Public Speaking 101 – Part I

Have you ever wanted to become a public speaker but just could not be one because of stage fright, poor communication skills, mediocre platform skills, lack of audience impact, etc.? Have you been looking for effective and workable tips on how to overcome fear of speaking in front of a large crowd, how to sound well on the microphone, how to correct and improve speech defects; bad mannerisms and communication skills, how to move about the stage/platform, and how to enliven and involve the audience?  Are you looking for a reliable source you can get these tips from who had all of the aforementioned fears himself before but is now considered as one of the best young speakers and trainers in the Philippines?  Then, you stumbled upon the perfect article.

In this 4-part blog, we will talk about very simple yet effectively doable tips on how to (first and foremost) conquer nervousness and then communicate well, improve stage presence, and make an audience impact.

PART I

How to Overcome Stage Fright or Fear of Embarrassment

To be able to overcome stage fright, you must first find out what is causing it.  By knowing the cause of it all, you are able to think of ways on how to manage it if not totally get rid of it.

Below are some of the common causes of stage fright and their corresponding solutions:

You are overwhelmed by the number of people in front who is going to either applaud or criticize your speech.

You often get overwhelmed or feel intimidated because you are already predicting that the people in your audience might boo your presentation.  You think that they will be bored with your speech and its content.  You assume that they will find your delivery as just another speech from just another speaker.  Well, this is not the kind of mindset that you want to have.  Instead, you presume that most or better yet, all of the people in the crowd will appreciate you and your speech.    You might not completely lose your nervousness but for sure, it will be lessened. It will be lessened because you do not need to worry much (or not at all) about how your audience will react or what their negative comments about your speech or presentation are.  But of course, this should not leave you overconfident though.  You should still put your best foot forward and not leave anything to the belief you will be fine because you are confident or your content and communication skills can carry you through.  While actually doing it, you should still think quickly before you speak.  You should still listen to yourself as you converse.  You should still be able to self-correct when you say an ungrammatical sentence or a mispronounced word.  You should still be able to neutralize your accent, enunciate your words, and try to sound as well and clearly as you can with a microphone.

The mere presence and number of the people in front scare the hell out of you

Who would not be afraid of too many people in front?  It always feels that they might gang up on you alright.  Who would not be scared of having to talk to, educate, satisfy and please a lot of people?  Nobody would not. You see, even the best speakers out there get worried, if not scared. However, it is the way you react to the situation and how you hide your worries or fears to your listeners that make the difference.  Even if you are scared or worried, you must continue with the show.  You have to think that you will just stand up there to do what you are passionate about which are to speak and to share.  Imagine that your audience is simply your friends that you have to tell stories to.  Better yet, especially if it is your first time, imagine that there is no one in front of you to begin with; although I do not suggest this to those who have been speaking for quite a while now and are just looking to improve themselves.  Of course, you have to establish a connection and eye contact with your audience so you really have to accept they are there right in front of you and try to reach out to them.  I know this is easier said than done but if you are well-prepared and you rehearsed your speech in detail without sacrificing still being conversational in your entire speech or presentation, you will be fine.

Most of us get scared only because it is either we did not prepare enough, we prepared enough but we believe we are not an expert in the topic, or we are an expert in the topic but we feel we would under-deliver.  Right?  So, if these are just where that nervousness is coming from, then we have to take care of them first before we could do our thing.  Once again, you prepare, you specialize and just go up there and do it.  Also, once you are already up on stage, do not let any of your audience catches any mannerism, behavior, or movement that would be indicative of your nervousness.  They might lose their trust in you.  Their confidence in you might wane away.  They might not believe you.  They would surely not find you as a credible source.   Therefore, hide your fear and your nervousness.  Keep them contained inside of you.  Mask them with a face and an aura of confidence and belief in yourself.  Try to channel your negative energies, thoughts and feelings to the microphone, the laser pointer, the clicker, or the water bottle that you are holding.  These will surely work.  They just must.  Now, if none of these help you in any way at all, then I recommend you learn how to eradicate or at least manage your nervousness and nervous habits first before you could even speak in public.

You are scared to make mistakes; be it in your speech or in your content

Even the most famous speakers out there make mistakes.  Nobody is perfect, as they say.  Just like the previous topic, it is just the way you keep your composure on stage and how you deal with inevitably committing a slip-up that will have you taken care of.

