On New Year’s Eve, people around the world will pop bottles of champagne and toast to the new year. They’ll share their reflections on the year winding down, and offer predictions and hopes for the year to come. But even when your audience is an intimate group of close friends celebrating the new year, public speaking can be an intimidating experience.
How do you deliver a winning speech, whether you deliver it to a few close friends or a roomful of business professionals? I asked a few Nintex technical evangelists – as well as two other frequent public speakers (one at a partner company and one at a customer company) – for their public speaking tips. These tips can help anyone hone their skills.
But first, let’s look at exactly how many people are afraid of public speaking and why.
According to the Forbes article Forbes article “Why We Fear Public Speaking and How to Overcome It” about 10 percent of the population loves public speaking. They experience no fear and, in fact, savor the rush from speaking in front of a group.
Another 10 percent of people are terrified of public speaking, and will experience nausea, panic attacks and extreme anxiety at the thought of being in front of an audience. The word glossophobia comes from the Greek γλῶσσα glōssa, meaning tongue, and φόβος phobos, fear or dread.
“The rest of us – roughly the 80 percent in the middle – get butterflies, get anxious, don’t sleep much the night before – but we know that we’re going to live through it,” writes contributor Nick Morgan. “It’s just not much fun.”
The reason why many people fear public speaking is primal. When standing in front of a group of people, your inner caveman or cavewoman senses a threat and feels singled out from the group. Your body responds with a heart-thumping rush of adrenaline. You have no way to burn off that adrenaline by chasing – or running away from – a woolly mammoth or saber-toothed tiger so you’re left with sweaty palms and a stomach filled with frantically diving butterflies.
Can you lose the nervousness? A couple of our experts believe nervousness is not such a bad thing. Nintex Technical Evangelist Brad Orluk considers nervousness a natural response to public speaking. And Benjamin Niaulin believes a little nervousness is a good thing.
“If you’re not nervous then there is a problem,” says Benjamin, a Microsoft Office 365 MVP who works at Sharegate, Nintex’s preferred migration partner. “You should always be worried about how the presentation goes and how it will be received – and that’s what will make a good presentation generally.”
It can be tempting to take an everything-and-the-kitchen-sink approach to your content. Especially when you know the topic well and have lots of interesting insights, metrics and stories to share about it. Nintex Vice President of Workflow Technology Mike “Fitz” Fitzmaurice advises you to resist that temptation.
“Pick no more than three things, ideally one thing, and make everything you’re saying fall back to that,” Fitz says. “People won’t remember a list of things. People will remember one. If you’re trying to teach them something, pick one thing and have everything boil down to that.”
Public speaking typically gets easier the more you do it, Benjamin says, though you’ll probably always experience a little nervousness in the first seconds of a speech. One way to gain confidence? A thorough knowledge of what you’re speaking about.
“If you know your topic then there is nothing to fear,” Benjamin says. “Once the first sentence is spoken, you’ll quickly find yourself at the end of your presentation. The first words are always the hardest to break through.”
Brad agrees. While people may vary on how much rehearsal time they need to feel confident at the podium, speakers who are successful are the ones who demonstrate mastery of the content.
One thing that will help you narrow down your speech topic is a clear understanding of your audience, says Swetha Sankaran, a regular speaker and active Nintex Connect member who works for a Nintex customer.
The first time she spoke at a SharePoint Saturday, she spoke about a custom dashboard solution using Office 365, SharePoint, Nintex and HighCharts. She mistakenly set it as a Level 100 presentation but later realized the content was more advanced. Luckily, her audience turned out to have advanced skills. Soon after, she gave an Office 365-focused session but 40% of her audience had on-premises versions of SharePoint and walked out.
Now, she researches her audiences ahead of time and tailors her content to them.
“Prior knowledge of the range of the audience helps quite a bit,” she says.
Swetha counts herself among that 10 percent of people who get excited about public speaking opportunities. But that doesn’t mean she walks to the podium with no prior preparation. Her preparation helps ensure that she enjoys the experience.
