audience. That jittery energy has to go somewhere, and often it shows up in ways we don’t even realize.
Sometimes a speaker may pace back and forth in front of the room. Or stay in one place but rock back and forth on their heels. Others use wild hand gestures (guilty!) and some tug at their hair or click the caps of their ballpoint pens (that one will drive everyone in your audience bonkers…)
Most of these actions happen quite unconsciously so the first thing to do is build an awareness of your specific “quirks”. Have a friend watch you and provide feedback or videotape yourself if you can. You will be surprised what you actually look like – and that’s ok! Building awareness is a key first step.
A good way to “root” yourself while speaking is to focus on taking deep breaths and clasping your hands either in your lap or in front of you if you are standing. By doing this mindfully you divert all that energy to your center which will help ground and center you. (Meaning – you’ll be much less likely to flail around like a fish onstage!)
Take it Slow
Last but certainly not least, remember when you are speaking to ‘take it slow’. People can have a tendency to speak much too quickly when in front of a group. What seems to be a comfortable and appropriate pace for a one on one conversation may not work when speaking to an audience.
Remember, there are other factors at play when speaking to a group. If you are providing information, you will want to give people a chance to digest it and write it down. You may be using jargon that not everyone is familiar with – remember to spell out anything that may be confusing or explain any acronyms that you use.
Distance may also be a factor – are you able to be heard in every part of the room? As a speaker you have many things competing for your attention – don’t make it harder on your audience by speaking too quickly, they will thank you for it!