Your mouth has gone as dry as a bone, your mind goes a complete blank and you can start to feel a tide of panic slowing drawing upwards.
You silently mouth the words: “keep it together, stay calm, breathe….” And suddenly you remember the first line of your speech and off you go – looking for all as if you have done this kind of thing for years.
Speaking in public – especially for the first time can be one of the most stressful things you will ever have to do. But it doesn’t have to be such a chore. Provided you have done your preparation, and you have memorized your speech, then all you have to worry about is summoning up the courage to stand up in front of everyone to deliver it.
Easier said than done and it is doubly hard to do because of the fear of making an idiot of ourselves in front of lots of people. The fear of failure and humiliating ourselves is often the reason why we feel reluctant to speak in public, and often, as much as we are willing to go ahead with the oration, our brain is actually screaming at us to run away and live to fight another day.
And that is really the most difficult thing to get over. We try to tell ourselves that everything will be fine, when deep down you are worrying about the hundred and one things that can go wrong.
Will you forget your speech? Will the audience laugh at your witticisms? Will you make yourself understood? Do you look presentable? What will other people think about you? Will you bore people? Will you get hecklers or be distracted by noise such as mobile phones?
There are lots of things that can go wrong, but with the right presence of mind and a little quick thinking you should be able to adapt quickly to a situation and incur the respect from your audience by showing how calm you can be.
Tips for making a successful speech:
Be prepared. Practice well, know your material and keep to the main points when speaking. Keep it simple and just stick to two or three key points that you can elaborate on and build on, if for example, you are brave enough to invite questions.
Try not to be someone you are not. If you remain yourself you will find it easier to relax rather than having the added pressure of keeping up a facade or character that isn’t really you.
Know your venue by making sure that you have researched where you will be speaking from. You could lighten the atmosphere by saying something nice about the town or city that you are in and mention a few places that you enjoyed visiting. It will help to break the ice and tell the audience that you are interested in them.
Gauge your audience. Be aware of body language and how well they are receiving your speech. Be aware of regional differences and that what means one thing in one place, may mean something completely different in another. Avoid using slang or profanity as it can often offend – however it does depend on the type of audience that you will be speaking to.
Be humble and play down your achievements. Put the onus on encouraging others to do well and give them the benefit of your experiences rather than being simply self congratulatory.
Sometimes things do go wrong. The trick is to have a flexible attitude and try not to take things to heart. Be good natured and quick witted and don’t try to exceed yourself. Ask your audience to bear with you whilst you work through your difficulties.
Although it can be rather off putting to see someone use crib notes, there is no shame in using them. You could have a little joke with your audience and say something like “I would forget my head if it wasn’t screwed on”, and even though you may have to rely on your prompt notes, you could also throw a little ad lib in to make everything run more normal and appear less forced.
Use your hands a lot and give plenty of non verbal communication. Nod, smile and engage the audience with eye to eye contact. Encourage a kind of non verbal rapport by using positive body language such as tilting your body slightly forwards and have a “listening stance”. Give your audience something to look at as well as to listen to and you will find that they will become more readily engaged.
And above all, enjoy yourself! This will help to give your speech the passion and drive that it deserves and enable the listener to become fully involved in what you are saying. After all, what is the point in giving a talk and expecting an audience to give it their full attention, if you do not seem interested yourself?