Let us start with speech.  Making mistakes when speaking may refer to saying an ungrammatical phrase or sentence, mispronouncing a word, or getting lost in your explanation somewhere.  It may also refer to stuttering or stammering with a line or a part of what you are saying.  But do not fret.  These things are normal.  They happen even to the experienced speakers and even to the native speakers of the English language (if that is the mode of communication).  Once again, nobody is perfect.  These are the different ways by which you deal with it.  When you say an ungrammatical phrase or sentence, just try to get away with it without putting yourself on the spot.  What I mean by “putting yourself on the spot” is you initiate letting the people know that you made a mistake by apologizing or by telling them that was grammatically incorrect.  You just do not do it this manner.  While some might appreciate your honesty, unfortunately, some might also take it against you and your reputation.  So, just to repeat, just wear a poker face or do not make it obvious and just get away with it.  It is that simple.  Now, how about when you mispronounce a word? What I personally do is the moment I hear myself mispronounce a word, I never say sorry about it.  Instead, I repeat it as quickly as I can after I just said it and just the same, I wear a poker face and continue like nothing happened.  Or, for as long as you do not do it too many times, you might want to make fun of it for just once with something like, “I feel very comfortable with talking about this topic to you that I’m mispronouncing a word now” while laughing at it yourself at the same time.  Do you get what I mean? You get to correct yourself and at the same time, you package it as a joke that will draw laughter from your participants.  You will just realize that your audience is already laughing with you too or laughing at it afterwards.  Just be careful not to do this several times though.  Once, twice or thrice is tolerable but doing this several times might already work against you.  They would already think a good speaker does not mispronounce a word a lot of times so when you are already doing it several times, they might not think you are a good speaker at all or a newbie at what you are doing.  Now, about stuttering or stammering.  The remedy is simple: do not talk fast and try to enunciate your words as clearly as you can.  Some speakers tend to speak fast because they know so much about their topic, they are too comfortable (to a fault) to talk about it, they have a lot of things to say, or they are nervous.  Ergo, slow down; take your time; and clarify your words.  Even if you know so much about the topic, you never forget taking into consideration if your audience is following you and understanding what you are saying or not.  When you feel too comfortable discussing your subject, never set your audience aside.  Check for understanding every now and then and pace your talk.  Make sure everybody is still on the same page as you are.  If you have a lot of things to say, that is actually good.  But once again, pace…pace…pace.  Lastly, just like what I already mentioned, do not let your audience feel; see; and hear that you are nervous.

Now, let us discuss erring with our content.  This is not in terms of if what you are saying is factual, correct, and reliable though.  This is in terms of starting with one idea and in the middle of saying it just jumping to a different thought altogether.  This happens when you to talk about something and then all of a sudden, you change it to something else without finishing it first.  If you are going to do this, I guess it is fine.  But if you can, try to say words in between like “let me back up”, “let me start over”, “sorry, let me say that again, “let us scratch this topic altogether and talk about something else instead, “or rather”, “let us talk about something else instead”, or “okay, erase that”.  When you say any of these, you let them know that you are changing your mind about talking about or continuing to talk about what you have started and you are shifting to a different topic or idea.  It is better this way than sounding disorganized with your thoughts and right then and there, confusing your audience.

Lastly, you are not confident about your content

I must say this is very critical.  You do not talk about something you are not an expert of or you are not confident about in the first place.  Unless you are a specialist in it or you are given several days or weeks to prepare for it and learn it even if you are not a specialist, just do not accept the speaking invitation.  This is the last situation you want to be in, I must tell you.  Nonetheless, if worse comes to worst that you end up accepting the speaking engagement, then make sure you prepare and learn your topic beforehand.  You also have to rehearse with explaining the entire topic and each of the slides on your presentation.  Additionally, it helps if you anticipate your audience’s possible questions about each of the topics on your presentation and come up with a ready answer to each of them.  If there is a question that you least expected and that caught you off guard, tell them that you would have to check it first or that you do not have the answer at the moment and would have to get back to them at a later time.  Trainers call this “parking questions/concerns”.  This is a lot better than responding with a fabricated/made-up answer that has no bases and is erroneous, which is dangerous.  Sometimes, there are some people who already know the answer to their own question and are just asking for the heck of it or only to challenge you and test your knowledge.  Be careful not to fall into these traps.  On the other hand there are also those who really do not know what they are asking about.  If you deceive them, nevertheless, they might get back at you in the near future and accuse you, whatever their medium is, of providing them with something wrong.

