If you’re anything like the millions of others who have a fear of public speaking, then standing up in front of an audience can be a nightmare. You know the one. It’s that recurring anxiety dream where you rush out of the house, late for work, only to find that when you arrive at the office you’re still in your underwear. The Disney princess underwear that you just adored when you were 8 years old.
However, that’s just a bad dream…right? Right! It doesn’t have to be this way, and even the least enthusiastic public speaker can own that anxiety and turn it into something productive. After all, it’s perfectly normal to feel a little trepidation before giving a big, talk, presentation or pitch, or whenever you need to address an audience of any kind. Here, we lay out our top public speaking tips to help you rock your next engagement. Read on and rest assured that the only thing to worry about is getting your pants on before you leave the house!
Prepare….and Then Prepare Some More
Preparation will ensure that you step up to the stage with confidence, knowing that you’ve done everything you can to start off on the right foot. It’s crucial when thinking about how to improve your public speaking skills and, in fact, it should be the foundation of your entire presentation. Arrange your ideas into a logical structure that captures the audience’s interest. Lay out a plan of exactly what you want to say and what it means to the audience. Create engaging slides, pitch decks, audio, or video, and ensure you proof for errors at least twice (and then maybe a third time just in case). And of course, practice makes perfect—rehearsing your presentation or speech is a great way to iron out any potential stumbling blocks and refine your delivery. Lastly, make sure you do all of these things in plenty of time. There’s nothing worse than leaving it until the last minute and arriving at your talk exhausted from late night practice.
Make Your Presentation Slides Pop
A well made set of presentation slides plays a huge part in how effectively you can deliver your talk. When designing slides, try to avoid large blocks of texts and prioritize meaningful images that add value to what you are saying. Infographics are ideal, helping the audience quickly visualize the information you are conveying while adding impact to any statistics you are using. Keep fonts simple and legible (definitely no Comic Sans) and avoid overly elaborate slide transition animations. Your presentation slides should pop, but they shouldn’t draw too much focus away from you. Effective public speakers use tools such as PowerPoint, Google Slides, and Prezi to build on the ideas they transmit to the audience but never as a substitute for engaging rhetoric.
Organize Your Materials
Whether you’ve designed a sleek and streamlined PowerPoint presentation or an all-singing, all-dancing multimedia extravaganza, organizing your materials so you can easily find and access them on the day is a great presentation tip. There’s nothing worse than trying to upload materials onto another computer only to find the file is corrupt or you didn’t save it properly.
Thumb drives and external hard drives can be useful as a backup, however, it’s probably best to keep your materials online so they can be easily accessed wherever you are and on any kind of set up. Check out Spike’s File Manager if you want a quick and easy way to manage your files directly from your email. It works on Mac, Windows, iOS, Android, and in web browsers—so If you’re using someone else’s equipment or you don’t have access to your usual devices, you can simply log in via a web browser and grab your presentation wherever you are.
Speak to Your Audience
Perhaps the most important thing to remember when you take the stage, is that your presentation is about your audience and not you! Good presentation skills include tailoring your speech to the crowd and using a delivery they can understand. Do as much research as you can on the organizers of the event, read up on the type of people that are likely to attend, target specific vocabulary that suits the crowd and ensure that any complex ideas can be easily broken down and explained. If you know your audience, you’ll be able to keep them engaged with an interesting presentation that really speaks to their knowledge and experience.
Don’t Stick to the Script
A script is a good thing to have, however, reading off a sheet of paper when you’re trying to engage your audience is not. You need to make eye contact, gesticulate, and read the crowd’s reaction to what you are saying. Often, it’s better to have a cue sheet that guides you (and the audience) through the content of your speech. After all, improving your public speaking skills is more about connecting with your audience and less about delivering a carefully edited script in monotone.
Make Them Laugh
Laughter is the best medicine, and for anyone with public speaking anxiety, dropping in a few jokes here and there can help relieve some of the stress on you, and allow the audience to connect with what you are saying. Again, tailoring your level of humor will depend on your audience, but you already know WHO they are and what they might appreciate. Feel free to use a joke about your inappropriately attired presentation dreams, although err on the side of caution when it comes to the risqué!