Public speaking Tips
When you are worrying about a giving a presentation, public speaking tips can offer your mind a release from your anxiety. Public speaking tips can help you to focus on a “process” rather than being consumed by your own self-limiting doubts. They can also help you to portray confidence that you can embrace as your experience grows. Over time your public speaking courage will become a natural part of you, but it takes determination and a desire to succeed; this change rarely happens overnight.
These public speaking tips are written using my experience as a qualified teacher/trainer. They also draw from my experience as a Senior Clinical hypnotherapist for Hypnotherapy Cardiff. Use these public speaking tips to guide you if you have never given a presentation before. Alternatively, you may find one of these public speaking tips helps your preparation in your next presentation.
Presentations can take various forms. These public speaking tips are aimed at the typical educational setting where you are given a title and required to present information within a set time limit. This information you present could be personal, factual or emotional. The information generally serves to inform the audience or help shape their opinion about making an informed choice in the present or the future.
Public speaking tips #1: Research your topic
Researching what you are going to talk about is not one of the most exciting public speaking tips to begin with, but it is an important one. Your presentation could be a disaster if you (or your personality) don’t fall into the following categories:
• You ooze self-confidence and love being the centre of attention. It doesn’t matter what you speak about, you just relish the opportunity to be on stage. Even if you messed up, you wouldn’t notice because you possess a hardened exterior called arrogance.
• You have developed and mastered your presentation character/role. This allows you to think on your feet and you seamlessly move from one topic to another. You could wax lyrical about anything
• You are an expert in your field and can talk for hours because you are qualified and knowledgeable.
• All of the above!
If you are new to public speaking, given time you can become one or all of the above. In the meantime, research your subject until it you have enough content to play with.
Public speaking tips #2: Keep your presentation relevant to your aim
What’s that, you don’t have an aim? Then how will you know what is relevant? Ok, so this is a bit of a chicken and egg situation. This really does depend on whether you have been given a presentation with strict criteria to follow or an open-ended title in which you are required to make the decision for yourself.
If you have been given the criteria to follow, keep reminding yourself of the meaning behind the criteria. Keep using this in every stage of the process because there’s nothing worse than talking about something that is a million miles away from the title. It is also important to identify any marking structure. The higher the marks allocated to a topic, the more likely you are to devote your time to these topics.
If the title is open-ended e.g. Pop music, then give your presentation a direction (your aim) such as “number one hits by (a certain) pop group”. You simply can’t cover every fact in a short presentation.
Give a statement of your aim at the beginning with possible subheadings. These can include a few ground rules e.g. asking questions at the end rather than throughout the presentation. You may even give a statement of what you “won’t” present because of certain limitations e.g. time.
Factors that can influence your aim include:
• Temporal factors: Such as the time you have to prepare (and take into account other obligation), the duration of the presentation or your other obligations that might intrude on this project.
• Situational factors: This can include the availability of resources e.g. microphone and lectern, the layout of the room and the size of your audience.
• Personal factors: Such as your subject-knowledge, confidence, voice projection, use of non-verbal gestures etc.
The more you know about these factors, the more you can shape the precise intentions of your aim.
Public speaking tips #3: Identify an objective for your audience
Some of these public speaking tips clearly overlap. This one has direct links with public speaking tips #2. Your aim is what you intend to do in your presentation. Your objective considers what your audience will be able to do by the end of your presentation.
If your presentation is about your formal one-sided communication of information (i.e. only you speaking), then your objective may simply be about your audience hearing/understanding you and being informed about some facts. One important question to keep asking yourself is “How do I know that they..?” in this case “…can hear me/understand me?”
The answer to this might depend on what kind of feedback is available? Are they looking puzzled throughout? Are they laughing at your jokes? What type of questions do they ask at the end? Are you being graded (formal feedback)? The feedback could be immediate or post presentation.
An objective is made clearer when it can be expressed in behavioural terms. “Understanding” is not a behavioural objective because the audience may not have been required to do anything to understand. They can just sit there and passively listen.
