In the Spotlight: Grow Your Public Speaking Confidence

The Cued Forward Team on

This is second post in our four-post series celebrating Cued Forward’s Back to School, Back to Learning Something New focus. This post is a 10-minute read.

You know a good public speaker when you hear one.  You may like the person’s presentation style, ability to tell stories, or the clarity of the information. You walk away and remember the presentation weeks later.  What we tend to forget is that most people do not have the ability to stand up in front of a group without preparation and practice.  Getting over the fear of public speaking is one the largest parts of becoming a better public speaker.

According to a 2012 National Institute of Mental Health study, 74% of people suffer from speech anxiety.  So our fear to speak in public isn’t necessarily the topic or the venue, but the fact that we have to speak in front of anyone at all.  As with many other stressors we face in our work or personal lives, there are ways to minimize speech anxiety. Since we never know when we may be called upon to do some type of public speaking – – – an impromptu presentation on sales results, stating our opinion before a PTO committee, or an all-out, 30-slide auditorium speech, we should be prepared to minimize the stress of public speaking.

Body Awareness

An important way to help reduce public speaking anxiety is by understanding your body’s reaction to the stress and preparing for it.  As Amy Cuddy has found in her research, there is a strong link between mind and body demeanor.

“ . . . by adopting expansive, open postures, we make ourselves feel better and more effective in several ways. We feel more powerful, confident, and assertive, less stressed and less anxious, and happier and more optimistic.”

Amy Cuddy, Presence, 2015

Think of an expansive, open posture like the pose that Superman does with arms bent, two fists on the waist and legs half-wide.  This is one example of a power pose.  By opening your body up, your will start to feel more confident and less anxious.  If you have never tried this, do it now.  It works.

Adding other stress-reducing body awareness techniques will help further reduce speaking anxiety.  Work on turning nerves into adrenaline.  When you feel the nerves creeping up, breathe.  Allow yourself to take a couple of deep breaths.  Also, humanize your audience.  When you start thinking that your audience members are people who like you have a world outside of work and may be multi-tasking (even if only in thought) while you speak, you begin to bring your audience down from the pedestal you put them on.  Finally, especially when waiting in the wings to give a presentation, find something outside of yourself and focus on it.  Gina Barrett, a speaking coach for TED presenters, suggests picking something a like a color and trying to find everything in the room that is that color.  This mental distraction will take some of the focus off the anticipatory stress related to the waiting.

Practice and Audience Appreciation

While many of us feel ridiculous standing in front of a mirror practicing a speech, practice truly is another key to reducing public speaking anxiety and gaining confidence. We have all seen great presenters walk on stage or in front of a group and effortlessly give an awesome presentation.  What we don’t realized is how much practice went into getting to that point.

Stage performers rehearse by starting out small and work their way to the dress rehearsal. Public speaking practice should follow the same idea. Start simply by reading the speech and work your way up to giving the full presentation.  Practicing what you are saying will help eliminate the dreaded filler words.  Ever sit through a speech only to spend more time counting the “um’s” and “ah’s” than paying attention to the content? For some, practicing in front of someone else simulates the audience environment.  To craft your public speaking talents further, public speaking experts suggest finding a coach.

Technology provides public speaking stress relief too.  The app Prompster (free and paid versions) allows you to use your phone or mobile device like a teleprompter, eliminating the need to flip through pages of paper or note cards.  Another app, Pro Metronome (free and paid versions) allows you to measure your speaking rate.  Both these apps are especially helpful if you are giving a speech that has specific time restrictions.  Prompster has a clock that counts up the time you are speaking while Pro Metronome can help tracks how many words you speak per minute.  Since speaking fast hides well-written content and longer-than-expected presentations leavs the audience sitting on the edges of their seats for the wrong reasons, your audience will appreciate your use of this technology.

Practice should also include how you will move during the speech.   Utilize blocking or planning where you will stand or move while giving the speech as well as determine your body language.  Meaningful movement helps control the stress while presenting because you are working towards a target.

Simple, But Powerful Content

How you develop the content of your speech can be a speaking confidence booster.  Keeping the presentation’s message clear and focused prevents drifting, the tangents speakers sometimes go on when they are trying to cover too much in their speech. When a speech gets off topic, speakers often feel the stress of trying to get back to the purpose of the speech.  Tailoring the speech to your audience type (coworkers versus a trade group versus a loyal group of customers) allows the speaker to take the each audience on a journey.

While we don’t always have control over the content, be as passionate about the subject matter as you can.  While many times we may be speaking on topics where we are subject matter experts, other times the topic may be something completely unrelated to our expertise.  Hopefully, in the course of putting together a presentation, the presenter will develop his style, interject humor if natural, and turn nerves into enthusiasm even if the topic is less desirable.

Visuals are often an important part of public speaking, keeping the speaker and the audience on task and highlighting key points.  Too much information on slides, too many visuals, or using visuals ineffectively can add stress to the speaker as the visuals now become a distraction instead of an enhancer.  In these cases, the speaker has to not only present on the topic, but explain how the visuals relate.  Ever sit through a presentation where there was so much information on the visuals that you could not read them from the audience?

Extra Competitive Advantage

Building public speaking skills offers many competitive advantages that go beyond the speaking moments. People who speak to groups learn how to deal with the unexpected.  Who knew the power would go out and you would be giving your presentation using a few flashlights and without slides?  Strengthening your ability to handle the unexpected helps you more readily accept change, be a better idea generator, and lead during a crisis. While being a better public speaker can seem like a BHAG (Big Hairy Audacious Goal), even small steps towards this goal will enhance your professional skill set and strengthen the confidence you have in your speaking abilities.

What are your best and worst speaking moments either as a presenter or an audience member?  Share your memorable stories.

Cued Forward connects organizations and individuals with learning providers.  If you are looking for a public speaking coach, reach out to us and we can help find you a coach to meet your time and budget needs.

Image Credit: Pexels


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