“Public speaking” – two words, as threatening as they may sound, they don’t have to be. And yet, being scared to speak in public is a genuine problem many people across the world face. I am sure, you and us both at one point or another have experienced the jitters before taking up the stage to address a group of people – it doesn’t matter what the number was. The act of public speaking in itself is enough to give you the nerves.
The Fear of Public Speaking
“Glossophobia” is a term that is used for the fear of public speaking. It is very much a real term that stands for a very real problem. If statistics are to be believed, experts say that about 77% of the population experience some sort of anxiety towards public speaking. This might lead to people completely avoiding speaking in public, or if they do, they might end up with anxiety-like symptoms like feeling shaky, and breathless, among other things.
So, if you are a person who struggles with speaking in public, you are not alone.
Is it impossible to speak in public if you fear it?
It doesn’t have to be this way. As daunting as public speaking may seem, if you get your basics right, you won’t have much to worry about.
As they say, knowledge is the beginning of all wisdom – being aware of what you can and ideally should not do as a public speaker will not only make you more confident as a public speaker, but would also give you a fair idea of what people want to hear.
Public Speaking Mistakes – and how to avoid them
Don’t turn your back to the audience
When you turn your back to the audience as you address them, a couple of things happen. First, the eye contact that you had built with them which kept them hooked on to the topic you were discussing, gets broken. But that’s not the only issue here.
While giving a speech, it is not just the words being conveyed to the audience. Your body language makes a large contribution to your speech. Your non-verbal communication goes for a toss on turning your back. It may also become more difficult to hear you.
How to avoid turning your back to the audience?
Even if you feel like you need to turn to point something at a slide or write something on a board, it’s best if you do it while standing in a slant position – slightly looking towards the audience while you do what you have to do. This will ensure that your body language and non-verbal cues are still conveyed, and your credibility stays intact.
If you are giving a presentation you can make your computer screen face you as you face the crowd. This way, you can tell what is on the big screen just by looking at your computer screen, without having to turn your back on the audience.
Don’t pace around aimlessly on stage
There has been a debate about what is the best way to present on stage, on whether walking around the stage is a good idea or not. This is something we all tend to do while giving presentations.
Pacing around on the stage has several disadvantages. First, it might straight up make your audience perceive you as nervous – and you don’t want that while speaking in public. Walking on the stage is important, but ‘pacing around’ will just make it seem like you are uncomfortable and anxious. We understand that at times, this is not in our control at all. You indeed may be anxious but letting the audience find out that you are may take away from your self-confidence and esteem.
How to stop pacing around aimlessly on stage?
Experts say that when you are on stage, squeezing your toes tightly together like grabbing onto a tree branch may be helpful. This would prevent you from moving from the place you are standing in.
This does not mean that you need to stand in one place throughout the course of your presentation. Try to balance it out. A combination of standing in your place for important parts of your presentation, with a little bit of walking around (remember, walking and not pacing) would be a great way to go about it.
Speaking very softly
You might have some great things to tell your audience, your speech may be a speech that the audience has a lot to take away from. But it is all in vain if you are not loud and clear enough. Speaking very softly while giving a speech in public, even if you do have the access to a microphone, is not the best idea.
Technicalities apart, speaking softly will make you come across are underconfident and not sure of what you are saying – which is exactly what we don’t want. It is essential to be loud and clear while giving a speech. It is important to permit yourself to do that.
How to be loud and clear while giving a speech?
If you are soft-spoken and usually quiet, it is understandable if you struggle to speak loudly and clearly. But that’s not the end of the world. Here, again, it is important to have your basics right. Be very sure of what you are saying. Once you are confident in terms of what the content holds, you won’t be hesitant to say it out loud.
Your posture also helps you in being loud. Standing straight up, no bending whatsoever, and adding a tinge of your self-confidence there – this mix is just about right for you to be loud and clear.
Speaking very quickly
While you are at it, it is important to remember that speaking way too fast can be an issue as well. Again, this is something a lot of us may struggle with. If your pace of talking is usually on the faster end, it is not the easiest to reduce it while addressing an audience.
Speaking too fast has its issues – in the process of trying to convey what you are saying, you might get tangled up in your own words and miss the point, resulting in the message getting lost in translation. It can also make you end up looking like you are insecure, aggressive, or underconfident. And like we mentioned earlier, we don’t want any of that.
How to avoid speaking too fast?
The golden rule is to take a couple of pauses here and there. If you think is flowing with a lot of pace, pause after you finish a big sentence for example. Similarly, you can take a long pause after you finish speaking about a concept or finish a relatively bigger paragraph.
Additionally, while practicing, you can note down the time you are taking to deliver your speech. If you are a person who struggles with talking slowly, time yourself and slowly try to increase the total time of speech delivery.
Not being prepared
As a public speaker, not being prepared is one of the worst mistakes one can commit. But is also one of the most common mistakes, one which is the easiest to fix. Know you have an important speech or presentation coming up? Plan your preparation.
How to prepare for public speaking?
Firstly, it is important to know exactly what you are going to talk about. It is a good idea to take a pen and paper (or your notes application, if that’s what works for you), sit down, and list down everything you wish to include in your talk.
It is also essential to know your audience – where are you speaking? What would be the audience demographics? Are the topics you are covering suit these demographics? How comfortable are you in terms of your understanding of your speech? These are some of the things to consider.
