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Public Speaking- Just Act Natural

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It is a well-known fact that among the general populace, many would rather face death than speak in public, according to a survey reported in the Book of Lists. It outranked the fear of death by a two- to- one margin.  This sounds facetious, unless you know from your own  personal, perspiring experience that, speaking in public, even with a great deal of practice, even with many years  under your belt, one still can suffer from a severe case of nerves. You can forever feel like a novice who really should have stayed at home for the benefit of both himself/herself and the hapless audience.

Renowned speakers and authors have written many books on the "Art of Public Speaking."  There are many hard and fast rules, as well as others that can be bent or abandoned through an orators' amazing natural talent or just plain guts. But for tried and true general principles, I have found the following to be among those that just remain spot on, no matter what.

You absolutely must know your material.  A no-brainer, right? You'd be dismayed at the narrow range of knowledge some public speakers have about their own subject.  Questions from the audience need to be correctly answered, and never, but never, ‘wing it.'  Better to admit to not knowing an answer than to risk another more knowledgeable member of the audience chiming in to fill the void while you stand there alone in a pool of flop-sweat, squirming in embarrassment, attempting to maintain what you hope will pass for a grin and look of sincere interest in his/her answer.

Speaking slowly is up there in the top five rules, since, if the audience cannot keep up with your racing mind and/or mouth, nothing else will matter.  Another in the top five would be to articulate your words clearly, for the same reason.

Making eye contact is very crucial since your listeners need to feel that they are being personally addressed by you, and not listening to some disembodied voice in their headset while attending to their daily chores. Lastly, and most importantly, look happy to be right where you are.  Look like you can hardly wait to dispense your hard- won and enthusiastically acquired knowledge to this fortunate group of people who are now sharing your sense of camaraderie and cheer.

As far as ‘stage-fright' goes, the classic advice to terrified public speakers is to picture the audience in a different setting. Imagine them without clothes, or failing that, as cabbage- heads, or even mannequins- empty-headed, human look-alikes who, you, by your scintillating words and ideas can manage successfully to animate.

If all else fails, know that most people will not remember, for any appreciable length of time, if you manage to mangle some part of your speech, for them, it's only a speech. Additionally, very few would want to be standing up there at the podium in your shoes, and are secretly relieved that they are your audience.  Keeping this in mind should give you some measure of serenity as well as the genuine ability smile up there.
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