The feedback may not be known until sometime after the presentation. This is where the objective might be sales-based e.g. gaining 10 sales of your product or service within a month. Or maybe your presentation is influencing your audience to make a decision e.g. vote about a policy you are advocating in the next election.
In a didactic situation e.g. teaching or training, the process can include an assessment of the behavioural outcome e.g. the audience needs to write an essay on the content of your presentation. Depending on the value of the essays (feedback), you then evaluate the whole process and make adjustments to your presentation or lesson.
Public speaking tips #4: Give your presentation a beginning, middle and end
Structuring your content is essential for clarity. Without statements of intent (or limitation), the presentation can appear vague and disjointed. The audience have no concept of your direction or won’t know their involvement in the process.
The first stage in public speaking tips #4 is the introduction. This can include some of the following points where they are relevant:
• A welcome – Stating who you are, qualifications and experience, situation (“I have been asked to give a presentation by the…”)
• State your aim – See public speaking tips #2. “The aim of this presentation is …”
• State any limitations affecting your presentation – Stating what you will not be presenting helps the audience recognise the emphasis you are giving to your presentation.
• State any methods you are using: Are you discussing or describing your content? Are you using any visual aids that help your audience anticipate their involvement? This can be an extension of the aim “The aim of the presentation is to compare styles of pop music between two decades. I will be playing some pop music from those decades to demonstrate my analysis.”
• State any objective for the audience: See public speaking tips #3. “I would like you to listen to the various styles of music. Please give a vote at the end of your preferred choice.”
The next stage in public speaking tips #4 is the middle section. This consists of the main points of the presentation. The main points need to be organised, logical and relevant to the aim. Ideally, your points will be enhanced with additional information and/or visual aids (pictures or diagrams). Following the example used of the pop music presentation, pictures of the pop bands and audible aids (music or video) would complement the presentation and help make it more captivating.
Include linking statements sometimes called “signposts” that help the presentation to coherently flow from one point to another. They act as bridging statements and can be used to build rapport with your audience. Signpost statements can:
• Summarise what you have just done – “Now that I have discussed…”
• Emphasise what you are going to do – “The next section of my presentation will…”
• Clarify the importance of a point by linking it back to the aim – “You will notice the statement made by…”
Signposts can be created by changing the pitch of your voice e.g. starting a new point with a raised tone of voice. Signposts can also be non-verbal but still serve to navigate the audience through your presentation. They can include moving from one part of the room to another, creating a short pause, switching equipment on or off and glancing at another part of the audience.
The last stage of public speaking tips #4 is the end section, sometimes called the conclusion. The end section can make the following points:
• Re-emphasise your aim and objective – “In the presentation, I have aimed to… you can now…”
• Summarise your main points “I hoped to have been able to show that…”
• Mention any closing remarks – For example, thank the audience, inform them of what is happening next, tell them about any exit procedures or a “call to action” regarding further information “Please help yourself to the information booklets…” or “contact me for further help…”
• An opportunity for the audience to ask questions – Where appropriate, leave time for questions about any topics presented. Remember that it is better to admit that you don’t know something and be prepared to research the answer for them, than to bluff the way through with a vague answer.
Public speaking tips #5: Learn how to breathe to control your anxiety
Knowledge and experience can build self-confidence. Along your presentation journey, some useful breathing techniques can help release your anxiety:
• In anticipation of a presentation – Use breathing techniques to help you relax when your presentation anxieties “appear” in your mind. Worries have a habit of popping into your mind whilst doing other routine activities.
• During the presentation – Breathing techniques can calm your nerves throughout the presentation. Think of it as a useful “vent” when tension builds up.
• After the presentation – It can seem like a relief that you would rather not replay in your mind, but “putting the presentation away” can help you build confidence for the next presentation. Use breathing techniques and visualisation to process what you have done well with a feeling of achievement. Then “over trace” the parts that didn’t go so well, imagining your return, tackling any errors that you made. This process can affect how and where you “store” the presentation in your mind. Better to learn from it, than to run away from it!