These are some of the most common causes of stage fright.  Now that you know and that you are already aware of what to do with them, then I hope that this prepares you more.

Now, let me provide you with a set of tips on how you can conquer stage fright after dealing with its different causes. Just remember the mnemonic, BE POSITIVE.

B – Believe in yourself and your content

Well, first of all, you have to believe in your talent; your public speaking skill.  When you believe in yourself, you are assured that you would be able to think well; that your mind is cleared up as you do not have to think of worries and not-so-good presumptions of what might possibly happen.  When you are confident about what you are capable of doing and sharing, it makes you relaxed.  It helps you focus more.  It brings out the best in you.  You enunciate better, you pronounce your words correctly, you are able to deliver grammatically-correct sentences, and most important of all, you get to organize your thoughts more effectively.  Thus, you send across a message that is more appreciated, understood, and accepted by your audience.

E – Energize yourself

When you energize yourself, you seem to forget you are worried or you are scared.  Your mind deviates from all the negative energies and thoughts and onto the positive excitement and happiness that come with having the opportunity to speak to and inspire people.  It helps you concentrate your efforts into achieving the target objectives of your presentation/speech, whatever they are; disregarding the fear and the nervousness.  Ultimately, it aids in helping you feel great that you are going up on stage to showcase your skills and share your expert message with everyone.  So, to get that energy out, speak as passionately as you can and couple it with moving around the stage well, reaching to each one of your participants by walking around, and making use of your hands to express your thoughts more comfortably and clearly.

P – Practice

Believe me, the key to a highly-applauded and learning-filled presentation/speech is lots of thorough practice.  Even if you believe in yourself and you are energized to the highest level, if you did not walk yourself through your presentation and/or practice your speech before you jump into it, you may not fail but you may come short of what you could possibly pull of either.  So, rehearse a few days before your speaking engagement.  Anticipate all the possible questions that your participants might throw at you and make sure to prepare for objections and rebuttals as well.  You have to cover all aspects and factors of your subject matter in preparation for questions, arguments, and not-so-good reactions.  Also, it helps if you practice in front of the mirror or if you  record a video of yourself rehearsing your entire speech.  This way, you get to critique your facial expressions, your chosen hand gestures, the movement and opening of your mouth, and your physical movement as well.  If you do not like how you look with some of what you do or show, then stop doing them and replace them with something better; something more pleasing to the eyes of your watchers.

O – Overcome your nervousness and fears

We already talked about this above.  But just to reinforce what we discussed, you have to make sure you are able to eliminate or at least contain your nervousness.  There is really a lot of things you can do prior to your presentation/speech.  First of all, you must pray to God.  Always thank HIM for giving you the gift of the gab, seek for HIS guidance and ask HIM not to embarrass you or give you a tough time up on stage.  Next, think of happy or positive thoughts.  When you do, it gets you going even when the going gets tough or tougher.  Think of your inspirations and motivations in life like your partner, your children, your parents, your friends, your ambitions, and of course, yourself.  This way, you get the confidence and the optimism that you need to be able to leave an impact with your audience.

S – Smile before, during and after your presentation/speech

Smiling before, during and after your speech gives you the calmness; the inspiration; and the positive energy that you need.  The mere fact that you are smiling means you are happy with what you are doing and that you love the chance to let more people know about you and you get to educate them with your message at the same time.  From your audience’s perspective, when they can see you smiling, they are positively influenced by the cheerful aura that you exude and they get to feel the same too.  You become more believable to them.  Your audience then feels they are only talking to a close friend because they feel loosened up.  Consequently, they are able to enjoy every moment they have with you and of course, listening to your wonderful presentation.

