(ORIGINAL FEATURED IMAGE BY Martin fisch / Flickr: marfis75)
I once overheard a conversation between two thirty-something adults on the train where one of them said that they rather die than speak to a crowd. While her statement was most likely an exaggeration, public speaking is actually considered to be one of the biggest phobias among Americans. According to an article by The Washington Post, Chapman University in California did a survey on “American Fears” and found that 25%–which made the fear rank #1 on the list–of their population was afraid of speaking in front of a crowd.
Many of us, including myself, would rather not do public speaking. However, whether it’s for school, work, a panel interview, or any other matter, sometimes we simply have to do it. And the best way we can go about it is to do it prepared. We all have heard the “just imagine everyone is naked” tip. I’ve never tried it myself, nor do I want to, because I just don’t see how that’s supposed to help anyone. I put together a list of some of the things that have helped me in the past in preparing for public speaking.
1. Know the purpose of your speech
Are you telling a group of high school seniors how to apply for college (informative)? Are you convincing the Board of Directors in your company to lean towards a certain decision (persuasive)? Or are you doing public speaking for entertainment purposes (poetry, standup comedy)? Knowing the purpose of your speech is important because if you, the speaker, don’t even know why you’re saying what you’re saying, your crowd will lose interest and/or not take you seriously.
2. Know your audience
Back to the example above. Are you talking to a class of high school seniors who have got their feet up on their desks, or are you talking to a bunch of men and women in suits, who only have 10 minutes to spare before their next meeting, in a conference room?
This is not so you can take one more seriously than the other. You should always respect your audience, however, knowing who you’re talking to would allow you to cater your approach according to their needs. Based on my experience, a younger audience normally looks for a speaker who’s relatable and is able to keep them from zoning out and going on Snapchat. Older audiences, especially those of higher ranks, want just the main points of your speech and do not want to drown in details. There are a lot of other variables involved in knowing your audience, but I hope that gives you an idea.
3. Know how much time you have
Sounds pretty basic, but this is important. You can have the most brilliant 30-minute speech in history prepared, but it means nothing if you’re only given 10 minutes to speak.
4. Create a script
Not necessarily a word-for-word script (which is fine), but at the bare minimum, a guideline that gives you talking points would be helpful in making you more prepared for public speaking. The last thing you want to do is stand in front of the crowd and freeze, unable to say anything. At least, with some kind of prepared script, you’d be able to refer back to it if needed.
While reading off it is a big no-no, I would also not recommend completely memorizing it. It’s great to be extremely familiar with your script, but don’t just store it all in your head and go without it. Saying your speech and referring back to your script, say, at the end of each paragraph, is a great way to make sure you’re on track (remember that we also have time constraints here). Do your speech completely without referring to anything may lead to you going off on a tangent and the next thing you know, time is up and you’re talking about your dog Molly.
5. Pretend you’re someone else
This sounds crazy, but I promise this has some method to it. If public speaking really isn’t for you…well, guess what. Go do it as someone else. This may require some interest and/or experience in acting to understand, but playing a character who happens to excel in public speaking is actually a great trick in doing it well. Actors who are in character do things they normally wouldn’t do. Jennifer Lawrence doesn’t normally rebel and threaten the President (not that I know of), but Katniss does.
What do you find helpful when doing public speaking?