Mic Check: Public Speaking 101

It’s Wednesday and your manager gives you a new task: write and deliver a speech for 100 people at a public event in two days. You will either react in one of two ways: thrilled at the professional development opportunity — or fearful of speaking publicly in front of large crowds.

Fear of public speaking may happen to anyone at any time. It also happens to veteran speakers because each new public speaking event is a new experience for the speaker. There are a few quick “microphone (mic) check” tips you can use to prepare for your next public speaking event.

Public speaking can bring about great professional development opportunities. For example, public speaking engagements may build speaker confidence. Each time you create an audience-centric approach, you have the ability to engage your listeners using an informative or persuasive message. Another way to enhance your speaker confidence includes incorporating research, audience demographics and concise messaging for the target audience.

In addition, check the speaking event location before your speech as part of your prep work. It is important to know the event logistics, test the microphone and other electronic devices before the speaking engagement. Then conduct a “test run” on your speech to hear the final message aloud and make updates as necessary.

Moreover, according to a Psychology Today article, when a speaker focuses solely on the perfect message, they make the mistake of focusing on the errors instead of messaging. The perfectionist principle is a hindrance that can stop even the most ardent speaker in her tracks. A way to move beyond this type of barriers is by continuing the audience engagement despite any real or perceived missteps. In addition, the ability to avoid high levels of self-criticism may lead to more enjoyable public speaking engagements while boosting one’s confidence.

Also, it is okay to be nervous when you are about to deliver a speech. Instead letting your nerves take you to an extreme fear factor level; try to channel your energy. For example, leverage your internal locust of control to reach a calm and collected mental place before you delivery your speech. In addition, create a “pre-speech” music playlist to help amp up your positive energy so you can deliver an engaging message with  your audience.

Tracey Batacan is part of the GovLoop Featured Blogger program, where we feature blog posts by government voices from all across the country (and world!). To see more Featured Blogger posts, click here.

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Tracey Batacan

Hi Deborah, thank you for the comments. I use three additional tips to build public speaking confidence: create a quick outline of the main topic and 3 subtopic areas; research as needed, try to speak at several different public speaking events to diverse audiences to practice your skillsets. This may include serving as a speaker at a speaker for internal agency functions. Share the information in more of a conversation style so it is less restricted language. Lastly, feel comfortable in your expertise becuase it will flow naturally in to your speech.

Mark Hammer

What renders novice speakers anxious is the sense that they will be “judged” by folks, eager to pick holes or find fault with the presentation. The preponderance of people attending talks are really only looking to be a little informed, a little amused, and kept awake….and that’s not unreasonable. That doesn’t mean you can be disorganized, but you don’t have to drive yourself nuts, preparing for expectations that few in the audience will actually have.

With respect to the “informed” part, novice speakers should not feel the obligation to either inundate an audience with what they know, or be exhaustive in presenting *everything*. A good talk should lead the audience to want to ask questions, tantalizing them, without presenting a talk that is too vague. It’s a good idea to keep some information “in your back pocket”, and use it for an informative response to whatever questions may pop up. That will accomplish two things. One: it will save presentation of that information to a point where it is *sought*, as opposed to flying by an audience not waiting for it. And two: that you have already considered the points raised by the questioner only serves to underscore YOUR brilliance, and flatter the questioner that they are every bit as smart as you to have asked that question. People LIKE being told that they were right!

Use every tool at your disposal to make face/eye contact with your audience, and convey that you are talking to THEM, not just doing a live version of “books on tape”. Filing cards with outlined points are good to have (or presentation slides serving the same function), but it should never be something you have to look at for a long time. When I used to teach university, there would always be at least one question-asker sitting in the front row, who would lose track of the hall behind them (that they couldn’t see), and once they got “in the mood” I would lose the class because I was looking at that person, and not the class. I would usually take the person aside, once the risk was identified, and ask them to change nothing about their behaviour, other than simply moving to the middle of the lecture hall, so that when I looked at them, I was also looking at most of the rest of the class, and would not lose their attention. Worked like a charm. Eye contact is magic, and critical.

One of the best public speakers I’ve ever seen is noted intelligence/personality theorist Robert Sternberg. I’ve seen him, and some of his students, on several occasions. He has a style that always begins with an anecdote that presents an analogy to the topic of discussion. That initial analogy persuades the audience that, fundamentally, they *understand* the material to be discussed, and he’s simply going to extend what they already know a bit further. It’s a very compelling, and comfort-creating, approach, that I heartily recommend.

Such opening anecdotes can be humorous, but they don’t need to be. I’m often reminded of the sequence in Woody Allen’s early film “Bananas”, in which he plays a ne’er-do-well who ends up being in a Central American revolutionary army. He is sent by his commander to NYC to speak at an expensive fundraiser, and, responding to his pre-talk jitters, a colleague tells him to start off with a joke. Allen steps up to the podium, in his uniform and obviously fake Castro beard, shifts his glasses on his nose, and begins “I’m reminded of the very humorous story of the farmer who had incestuous relations with all 5 of his daughters…” Needless to say, he is greeted by an awkward, stunned, tuxedoed-and-sequined silence, with mouths agape around the room.

Sometimes, starting off with a joke is not always the *best* strategy. An anecdote that rings true for all is a better leadoff.