A common problem associated with anxiety is the development of psychosomatic symptoms. These can include shortness of breath, palpitations, blushing, profuse sweating, dryness and constriction in the throat, involuntary tremors in the hand, tendency to stammer, IBS etc. The anxiety sufferer then worries that these symptoms are visible to the audience and desperately tries to conceal them. They are more preoccupied with their psychosomatic symptoms than with the task in hand. Breathing can act as the anxiety diffuser that alleviates the symptoms, allowing you to focus on your presentation.
Learn how to breathe now! Learning to breathe outside of any external distraction is essential to being able to control your anxiety. You can then begin to use these breathing techniques in progressively more stressful situations. Thus developing breathing techniques is part of your preparation. Actually, it’s part of how you manage your lifestyle!
The use of breathing techniques can be considered a self-hypnosis. This is explained below in public speaking tips #6.
Public speaking tips #6: Rehearse and visualise your presentation
Here’s a quick summary of where you should be:
• Once you have written the content of your presentation, check that it matches your assessment criteria.
• Amend any content so that it is relevant to the aims and objectives.
• Organise the layout so that it has a distinct beginning, middle and end.
• Adjust the content so that it fits into any time constraints.
With most of the boxes being ticked, you can now practise (rehearse) your presentation. Some people like to start with a script and condense it down to a few key points. This will involve familiarising some of the content so that keywords can be placed on a hand-sized card/bullet points in PowerPoint. This “condensing” process can help you to recall some of the material from the notes yet still maintain the planned structure (since it’s easy to lose your place!) The condensing stage is important because it stops you “reading from a script” with your head and eyes in your notes throughout the whole presentation.
Now that you are familiar with the content, visualise giving a confident presentation. That’s right, close your eyes for a moment, take a deep breath and imagine being in the situation with everything going well. So, imagine all that you would talk about, feel and see in your audience. Thinking positively means just that! Many people “think” they are thinking positively, when all they are doing is taking their mind to the place that they don’t want to go! Most “positive” thinking in default mode ends up reinforcing the negatives, or it involves anxious worrying about a situation.
The process of positive visualisation (thinking) involves giving your mind something to focus on. You can work towards this image by converting your internal (anxiety) symptoms and what is happening around you into positive outcomes.
When you are anxious what happens?
• Breathing is rapid and short – visualise giving your presentation breathing slowly and deeply and at regular intervals.
• Voice becomes quiet and throat feels constricted – visualise speaking with a loud multi-tonal voice and the throat feeling relaxed.
• Legs feel like jelly and hands shake – visualise your legs feeling strong and hands feeling relaxed.
And so on… Then visualise converting some of your “external” anxieties:
• The audience look bored – visualise the audience looking interested and stimulated by your content and use of voice control. Imagine them being on your side!
• You fear losing your place – visualise using a prompt card that helps you to move seamlessly from one point to another.
• You fear some technology not working – visualise keeping calm and apologising for the “technical issue”. Explain what your audience would have seen as a contingency plan.
Visualisation and rehearsals can be done in front of a mirror. You may even wish to practise using a video camera or a trustworthy audience (e.g. your family). With each rehearsal you will build up a positive template and expectation for how you will present on the actual day. This has the effect of lowering your anticipatory anxiety and helps you to feel like the presentation is a natural part of what you do.
Final public speaking tips
Some of these public speaking tips are summarised in the previous points. Other public speaking tips you will acquire with experience as your confidence grows:
• Use memory prompts – A well-rehearsed presentation will flow smoothly. Learn your material until a keyword prompts a sentence or paragraph about that topic. Effective use of PowerPoint or visual aids can also help this process but are secondary to the dialogue you use through your presentation. If you are quoting some complex dialogue, ensure you glance up at the audience at regular intervals.
• Project your voice – Develop a “presentation voice” that is loud, multi-tonal, and moderately paced with effective pauses. Recording and listening to your own voice can help you develop your “presentation voice”
Your pitch can be maximised when you involve your diaphragm muscles. Imagine speaking to someone in the room next door! That doesn’t mean shouting, but the focus of your voice should be in your abdomen rather than straining your vocal chords.
