How do you feel about giving a speech to a room full of strangers? Even accomplished speakers feel nervous when they’re in front of an audience.
Adele, famous for her strong, power ballads, said in the Rolling Stone, 2012:
“I’m scared of audiences. I get shitty scared. One show in Amsterdam, I was so nervous I escaped out the fire exit. I’ve thrown up a couple of times. Once in Brussels, I projectile-vomited on someone. I just gotta bear it. But I don’t like touring. I have anxiety attacks a lot.”
There are tools and tricks to help you deal with your nervousness – or at least to help you look confident, even if inside you are still a bundle of nerves!
Know Your Audience: Public speaking is all about giving valuable lessons or inspiration to your listeners, and to do this with any effect you need a good understanding of who your audience is. Research the general background of your audience, know their needs, understand the purpose of speaking to them and what they are hoping to get out of your speech.
Get Acquainted with the Venue: It is important to get to the venue where you will deliver your speech early, or scope it out on a previous day. Walk around the stage, check the acoustics of the room, and coordinate with the people who will handle the technical aspects of the event. Check logistics, like where your laptop will plug in and if the right connectors and cables are available.
Practice Makes Perfect: Even if you have a thorough grasp of the topic, you still need to practice your speech before the actual event. This Toastmasters article by Christopher Mortenson recommends practicing up to thirty times and he also recommends not leaving your practice till the night before – spread out over the preceding few days. The more you practice, the more confident you will feel on the day so it really is worth your time.
Prepare Visual Aids: It can be easier for the audience to take in what you are saying if they have somewhere to comfortably rest their eyes. It also breaks up the monotony of staring at you the whole time and it takes the pressure of you if the audience’s attention is diverted. On the other hand, a text-heavy, uninspired PowerPoint presentation can put the audience to sleep so try to limit your slides and keep them light and graphic-based. Props can be interesting visual aids, so long as they are relevant – even try bringing something to pass around the audience members; anything to break up the regular rhythm and expectations of the crowd.
Show Your Gratitude: Before starting your speech you should thank the people who invited you to the event. You must acknowledge the audience too for taking the time to listen to you. Acknowledge that they probably don’t want to sit there for too long and respect them by keeping your speech short and concise.
Start with a Bang: Start your speech with a powerful quote, a funny anecdote, or an inspirational insight or story. You may also cite a controversial issue or show compelling statistics about the topic in order to hook your audience. Start strong to get the attention of your listeners.
Speak Clearly and Authoritatively: You should respect your listeners by speaking clearly to them. Do not talk too fast or mumble. You are negating the purpose of your speech and compromising your authority if you don’t speak clearly.
Verbal ‘crutches’ or words you repeat mindlessly can annoy your audience and may blunt the impact of your speech. Try to avoid ‘ums’ and ‘aahs’. If you need to pause, then pause. Creating a few seconds of silence can, in fact, heighten the interest of your audience and give impact to your words.
Treat Your Audience as Your Friend: Speak to your audience as if you are speaking to a friend. Engage your listeners by establishing eye contact. Speak to them on a personal level and they will be on your side. No one likes being lectured too.
Move! Pace around, move convincingly and with authority. Smile! A deadpan, motionless speaker will suck any energy out of the room in one minute flat. When you practice your speech, note some points to add in gestures and expressions. Try to control nervous movements like fidgeting and twitching, or gestures that don’t come very naturally to you.
End Your Speech by Giving Practical Solutions: And lastly, make your speech more memorable by giving your audience something to take home. Don’t just summarize your speech. Instead, end it by proposing actionable steps to your listeners.
Public speaking is not an inborn talent. You can develop it through constant practice and proper preparation. It is an important skill – a correctly given speech can give you authority and help advance your career.
Toastmasters is an international public speaking group that teaches public speaking and leadership skills through a worldwide network of meeting locations.
Headquartered in Rancho Santa Margarita, California, the organization has more than 313,000 members in more than 14,650 clubs in 126 countries.
There are some great resources on their website here: