Mastering the Art of Public Speaking

by Michael Corthell

One of our greatest fears is public speaking. It starts early, probably with the first oral book report in school. ''Come up to the front of the class!'' ''Now speak up, don't look at the floor.'' Sound familiar? But to give a speech is an important skill and in business it is highly valued and therefor valuable to anyone who aspires to be an effective leader.

''You can speak well if your tongue can deliver the message of your heart.''
—John Ford  

The cause of this performance fear is embarrassment—not wanting to be judged or made fun of. Stage fright is closely related. Some of the most skilled and accomplished actors (watch the video below) and speakers never completely rid themselves of this gnawing fear, but they do learn how to deal with it. Interestingly, many actors report that public speaking is much more difficult and frightening because there is no character mask to hide behind.

Successful people speak with confidence whether they're in an auditorium, conference room, living room or a coffee sop. They can either do this because they are a 'natural' (which is very, very rare) or they have learned and practiced (practiced, practiced, practiced) the following methods:

Learn to stand! Stand strong and stand tall. Rise to your full height. Keep your feet rooted on the floor about hip distance apart, with your weight equally distributed on the hips. Lift up your chest, expanding the area from your core to your shoulders and roll them back. Keep your head up! Perfect posture sends the message that you have confidence in your subject before you speak a single word. Then pause for five seconds, then begin...

Sound off! Fill the whole room with the sound of your voice. Because you started with excellent posture, you can now project your voice by speaking from the diaphragm and your words will not be stuck in your throat. This will make your voice grounded, or a little lower than its natural range. A well-grounded voice allows you to speak without horsiness or strain. Always speak louder than you think you should. You can't be too loud in front of a group.

Always start with a smile! Show your teeth. Smiling conveys CONFIDENCE. And it makes your voice more friendly. Smiling will make you appear posed, friendly, knowledgeable and composed. Just remember to only smile when it's appropriate.

''It's much easier to be convincing if you care about your topic. Figure out what's important to you about your message and speak from the heart.'' 
― Nicholas Boothman

Silence! Learn to effectively... use...pauses.  In our fast paced culture, we hate silence and 'dead air'. This in turn makes us use run-on sentences. We then have the tendency to fill time with 'fill words', like 'um,' 'ah,' 'you know,' 'kind of,' 'like,' and 'so.' These habits will make you look  unprepared, and unprofessional. To overcome this, speak slower(but not too slow) and pause more often but keep a constant rhythm. When or if you lose your train of thought, never let it show. This reaction only make the mistake more glaring. It is better to silently find your place in your mind (or notes) by taking a sip of water. You may feel that any pause feels like forever but in reality the audience doesn't notice.

Look! Make firm and lasting eye contact. Pick a person in the audience. Hold your eye on them for several seconds—and longer than you really think you should. Then move on to another person in a different location. This kind of purposeful eye contact builds intimacy and a rapport by letting audience the feel that they are engaged in a one-on-one conversation....and it's contagious. Don't just scan the audience without stopping to fix your gaze. You will look nervous. And don't just look at the blank wall at the back of the room. You have to be engaged with your listeners.

Practice these few things and you will have the confidence to speak to any group, anywhere.

''Practice, practice, PRACTICE in speaking before an audience will tend to remove all fear of audiences, just as practice in swimming will lead to confidence and facility in the water. You must learn to speak by speaking.''
― Dale Carnegie, The Art of Public Speaking

How I beat stage fright

by Joe Kowan

Humanity's fine-tuned sense of fear served us well as a young species, giving us laser focus to avoid being eaten by competing beasts. But it's less wonderful when that same visceral, body-hijacking sense of fear kicks in in front of 20 folk-music fans at a Tuesday night open-mic. Palms sweat, hands shake, vision blurs, and the brain says RUN: it's stage fright. In this charming, tuneful little talk, Joe Kowan talks about how he conquered it.