10 ways to become a good public speaker

Speaking at conferences and workshops is one of the best ways to network, pitch and build your brand value. Don’t let your fear of public speaking hold you back.

For those who can do it, public speaking seems like a cakewalk. But for the rest of us, standing before a roomful of people can be extremely terrifying. Being able to address large audiences is one of the most important parts of a CXO’s job. Here are 10 tried and tested ways to hone your skills.

1. Start by practising
Recite your speech before a small group of friends and family. Encourage them to tell you where you could improve. If that is too daunting practice before a mirror (preferably a full-length one). Pay special attention to your expressions and stance. Body language communicates as much as words so change your stance or expressions when needed. Looking at yourself in the mirror will also help you get over your self-consciousness.

2. Research your subject matter
One of our biggest fears is that of looking foolish before our audience. One way to combat this is to ensure you have your facts on your fingertips and your research is super solid. Memorise your speech and write pointers so you are able to refer to them as your speech progresses.

3. Research your audience
As you would if you were building an app, research your audience before a public speaking engagement. By this we don’t mean find out details of everyone attending but do get a general idea of the age group, gender ratio and general background of the group before you start preparing. It will help you craft your speech to ensure you have their attention. It will also help if you get them to do an activity. Take a quick poll, engage them in a dialogue or ask them to share an experience. It will not only give you a break but also give you some time to gather your thoughts.

4. Focus on specific individuals
When you start, don’t think of yourself but rather of your audience. It will help you be less self-conscious and put the focus on the people you should focus on: your listeners. It will also help to make eye contact with select friendly faces and keep switching between them as you speak.

5. Dress well
Think of yourself as your audience. Would you pay attention to someone who wasn’t well turned out? If you’re really nervous, pull out something from your closet that isn’t just smart but also something you are comfortable in. Don’t go out and buy a new set of clothes. Instead opt for something you are already used to. It is akin to running a marathon; you don’t run one in a pair of new shoes.

6. Be articulate
It is easy to slip into ‘so’ or ‘um’ when you’re speaking. Avoid it as far as possible because it takes attention away from your talk. Always enunciate well because there’s no point to all your preparation if your audience cannot understand you. Practising the speech a couple of times always helps with this. And prepare note cards. Include statistics, quotes, and lists you might need. You can keep the notes on the lectern or table and glance down in case you need a reminder.

7. Take up more speaking engagements
Don’t just be satisfied with one; take up as many opportunities to speak in public as possible. Practice, as they say, makes one perfect.

8. Watch other public speakers
There are several TED talks that aren’t just inspirational for their content but they’re also great in the way the topic is presented. Learn from these speakers how to hold the audience’s attention. There’s no better way to learn than by watching.

9. Sprinkle you speech with anecdotes and jokes
The best way to start a speech is with a joke or an anecdote. It helps people connect with you and vice versa. And an interesting story is the easiest way to break the ice. But if coming up with one is taking a lot of effort, drop it because chances are it won’t work. In that case just jump right into the topic and take things from there.

10. If you aren’t confident start by being part of panels
Standing alone before a roomful of people can be daunting. If you think you cannot do it alone, go for opportunities that involve other people. Take part in panel discussions where you are not the only one talking. Once you get used to the idea of facing people then graduate to solo speaking assignments. 

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