Public speaking is listed as the top phobia next to the fear of death. Some polls have ranked public speaking higher than the fear of death, which makes it a relatable hurdle to overcome. That being said, here are a few speech tips to help you make it through your next speaking class without losing your lunch or your dignity.
1. Write Your Entire Speech (Then Practice, Practice, Practice)
Some people can jot their ideas on a few note cards and wing their entire speech off the top of their heads. I wouldn’t count on being one of those people (unless you find, miraculously, you are). Now is not the time to make disastrous discoveries if you’re not, so take my advice and write that sucker down.
All of it.
Write the intro, the middle, the conclusion. Read it out loud and edit anything that doesn’t sound like your speaking voice or make sense off the paper. The act of writing it all down makes it much easier to recall than if you kept everything in your head.
Then practice it. Practice reading from the page a couple times to get your speed and cadence just right. Practice while not looking at the paper; glance over now and then, but don’t read from it. Then practice in front of a mirror to help wipe that look of terror off your face—you know the one.
Practice to your pet so another living thing besides you is present. If you have someone you can rope into helping you, make them sit down and listen to you. If you can’t deliver your speech to someone you trust, then it’ll be that much harder to speak in front of strangers.
2. Add Your Personality To The Speech
A speech is not an academic paper. It may involve research, but it does not have to be delivered as if you are reading from a research paper. Inject as much personality and enthusiasm for the topic as you can into your voice. Whether you’re feeling enthusiastic or not (and chances are you’re not), forcing yourself to sound that way will be contagious. Your audience will be primed for enthusiasm and you’ll start to feel it too.
If you can include your personality throughout the speech, you also won’t have as much of an imposter syndrome (that feeling that you’re somewhere you have no right to be and have no idea what you’re talking about). This is one of the speech tips I picked up from a class where we had to analyze our speaking strengths, and the ones with the most personality always scored the highest.
Do you love humor? Where can you fit a few jokes into your speech without overdoing it? Are you geeky? Can you slide some geek references in there to make yourself feel better? Bookworms can sneak book quotes, music enthusiasts can sneak lyrics, etc.
As long as it makes sense in your speech, do it. It helps make your speech feel less like a report and more like a casual conversation about what you found in your research.
3. Get To Know Your Audience
One of the speech tips I picked up from a very laid-back class I took was to get to know the people you’ll be speaking to before you deliver a speech. Granted, this is not always an option at professional speaking events, but you’re just trying to make it through the class right now.
Get to know your classmates. Ask their names, what they do, what they like. Let them get to know you. Talk about how scary public speaking is; chances are, they’re just as scared as you are.
And that’s comforting. You soon realize you’re not speaking to a room of judgemental people who will leap on any slip of the tongue or awkward pause you have. They’re students freaking out about their own speech so much that they probably missed any slip-up you had; they’re frantically reciting their speech in their heads or going over their note cards.
As someone who had to sit through a lot of speeches, I can honestly say I do not remember if a single one the other students messed up; I can only remember the times I did.
4. Become A Character In A Performance
I know this is one of those speech tips that is easier said than done, especially if you’ve never been in theater, but it strangely works. It adds a layer of distance between your identity and what you’re doing. If you become this whole other person when you’re in front of everyone, there’s no risk of being perceived as something you don’t want to be. You’re not you—you’re a character.
Try this: picture the one person you want to be when you take that podium or floor. Who do you admire? Is it an actor? A character that actor plays? A comedian? Whoever it is, load up on that person’s work in the days leading up to your speech. Don’t skip practicing your speech to do this, but take extra time for it.
Now channel that person when you practice. Copy their inflections, their mannerisms. If they were giving this speech, how would they deliver it? Before you realize it, you’re concentrating so much on being that person that you forget to be afraid.
Step into someone else’s shoes and find out what it means to be an actor. Even if you’re not a theater nerd, chances are you’ll have fun doing it.
5. Find Your Place Of Calm
Maybe becoming a character doesn’t work for you. Maybe it does a little, but you’re still freaking out. That’s okay. The only thing left to do is find your place of calm and harness it.
Yes, this is the toughest of the speech tips I have to offer. No one can tell you what calms or makes you happy; that’s something you have to figure out on your own. Is it a place? Home, perhaps? Or the beach? An enchanted forest? Is it a loved one’s smile, the feeling you get when you cuddle your dog or an image of you in bed with a book and a cup of coffee?
Find that one thing that makes you tranquil and bombard yourself with that imagery anytime you practice your speech. Focus on it as you run over your speech one last time in your head. Project that image and feeling onto your audience as you prepare to speak. Wrap the idea of public speaking into this space of calm until your body knows not to act with fear towards it.