Let’s face it, you may be one of many people who will at some point be asked, or required, to speak in public. When the stakes are high to nail that important speech it’s especially important that you have a good strategy to help you prepare and then fall back on in the moment.
I have developed a simple 5-point checklist that I’ve taught countless times to my clients over the years to give them confidence to speak in public. Aptly named, it’s the SPEAK approach, a method to help you prepare your talk and stay on track while giving it:
- Speak clearly;
- Pace yourself;
- Engage with and know your material;
- Address your audience;
- Keep nerves at bay.
Some people say public speaking is an innate ability, either you have it or you don’t. Many people avoid it at all costs, saying it’s overwhelming and nerve wracking. But just follow my five simple SPEAK steps and you’ll be sure to succeed in any talk you are asked to give.
1. Speak Clearly
Mumbling is definitely out of the question! Whether you’re a regular public speaker or a one-timer, forming your words well will go miles to helping your listener understand what you’re saying. What does this mean? Achieve clear articulation, or diction, during the talk.
This sounds easier than it is. Your mouth makes an incredible array of movements to create the various sounds of speech. The movements are even more complex when speaking words, word combinations and forming sentences. Add to this that public speaking can be extremely stressful to some and the stage is set for quite a challenge to your chops.
I often tell clients that speaking is a gymnastic activity: the tongue, lips and mouth benefit from muscle toning and developing precision movement. That means some form of speech exercise is helpful, to not only make the sounds robust but also to promote ease and accuracy of movement, making the sounds and words trip off the tongue.
Simple tongue twisters can be an aide, such as “Peter Piper” or “She sells seashells”. But if you’re a regular public speaker you would benefit from regular and more in-depth practise material to keep your instrument supple. In both cases speech coaching can be very helpful.
2. Pace yourself
As with most activities, it’s all about pacing yourself. This is especially true when giving a talk. Racing through your talk will not captivate your listeners – it actually limits your listeners’ ability to grasp what you’re saying. It’s all the rage at the moment for online videos to race through content, at breakneck speed, but in a live talk your listeners can’t pause you or rewind to listen again.
Disciplining yourself to walk through your talk is the key. For instance, grip and give space to certain key concepts you want to get across; give adequate pauses between phrases and sentences; and stitch together your content so that your listeners experience the red thread of thought in your talk. Holding yourself in check also makes it more enjoyable for you because you’ll settle in and relate more with your listeners. Which brings us to….
3. Engage with and know your material
Really (and I mean really!) know the ins and outs of what you’re going to say. Thoroughly prepare and mull over the topic so that it goes from the head down to the heart and enters your feelings. Love the topic. Through this engagement you make the subject matter your own. You can speak with authority and interest.
Find references in your subject that you can connect to your own life memories and experiences. Make it real for you. Inwardly relate to the topic so that you’ll be able to relate the topic to your audience with ease. Then the inner excitement you feel for your subject will come alive in your talk and your audience will listen with enthusiasm. Speak from your heart. People will listen.
4. Address your audience
This sounds sensible! But again, easier said than done. It’s very tempting to literally speak to your notes, to the white board or to the PowerPoint slides – looking anywhere except at all those eyes staring at you.
One sure-fire way to keep yourself engaged with all those eyes is to divide the room into segments, effectively scanning the audience as you speak. Dividing the room into 4 or 5 segments allows you to make ‘groups’ of your audience. This helps your audience experience your engagement with them and gives you the feeling of taking in the whole crowd. Try not to focus on one person in the front row throughout your talk.
5. Keep nerves at bay
Troubling nerves is probably the biggest factor when speaking in public. It’s the number one reason clients attend my sessions. All other challenges stem from nerves. Having said that, the more you practise public speaking the less your nerves hold you prisoner.
Needless to say, all the above steps will help you feel more secure and therefore less nervous when it comes to the actual moment of speaking (which is why I don’t start off these steps with tackling nerves). But specifically, you can calm your nerves through controlled breathing, focused awareness on your hands or feet, and keeping your mind from wandering. The temptation is to think about what your audience will think of you. This will get you flustered and increase your nervousness. Instead, breath steadily and deeply – lengthening the exhalation – and picture success. Remember, your audience wants you to do well. They’re in your corner.
Public speaking, more than almost anything else in life, challenges you mentally, emotionally and physically. By adhering to these 5 simple steps your public speaking will come on leaps and bounds.
Additionally, having a few speech coaching sessions will help build your confidence while targeting the areas that need more attention. So whether you’re asked to give a wedding speech, pitching a sale, giving a conference talk or addressing your project team, we can help you improve your speaking skills and give you the confidence to succeed. To get in touch, click
Donald Phillips is a highly successful and experienced Speech Coach, Executive Coach and Therapeutic Speech Practitioner. Donald is based in Aberdeen but works across Scotland and the rest of the UK.