“What I do for situations where I might feel nervous is I prepare in front of a mirror,” she says. “I run through my session several times. I ask myself all the possible questions that I can envision an audience asking.”
If your presentation includes a demo or slides, make sure you queue everything up before beginning your presentation and are confident with how to operate the equipment.
People are used to hearing stories and thinking in terms of stories. Your audience is no exception. Among other things, presenting a story means developing a clear beginning, a solid middle and an end that wraps it all up.
“There needs to be cause and effect. There need to be characters,” Fitz says. “Humans as a species are hard-wired to think in terms of stories.”
Have fun with your presentation. Make your speech both informative and entertaining. Ask the audience questions. Share personal stories. Tell a joke.
“The last two are very important in getting buy-in from your audience,” Brad says. “Humor and shared experiences that they can relate to will lower the audience’s defenses and allow them to accept your message. Don’t worry if a joke or story falls flat. Just move on and try again later.”
Along those lines, don’t think you can read the minds of your audience. If someone gets up and leaves, it doesn’t mean that that person isn’t enjoying your presentation, he says. People have to leave to take phone calls. People need to take bathroom breaks. Unless an audience member is blatantly being disruptive, don’t let one person’s actions disrupt your focus.
In “On Rhetoric,” philosopher Aristotle taught that to persuade someone of something, you need three things – Logos (rationality, data); Pathos (emotion); and Ethos (creditability, reputation), says Nintex Technical Evangelist Alex Joly.
“You have to touch the emotion of your audience before getting to your point,” Alex says. “The more pathos you put into your speaking, the better listening you get from your audience.”
Part of the reason to bring the emotion is to appeal to both the left-brained and right-brained people in your audience, Fitz says. While the former might appreciate facts more, the latter need the emotional dimension or they’ll never remember those facts.
Slides can reinforce the major points of your speech and are your most important tool to help you present. But don’t cram your slides with too much information, Benjamin cautions. Hit the highlights.
“You’ll find my slide have a simple message on what I’d like to cover,” Benjamin says. “This helps me talk more or less depending on how much time I have for a presentation and adjust freely. It also allows me not to commit to a certain topic all the time and feel less scripted.”
His strategy is to add a single sentence to each slide, making sure that collectively he’s telling a solid story. He later adds images to help tell that story and create a compelling visual for his audiences.
He recommends the following presentation – “You Suck at PowerPoint! 5 Shocking Design Mistakes You Need to Avoid” By Jesse Desjardins – which has helped him hone the slides he prepares for his speeches.
Perspective can also help when you’re feeling nervous, Swetha says. You may be worried about messing up your speech. In your head, that might seem like a devastating event. What will your audience think? What will they say?
“When I get super nervous, I remind myself that I’m everyone’s equal and no one’s superior,” she says. “We all are constantly learning and evolving together. There is no one who is above us or beneath us. Goof-ups happen and everyone goes through it.”
The best public speaking advice Brad has ever heard? Be the duck.
Imagine a duck. As it moves around a pond, it makes it seem effortless. Ducks look calm as they glide across the surface. But under the water, beyond our view, the webbed feet of the ducks are kicking like crazy to make it look so effortless. It’s a similar situation when you give a speech.
“No one knows what’s going on in your head so breathe, relax and deliver the presentation,” Brad says.
The more speeches you give, the easier it often gets to give one. Joining Toastmasters International, which has more than 15,400 clubs in 135 countries, is one way to get more public speaking experience. Members gain public speaking and leadership skills in a supportive environment as they prepare and give speeches.
Experts also advise watching well-regarded speakers and reading books about public speaking.
“People should read ‘Talk Like TED,’ ” Alex says of “Talk Like TED: The 9 Public-Speaking Secrets of the World’s Top Minds” by Carmine Gallo. “It really helped me.”
Got a tip for giving a memorable speech or for speaking with more confidence? Share it below in the Comments.