Sweaty palms, unshakable jitters, and a wildly disinterested crowd—there’s a reason why so many people hate public speaking.
We’ve all experienced speaking in front of an audience at some point in our lives—in AP English, at a family reunion, or at a big board meeting. We’ve all felt the pressure to craft an incredible speech and deliver it before a sea of people, expecting they would lend us their ears for a full ten minutes.
However, we often don’t get the feedback that we want. Sometimes a well-written speech or a breathtaking PowerPoint is not enough to capture the attention of a crowd. The truth is, the best way to woo your audience is by simply becoming a magnetic speaker.
Being a great public presenter is not as difficult as people say it is. There are certain strategies that can refine your verbal delivery and improve your stage presence. How can you be a powerful speaker?
Don’t ‘Wing It’
You can’t go to a gunfight empty-handed. Practice is crucial in making any performance unforgettable. But running your lines twice one day before the big day will not make a substantial improvement in your presentation.
If you want to make your performance memorable, practice weeks before your talk. Rehearse at least twice a day—in front of your mirror, your mentor, your friends.
Through constant practice, you will discover weak points in your performance and learn what areas to improve on. The regular repetition will also aid in the mastery of your material.
Remember that practice eliminates fear. Michael Jordan said it best: If you put forth the work, then what are you fearing?
The reason some people stumble on their way to the podium or repeatedly stutter in-between sentences is that their mind is somewhere else.
People often make the mistake of stressing about the number of people in the front row, the laces on their shoes, or the rather unflattering spotlight. You are only spawning a web of disaster by doing so.
Your brain can’t accommodate every little information you decide to shove in at the last minute. Just direct all your attention to your presentation, and don’t let tiny distractions derail you from what you’ve poured your heart into.
Simplify Your Speech
The reason people start yawning midway to your speech is that you’re no longer making sense to them. If you want to hold people’s attention, you have to simplify your presentation. Don’t overwhelm them with information.
A perfect example would be Steve Jobs’ commencement address at Stanford in 2005. Deemed as one of the most well-written speeches in history, he simply told three short stories that all tied up in the end. It revolved around the idea that all the little moments in life are interconnected like dots. It was brief yet powerful. Sometimes, there’s nothing wrong with keeping it short and simple.
Don’t Make It Flashy
Ever wondered why everyone seems to be gravitated to listen to TED talks? They are all terrific public speakers, but their minimalist presentations are just as outstanding.
Presenters often forget that PowerPoint slides are just supplements. You don’t have to paste your word-by-word discussion there and adorn it with unnecessary clip art and images. An overstuffed visual aid can be distracting and can take away the audience’s attention from you.
So, what exactly are acceptable elements to a stellar presentation? Powerful images that encapsulate your points of discussion, phrases that you want to emphasize, statistics that are more comprehensible when presented visually. When your PowerPoint is more digestible to your audience, it becomes more compelling to them.
Make It Personal
The best way to connect with your audience is—not by cracking a joke or offering a compliment—it’s by sharing a piece of you. Whether it’s your first victory as a football coach, your memorable prom night back in senior year in high school, or the pain of losing a pet dog, it will serve as a valuable element in your talk.
When you tie a personal story to your speech, you will have the crowd hanging on your every word. This humanizes you; when they find a thread of similarity with the speaker, the audience will try to hold onto that. Personal stories often have a more lasting effect on listeners.
End with a Bang
Don’t leave the stage without making an impact on your audience. Conclude it with a powerful quote, lighthearted advice, or a strong call-to-action.
Your parting words will make or break your speech because that’s the last thing people will remember you for. Whether you want them to remember you as an insightful speaker or a funny talker, your parting words must always be straight from the heart.
It takes patience and a lot of hard work to become a great public speaker. But once you master the art of talking in front of a sea of people, you might never want to stop.