I’m the strange type of person that really enjoys public speaking. It doesn’t gel with the rest of my personality but there is nothing more satisfying to me than standing in front of a group of people and telling a story. I have spoken at all types of events, big or small, across the country and I love it. I always say I will speak to anyone about anything. My audiences have ranged from elected officials, to techies, to engineers, to realtors, and homeowners. My topics are always about the various aspects of government I’m involved in and could be considered pretty dry, and I do get nervous, but there are things I do to help manage my nerves. It’s not all about picturing them naked so here are my tips to engage your audience.
Tip 1 – Take control and remove distractions.
We all have something that we know is going to distract an audience from what you are saying. For me it’s my accent. If I don’t address my accent, I know people will spend the first few minutes trying to understand me or trying to figure out where I’m from. To avoid this, within the first few sentences, I refer to my accent or where I’m from in the UK. Not everyone will have something as specific as a British accent to get over but you will all have something. Take control of it and make it a non-issue.
Tip 2 – Tell a story.
I like to say that the difference between a great lecturer and a great speaker is the ability to tell a story. Think of the TED talks you like to listen to, or the most influential speakers. The ones that read from a screen or auto prompt are not the ones that stick with you. It’s the storytellers that you remember. They make it personal to them and memorable to you. This won’t come easy to everyone, but try to relate what you are trying to say to a personal experience and use that to deliver your message.
Tip 3 – Wing it!
That won’t work for everyone, you have to really know your topic to be able to do it. I find the more prepared I am for a talk, the worse it sounds. If I rehearse, I sound stilted and unnatural. This may be going against everything you have learned but it works for me. The very first time I spoke in public was a book report in school. I had everything I would say planned, written out and had rehearsed until I was word perfect. I started my opening sentence, took one look at eyes glazing over, sat down on the desk next to me and just talked. It took me a few more tries to realize that over rehearsed was not the way to go for me
Tip 4 – Make eye contact.
This is probably the most impactful thing you can do and the more you can make eye contact with people in your audience, the more you will engage the crowd. This is also a two-way street. By making eye contact, you can get a feel from your audience as to how the presentation is going. Look for tells such as nodding heads to say you’re on the right track, or puzzled looks to say you’re not. Be prepared to adjust what and how you are talking depending the feedback you get back from the audience.
Tip 5 – Make it personal.
If you are speaking after someone, try and use a quote or reference from them in your talk – it shows you were listening and encourages others to listen to you. If you know people in the audience, use them to illustrate a point and make your presentation more like a conversation.
These won’t work for everyone but pick a couple of them and try – they work for me and help me engage my audience. You all have stories to tell and knowledge to share so don’t let a fear of public speaking stop you from educating people who want to listen.