Public speaking is the #1 greatest fear that plagues Americans. We, on the whole, fear public speaking more than we fear heights, bugs and snakes, needles, and even drowning. People are so terrified at the prospect of being forced to stand in front of a crowd and have their voice heard that some people actively fear it more than they fear death. Whether it be at school, work, or church, there is something universally terrifying about speaking in front of other people.
So how do I do it? How do I get up in front of people and motivate them? What is it that I do so differently than someone getting up to speak at a town council meeting that makes people want to listen? How do I make them not only want to listen but react to what I’m saying?
Believe it or not, I didn’t just roll out of bed one day and become a motivational speaker. Just like everything else in life, it’s something you have to work at. You have to have confidence in yourself and project that confidence into what you’re saying. If you’re worried about the next time you need to stand up and speak, take a look at some of the tips I live by when it comes to public speaking.
- Listen. Listen to the people around you. REALLY listen. If you don’t allow yourself to be receptive to the ideas of others, how can you expect anyone to listen to yours? Gain a general sense of how people speak to one another and how receptive they are to how they’re being spoken to. People can sense how responsive you are to what they’re saying, and the less receptive you are, the less likely they’ll be to listen.
- Don’t speak to every audience the same. People in New York will likely respond differently than people in Texas or London, the same way that scientists will respond differently than fine
artists. Learn about your audience and tailor your presentation to engage with their energy level or demographic.
- Know your audience. If you’re giving a speech about the benefits of underwater welding to a group of Midwestern farmers, your speech — no matter how dazzling — will likely fall on deaf ears. Make sure that what you’re saying is important to the people who will be listening, or it’s unlikely that what you’re saying will engage them at all.
- Connect with your audience. Why should the people who gathered to hear you speak care about what you have to say? How will they benefit from listening? Can you speak to a pain or problem that they have? Will your words leave a lasting impact?
- Dress for success. If you’re getting up in front of a crowd of people to speak, don’t dress like you’re eating breakfast on Saturday morning. Instead, dress in your Sunday best. Dressing up shows the audience that you respect them — and yourself — enough to dress up for the occasion.
- Show gratitude. If you have success as a speaker, you owe everything to the people who chose to come and listen to you speak. Each time you speak, remember to thank the host, thank the production crew, and thank the audience for devoting their time to come listen to you.
Be yourself. In order to give an authentic speech that your audience will receive well, you can’t go out on stage with a façade or a false persona to deliver your message. Authenticity is key when speaking passionately about anything; if your presentation is inauthentic, the audience will know.
- End on a high note. The two parts of any presentation that people remember most are how it began and how it concluded. You want to start your presentation strong, but you also want it to finish strong. Save yourself a particularly impactful statement or anecdote to close your presentation with a bang.
Speaking comes from within. If you want people to hear what you have to say, you need to believe that what you’re saying is worth hearing. Find something that makes you feel not only passionate, but passionate enough that you can compel others to feel that same enthusiasm. It’s not only about having something to say, but having someone who is willing to listen.