Using too much jargon
We have a tendency to use complicated words while presenting a topic. This is very natural, as we assume that’s what the audience would want from us. Using a lot of jargon does not correlate to having a deeper understanding of your topic. It, in fact, complicates things for your audience. As a public speaker, your job is to convey something to your audience – to all the members of your audience. If it doesn’t cater to a section of your audience, it wouldn’t be fair.
How to avoid using jargon while giving a speech?
The solution – use simple, easy words. You can imagine yourself presenting to a 6th-grade class. How would you go about delivering your speech if they were in the audience – what words would you use in order for the content of the speech to be easily understandable to 11-year-olds? This is one of the ways you can use to un-complicate the subject matter of your presentation.
Arriving at the venue late
This is at par with not being prepared as one of the worst mistakes you can make as a public speaker. Not only is arriving late disrespectful to the audience, which is present there to attend your talk, but it is also not the best idea – technicality-wise.
How arriving early to the venue helps while giving a speech
You need to arrive early while delivering a speech for a variety of reasons. You can familiarise yourself with the space, making it much easier for you to be more comfortable and confident while giving your presentation. Next, you can speak to the people from the technical team to ensure your presentation (if that applies), light, sound, all works well and you have a smooth, uninterrupted public speaking experience.
Not doing tech check
Ensuring a smooth sailing presentation is your responsibility as a public speaker. This will help you speak interruption-free, but also from an audience perspective, who have come to hear you and give time to your speech, an uninterrupted experience is a necessity.
How to be prepared for a tech check before delivering a speech?
How to avoid this mistake – just connect with the tech team that is there at the site. If it is one of those events or places where you have to manage everything on your own, it is the best idea to reach out even earlier and make sure all the equipment is in place. Remember, you have to even be mentally ready to deliver a speech post this so the best idea is to get the technicalities sorted out in advance.
Not focussing on the opening and closing of your speech
To put it in the simplest way possible – a strong, impactful opening and closing of your speech makes your audience care about what you are saying. Starting and ending your presentation on an impactful note makes your speech effective in nature. Not focussing on these aspects of your speech would make it dull, monotonous and boring.
Check out our video on how to open a presentation online:
How to open and close your speech impactfully
Start of with a bold statement
This immediately captures the attention of your audience and makes
Share a personal experience
The more personal, the better. This makes your audience connect with you and your story
State key takeaways
Towards the end of your presentation, summarize it. This will help the audience remember everything they had to take away from this speech
Making jokes on controversial topics
This is a big no-no, no matter what your chosen topic is. Members of your audience come from different demographics. They are different people, belonging to different races and religions, with different political opinions, beliefs, etc. It is important to remember that while your speech should capture the attention of the audience, it should not bother them. Hurting anyone’s sentiments is not the right way to go about public speaking.
What to do instead?
Be careful to stir away from any controversial topics whatsoever. If you have to include something in your speech, it’s better to be on the fence about controversial things.
Not making eye contact with the audience
Eye contact is one of the most essential aspects of delivering a speech or a presentation. It is one of the simplest yet more effective ways to enhance your speech. Maintaining eye contact helps you build rapport with your audience – it makes them feel involved and it makes your speech feel way more personal to them.
How to improve eye contact with audience during a speech
a. Sustain eye contact for a few seconds
It can be incredibly difficult to meet the audience’s eyes, and we understand that. The trick is to maintain an eye contact, just long enough for it to work. If you can maintain eye contact for at least 5 seconds, that is all the time you need for it to work.
b. Better preparation leads to better results
If you are prepared well enough for your presentation, you wont have moments or hesitation and wondering while you are presenting. With better preparation, it is easier for eye contact to be established and sustained.
c. Eye contact during lines of focus
Maintaining eye contact all through your speech is somewhat of an impossible task. This is something you don’t even have to do, as long as you ensure maintaining eye contact when you open and close the speech, and of course, when you are discussing a point that is of high importance.
Not getting feedback to improve
While presenting your speech, it is important to gauge the audience for feedback. Receiving the feedback and then adapting it is the best way to go about your speech. Whether you are new to the public speaking arena or have got a few years of experience at hand, feedback always helps being more prepared, and making your next speech better than the previous one.
How to get feedback post-presentation?
Post presentation, asking the members of the audience to provide feedback about the topic of the speech, the structure, and the flow, among other things, will help you get better and better as a public speaker. You can decide how you want to go about receiving the feedback. Some options are – having feedback forms printed out, emailing google form links post your speech, or personally interacting with your audience once you finish your presentation.
Focussing on yourself instead of the audience
“Public” speaking is about the public. Your audience needs to be your number one priority. It is essential to consider what the audience needs and wants and work on your speech and presentation delivery accordingly.
Focussing on yourself will take away from public speaking, it will turn into more of a rant or a monologue. While making your speech personal is a good idea to engage the audience, a balance needs to be maintained. Additionally, preparing your speech with the audience in mind will help make the speech more audience-centred.
How to focus better on the audience
Addressing the audience is what we do as public speakers, hence it is important that a focus on the audience is maintained as a part of our speech-making process. Getting to know the target audience helps make this process much easier. Learning the major demographics of the audience. This information will help you connect with the members of the audience better.
All the great speakers were bad speakers at firstRalph Waldo Emerson
Public Speaking is all about learning and un-learning. Mistakes only make you better public speaker. As Emerson points out, it is okay to be bad before you get better!