I – Innovate during your speech

No presentation/speech is much better than one that has creativity in it.  The flawless, clear and intelligent delivery of your content is very important.  However, it is also equally important that you wear the hat of a stand-up comedian and crack some wholesome jokes that are related to your topic every now and then.  Not only that you are able to make them laugh and have fun while learning, you also keep them from getting bored, dozing off or wanting to step out of the room because they cannot take the monotony and the excessive formality of your talk as well.  Moreover, try to cater to the different learning styles of your audience.  Aside from your presentation, your jokes, your nice voice, and your beautiful content; you might want to include a video that the visual learners can watch, audio clips that the auditory learners can enjoy listening to, and a few icebreakers or activities that can wake up the sleeping or unfocused kinesthetic learners (those who learn by doing or applying) in the crowd.  Believe me, your audience will absolutely be blown away by a complete/innovative presentation that is highlighted by these helpful components.

T – Talk to your audience and not your visuals

Remember, when you are presenting or delivering a speech, always make it a point to reach out to every single person in your audience by doing the following:

  • Maintain eye contact by trying to look at everyone.  Looks impossible to do?  Definitely not.  You simply do the ever-famous “lighthouse technique” by moving your eyes across from left to right or vice versa slowly.  Just do not overdo it as it can also be very distracting.  Just do it every once in a while.  Your goal here is for your participants to feel you are talking to them one by one.
  • Your visuals are just your guide.  Remember, your visuals should not take over while you are speaking.  They are only for your audience to use or look at and not for you to depend on.  So, only look at your presentation when you need to read or refer to something or simply to show it your audience but turn to your audience right away.  Your explanation will do the rest.
  • What I also do when I present or speak in public is I walk around.  I actually prefer doing this than staying behind a podium or a lectern.  That is why if possible or if the organizers can provide, I always request a wireless microphone or a lapel mic.  The advantage of moving around for me, although it also depends on how many participants you only have and how they are positioned in the room or , is that you get to approach your audience.  Time and time again, I have proven that the closer you are to everyone in the audience, the more you are able to involve them by asking them questions and connecting to them.

I – Intonate (pronounce or articulate with the appropriate rise/fall of speech/tone)

Over and above your excellent content and your impressive pronunciation, grammar and accent; it is also very important that you deliver your presentation or speech with the appropriate feelings and the right emotions that go with it.  What I mean by this is if you are talking about happiness, sound happy.  If you are sharing something you need them to be sad about, then sound sad.  If you are pointing out or emphasizing something, then sound assertive or firm.  Are you with me?  Presenting or speaking involves some theatrics (displays of emotions) too.  Your audience identifies with your content and story more when you say them with whatever feelings or emotions are carried with them.  It also keeps your speech from sounding too formal, monotonous, stiff, and flat.

V – Be very visual

What this means is that it helps when you cater to the creative imagination of your audience by using your bodily movement and hand gestures.  When you are telling a story, use your hands to help them picture what you are saying.  When you are explaining something, represent your thoughts with a jab, with moving your hands, opening and closing your fist, etc.  Using hand gestures and drawing your anecdotes in the air do not only enhance your speech and your content but they also facilitate listening and comprehension which both lead to your participant’s learning.  Furthermore, use your body to your advantage.  There are times when the audience is not pleased or satisfied by a “stump” speaker – in other words, a presenter who just stands still and does not even move his body that much.  Thus, you may need to move your body from left to right from or move from one side of the stage to the other from time to time.  Count on me. When your participants’ eyes are also actively looking and moving, they will not feel sleepy all throughout your speech or presentation.

E – Last but not least, enjoy every moment of your experience

Relish the experience, have fun with your participants, interact with your audience, loosen up, and talk to human beings. When you do these, it does not feel like you have a very challenging task at hand.  The fact about loving and having fun with what you are doing is that even if it takes you hours to talk, you will just breeze through everything like nothing happened.  It all becomes play and not work.  Before you realize it, you are all done and all you could see at that point are smiling faces; faces of enjoyment, satisfaction and confidence.

So, there you go.  I hope you learned a lot from the first of the four parts of our series, “Public Speaking 101”.  I must tell you this.  It all commences with being able to start right and to start right, you have to deal with your worst fears and nervousness.  If you are unable to do this, you are in all kinds of trouble when you start speaking.  However, if you are prepared, has an amazing content, and are confident; expect an outcome that is going to be sought-after by every one.

Next up, we will discuss correcting and enhancing your communication skills when presenting or speaking in public.

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