by Julia Bluhm, Montgomery Jones, and Izzy Labbe
There are few people who enjoy public speaking. From the stress of writing a speech to the nerves of the big day, it may seem like public speaking leaves little to be desired–but it’s not true! By sharing your voice with others, you can teach them something new, maybe make them laugh, and even inspire your audience (and yourself!) to take action. Don’t let the groans of kids in your English class convince you that public speaking is stupid or embarrassing. We’ve put together some advice to help you succeed at public speaking and enjoy it! With enough preparation, practice, and the right mindset, public speaking can be extremely rewarding and empowering.
Preparation and Practice
Julia’s advice: when you start planning what you want to say in your presentation or speech, think about ways to make it engaging to your audience. Do this in a way that seems natural to you: a lot of people use visuals like photos and videos media to supplement their presentations and keep their audience interested, others tell jokes or use humor, some do both. I like telling brief stories to keep the audience interested, whether they’re from my own life or are stories that I have heard from others. I recently spoke at my school about the issue of digital retouching in the media, and I told a story that a professional digital retoucher once told me about his experiences. If you personalize your speech using tools that you feel comfortable with, it will feel more natural to you, which will in turn make you feel less awkward.
Also, plan whether you want to write your speech word for word, or have bullet points to outline what you’ll say. I always memorize at least some parts of my speech, because I feel a lot more comfortable and prepared that way. This just consists me saying the same few sentences over and over again in my room, until I remember it. You definitely don’t have to memorize your presentation or talk! Often times speeches that aren’t memorized sound more casual and less rehearsed. Just do whatever feels more natural for you! Once you start running through your speech, practice it in front of someone and have them time you. Most people talk faster when speaking in front of someone.
Dealing with Nerves
Izzy says: every time I have to give a speech or present something, which is a lot, I feel this sort of bubbly mix of nerves and excitement. My objectives differ depending on what I’m presenting, but no matter what, I always want to leave the audience satisfied and thinking, “Wow. That girl knows what she’s talking about, and how to present it in a way that really resonates with me. Also, her dress is adorable and she looks like a movie starlette.” Anyway.
I think this is a common goal of all presenters–well, maybe not the starlette part. But every speech should have a goal, and I think that all presenters have the capacity to do well and really make their audience respond and get the desired effect. But nerves get in the way! When you want people to like you and get your message, it’s hard not to feel the pressure. Here is what I would suggest: Think about your audience. Who are you presenting to? Are they your age, younger, older, or a mix? Do you know them personally? I always use humor to curb my nerves, starting with a little joke or just a cute, awkward laugh that’s probably more awkward than cute, but let me live that fantasy. When the audience sees you relax, they relax. No matter how formal the event- I don’t care if you’re talking to pre-schoolers at daycare or meeting the Queen- you need to remember that people are not judgmental robots who exist only to criticize you. They want to be moved by you.
Montgomery offers this: people say “what’s the worst that can happen?” Well, the worst thing is that you are embarrassed in front of your audience, right? But what if you take the sting out of the fear? Before you even step to the podium, build your confidence up so high that no one can tear you down! Think of an ‘A’ you got in history or how cool your new shirt is. I like to pretend my confidence is almost like a shield, deflecting any negative energy and surrounding myself with love. I create a mantra to repeat so as to maintain that forcefield during the actual talk. Again, this should be before you even go up there. But it’s imperative that you have a positive mindset before presenting! That alone can completely change the atmosphere.
Giving the Presentation
Montgomery says: I usually stand up as straight as possible! And I don’t see the audience naked, but rather as friends that are hanging on to my every word. Quickly scan over the audience before you speak. If looking up from your notes is difficult or if you have no notes and just wish to look down, I suggest finding three eye points to land on in the audience. One in the middle, one on the right side, and one on the left. Everyone will think you are looking at them, and engaging with the audience is essential to productive speech.
One thing I always forget to do is smile! Try to look like you’re enjoying yourself if even for a moment. Perhaps remember a small joke before you start, something to lighten the mood! We tend to get very serious when we present, which is important, but you want to look like you’re happy to be there because then the audience will be happy to be there! If you lose your train of thought, I suggest you either skip over the part that is giving you trouble (they will never notice) or do a slight chuckle and a nod of the head. I call this the “cheesy politician.” It’s that “aw shucks” thing that is endearing but also allows you to keep your cool and buys you a few seconds to collect yourself. I do that sometimes so as to say “whoops, onward I go and I’ll have a good time while doing it!”
Remember, everyone occasionally has some bumps in their performance. The important thing is to just keep on moving. You will feel really proud of yourself afterwards. Just be yourself. Relax. Chill out. And remember: presenting is fun! (Really!)