Varying the tone in your voice can help stimulate interest in your audience. Learn to raise and lower the tone of your voice to emphasise and de-emphasise certain parts of your presentation.
Vary the pace of your dialogue. If you are anxious, you are likely to speak quickly, so the general advice is to slow down. Momentary pauses can generate a feeling of confidence. Coordinate your relaxed breathing with your voice projection.
• Develop a stage presence – This is something that grows with your experience and your confidence. It includes certain points already mentioned such as the content of your presentation and the way you have organised it. It also includes non-verbal aspects of communication such as:
Eye contact – Your eye contact can be used to give each person a feeling of importance. Staring at one person in particular can feel intimidating, so pan across your audience slowly in a gentle rotation, as if you want to acknowledge each person present. It’s easy to give too much importance to people in the middle of the audience, so try not to ignore people in the corners of the room.
Posture – How you stand/sit can set the tone of your presentation. Standing tall behind a lectern (when there is one available) can be appropriate for a more formal presentation. It gives you somewhere to place your notes whilst still facing the audience. Where the situation is didactic, some people prefer to stand without a “barrier”. Sometimes, sitting on a table can emphasise the informality of the situation. Your movement around the stage can also create a feeling of confidence. Some “purposeful” steps can help counter the tendency to stand rigid when feeling anxious.
Facial expressions – A (genuine) smile can indicate that you are comfortable and enjoying what you do. The audience will feed off your body language, helping to put them at ease.
Hand gestures – Hand gestures can help you to appear animated and interesting. Use a few gestures (but not too many) to emphasise any visual aids. Some psychologists believe that “open hand” gestures can communicate that you are open and honest. Some animation can be better than remaining completely still.
Seeing a video of you speaking can be a good way of developing stage presence in the long term. A video can also help identify and reduce any communication “annoyances” e.g. excessive use of hand gestures.
Organise your stage – How you arrange the stage and seating (where appropriate) will create a formal or informal atmosphere. As you grow in confidence, organise the stage in the way that helps your communication. Can any visual aids be seen by your audience? You won’t always be able to choose the layout in every venue but it helps to have a concept when you can arrange the stage yourself.
• Break down any barriers with your audience – Finding out something about your audience can help you to tailor your presentation to their needs. What is their prior knowledge or learning about this subject? Do they all work for the same organisation? Has the advert targeted a specific need? This information can help you to build rapport with your audience with references to their “group” that they might find interesting. Barriers can also be broken down by speaking to individual members of your audience before and after the presentation. Any feedback that is returned can help you to develop your presentation in the long term.
If your presentation is aimed at your peer group as part of an assessment, then find something refreshing to add to the presentation even if it’s some light humour (but keep it to the presentation aim). Hearing numerous presentations on the same topic can be repetitive. Involving members of the audience can be a good way of keeping their interest and keeping the presentation informal.
Think of your audience as being on your side; this will ease your anxiety. Surprisingly, they want you to succeed. Giving them a welcome can help put them at ease.
• Have some contingency plans – Plan for things to go well, first and foremost. But keep a few back-up plans with solutions in case something goes wrong. A technology failure is rare, but can happen. You can only then do your best to make amends. Apologise for this and then if it means you rely on written notes, then use them! It’s amazing how “character building” situations like this can be.
You can’t cover every eventuality, but when left to think on your feet, it serves to…
• Believe in yourself – Confidence comes with achievement. If you have never given a presentation, then transfer the feeling of confidence from any other successes you have had in your life. Rehearse the affirmation “I can do this!” as part of your preparation.
Public speaking is a continuous journey of learning. Give your presentation, then assess and review your performance. Make changes and try something new when the perceived risk is low. That way, if it goes wrong, it won’t be the end of the world! Public speaking tips can help give you feedback and freshen your strategies. Public speaking tips can remind you that different approaches are required for different situations.