The dread of giving speeches, making presentations and general public speaking may follow us even beyond high school. However, they are some of the most important life skills that you can have. Knowing facts and having great ideas is important. But being able to express those in an eloquent way is key to being successful. The best way to get better at public speaking is to keep practicing. There are also various resources out there that can turn even the shyest person into a powerful public speaker.
Toastmasters International is a non-profit educational organisation that teaches public speaking and leadership skills through a worldwide network of clubs. There are over 364,000 members that meet in 16,200 clubs in 145 countries. Toastmasters isn’t free and prices range around the world. In the USA, membership costs about $7.50 a month. This membership cost covers all meetings as well as extended peer support as you grow as a speaker.
It can be intimidating to go to a Toastmasters meeting. Basically, almost every single time you go, you will be asked to stand up and speak. The way it works is that you are told to speak on a topic for a certain amount of time. As terrifying as this sounds, especially to people who are shy, the whole point is to become comfortable speaking in front of others. The great thing about practicing at Toastmasters is that everyone is in the same boat. If you voice cracks, knees shake and even if you stutter or cry, the other members will understand, support you and give you tips on how to improve.
One of the key components to speaking is breathing. This seems obvious, yet people don’t always think about working on their technique. In this article, Allison Shapira goes over how important deeper breathing is to becoming a better speaker. Just like singers, who need to train their voice to sound powerful on stage, speakers need to learn to breathe a certain way for the best delivery. Taking deep breaths can be practiced in a pool by holding your breath underwater. However, you can also practice on dry land using videos guides such as this one.
TED is a non-profit devoted to spreading ideas, usually in the form of short, powerful talks that are generally 18 minutes or less. Everyone who speaks on TED seems to be a speech giving expert. Turns out that there are even TED talks about public speaking. One amazing video that will definitely inspire you is Chris Anderson’s Secret to Great Public Speaking. In just eight minutes, this video will give you the tools you need to become better at verbally expressing your ideas.
Another great TED talk that can be useful for aspiring public speakers is Joe Sabia’s The Technology of Storytelling. This video is only three-and-a-half minutes long and explores how to tell a story. Joe Sabia is known as an iPad storyteller and the video introduces Lothar Meggendorfer. Lothar created the pop-up book, a unique technology for storytelling. Discover this new way to speak in a way that will make people listen.
The biggest issue for most people when it comes to public speaking is simply the fear of it. This study from the Harvard Business Review gives some tips on how to be more confident when presenting. Mandy Gonzalez who has performed in a leading role on Broadway has some simple yet effective advice: be prepared, be real, be vulnerable, be present and be generous. It is important to have everything ready, including rehearsing the speech but also have all your props including presentations ready to go. Having an issue with your projector can only increase your fear of the actual speaking part.
Her other tip involves being realistic about your fears. Understanding that no, people will not laugh at you and boo you off the stage no matter what. Focus on real fears such as running out of your allotted time slot – this you can focus on and improve rather than fearing unlikely scenarios. She also emphasises vulnerability and recommends allowing the audience to connect with you by just being yourself. Next is presence: it is important to focus all your energy on being in the moment and engaging with your audience. Finally, make the speech as beneficial to your audience as possible. If you know that you are offering something valuable, you will feel great about giving the speech.
Learn to Tell Stories
According to research, when listeners are told to recall a presentation, 63% are likely to remember a story while only 5% remember statistics. Coincidentally, it is also easier to tell a story than to remember and recite memorised facts. The takeaway here is to find a way to turn your presentation into a story that the audience will follow, enjoy and remember. Telling stories is how people have passed on information since prehistoric times, so the act of listening to them and passing them on is literally ingrained in our brains.
When telling great stories, it is recommended to weave in a surprise. This will keep the audience on their feet and their excitement will help fuel the energy and your presentation. Also, consider finding ways to get your audience involved. If you call on people to participate, this makes it more interesting, memorable and it even takes some pressure off of you. Make everyone part of the speech and it is no longer just you standing alone in the spotlight.
Practice is key to becoming a better public speaker. Toastmasters International is a great organisation that offers a safe and supportive space to do just that. In between meetings, there are other techniques to get better. Build confidence, check out videos of great speakers and study what they do best. Also, consider working on your breathing technique so that when the time comes to deliver, everyone will hear you and your speech will be flawlessly smooth.
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