Comedian Jerry Seinfeld once joked that most people would rather be the person in the coffin than the one giving the eulogy. Public speaking, from large, formal presentations to simply sharing your ideas in a team meeting, can be intimidating, but it's also a skill that even the shyest of personalities can learn to master. With reliable delivery techniques and thorough preparation, anyone can address a room full of listeners with confidence and success.
1. Do Your Homework
"It usually takes me more than three weeks to prepare a good impromptu speech." -- Mark Twain
Researching your topic extensively will make you feel comfortable at your presentation. Nothing is more stress-inducing than winging it, and the audience can usually tell if you're ill-prepared. Familiarize yourself with the topic and allow yourself time to digest the material. Write down any lingering questions or gray areas that need to be researched further, and consider what arguments or concerns audience members may offer.
2. Identify a Theme
“A theme is a memory aid; it helps you through the presentation just as it also provides the thread of continuity for your audience.” -- Dave Carey
In today's world, most speakers rely heavily on PowerPoint presentations for long talks, which are incredibly useful when it comes to staying on track. However, speakers should always come prepared to present without the visual display. Having a running theme, tagline, or basic message in mind as the spine to your outline's skeleton will save the day, should technology fail you.
3. Practice Your Delivery
"All great speakers were bad speakers at first." -- Ralph Waldo Emerson
Practice makes perfect, and the best way to perfect your delivery is through repetition. Time your presentation, record yourself, and listen to your tone and delivery. You can even leave yourself a voicemail about a work-related topic and see how you sound. (Make sure to count how many times you say "um" or other similar filler words.) Or, ask a trusted co-worker to give you critical, helpful feedback on how you speak in everyday professional situations as well as in front of larger crowds. Practicing not only prepares you for the current speech, but it also provides you with an assessment of your individual strengths and weaknesses. In time, you'll become more comfortable talking with or to anyone.
4. Learn from the Experts
"Good artists copy. Great artists steal." -- Steve Jobs
Think of the most brilliant speakers throughout history -- the ones that inspired great change, led major companies through times of trial and served as catalysts for action. These individuals may have had different styles of delivery or goals in mind, but their influence was similar. Study their words, gestures, advice, and styles. There's no need to reinvent the wheel when the car is sitting there.
5. Take a Breather
"The most precious things in speech are the pauses." -- Sir Ralph Richardson
Most people have experienced running out of air while giving a speech, which is usually a sign of both nerves and speed-talking. Focus on a slower delivery, remembering to breathe between transitions and important points. Build pauses into your presentation's framework through the use of audience questions and interactions. Eventually, those deliberate pauses will feel more organic, thus allowing you to breathe easier -- both figuratively and literally.