THE 10 WORST TIPS TO GIVE SOMEONE WHO HAS TO SPEAK IN PUBLIC
1. Learn the speech by heart or read it from a script.
This is meant to be a way of making sure you donít forget what
youíre going to say. Instead, itís usually a way of making sure
you donít connect with your audience.
Most people who use a script end up reading it out and, unless
youíre a professional actor or a very experienced speaker, this
will come across as unnatural and stilted and it will stop you
looking at your audience.
If you try to memorise a script, you may find you are under even
more pressure to remember what you want to say because, if you
go off the script, thereís no way back.
Itís better to prepare some notes which can be a guide should
you need one. By the time youíve prepared the speech, you will
know the main areas you want to cover. Put these down as
headings on paper or cards in LARGE PRINT so you can see them
when youíre standing up. You may then only need a couple of key
words to add to these to remind you of the main points you want
to make in each area.
If you need more than this, you may be trying to cover too much
information. You may also think of a couple of really good ways
of saying something, or a good story to use to illustrate a
point. Jot these down so you donít forget.
2. Rehearse in front of a mirror.
This may be a bit controversial because I know several books and
trainers give this tip. All I can say is I have never found I
could do this.
I do rehearse ( sometimes ) and sometimes I tape myself to hear
what it sounds like. But I canít watch myself in a mirror and
think about what Iím saying, itís just too distracting. If you
want to see what you look like, ask someone to watch you or use
a video camera. However, donít get bogged down with worrying
about how you look.
The main purpose of rehearsing is to reinforce the talk in your
memory, check how long it takes and help you spot those areas
where what you want to say doesnít sound right or where you
might get confused. Then you can think of some effective phrases
to use to help get your point across. You can do this without a
3. Use plenty of slides.
This is sometimes offered as a Ď tip Ď for taking attention from
yourself. Give the audience something else to look at. Another
tip is to give them a hefty handout at the start so they have
something to read.
The problem is - YOU should be the centre of attention. People
want to hear what youíve got to say and the best way to
communicate your message is by speaking effectively. By all
means use visual aids if they will help but they should
complement what youíre saying, not just reproduce your own
Similarly with handouts, they can be very helpful but you need
to know why you are using them. If they have backup information,
give them out at the end. If they contain some key ideas you
want to refer to as you go along, give them out at the start,
but make sure they donít distract people from what you are
Letís be honest Ė if youíre that concerned about getting out of
the spotlight, you shouldnít be doing this in the first place.
4. Wear a cartoon tie to show you have a sense of humour.
This is linked to a couple of the other Ď tips Ď which are meant
to give you a helping hand in getting the audience on your side.
Wearing a funny tie is saying ď Look, Iím really a nice guy.
Give me a chance. ď
I wonít go into detail here for fear of alienating all of you
who might, even now, be wearing such attire, but I have to say,
thatís NOT what most people think when they see someone wearing
a cartoon tie.
In terms of dress, wear something you feel comfortable in and
which seems appropriate. Thatís a bit vague, but it depends on
your audience. The usual approach is to dress slightly smarter
than you expect the audience to dress. Too much of a difference
between you and them can cause problems with credibility. Just
think about the impression you want to give and, in general,
avoid anything which could be a distraction.
Incidentally, I really donít know what the female equivalent of
the cartoon tie would be. Any suggestions?
5. Start off with a joke.
This is a bit like the previous Ď tip Ď. Break the ice, show
what a good sense of humour you have, get them on your side.
Please donít do this. Not unless youíre a good joke Ė teller and
this joke is absolutely guaranteed to get a laugh. And, even
then, only if itís appropriate in some way. One of the best ways
to kill your chances from the start is to begin with a joke
which has nothing to do with your subject and watch it flop.
Believe me, youíll wish you were somewhere else and your
audience will too.
Use humour if you can. It will help get your message across and
it will get the audience on your side, but be careful with it.
You can use stories, things that have happened to you or to
other people which relate to your talk. Being a bit self Ė
deprecating can be a good way to gain an audienceís trust but
donít overdo it. If in doubt, leave it out.
6. Tell them youíre nervous to get them on your side.
Like some of the others, this is a plea for support to the
audience. You know most people hate the idea of speaking in
public, so you appeal to their sympathy by telling them how bad
you feel. Another approach is to apologise Ė ď I donít know why
I was asked to do this. Iíve never done this sort of thing
This NEVER works.
One thing you can generally be sure of is that, at the start of
a talk, your audience will want you to succeed. You should
remember this when you feel nervous. They will give you a chance
to do well and they will mainly be prepared to listen ( and they
will probably be really glad itís not them doing it ).
But they are also expecting something in return for the time
they are giving up. If you start suggesting that, in some way,
this is going to be a lousy speech, theyíll believe you. And
theyíll switch off. You will have lost any sympathy they had.
To get over your nerves at the start, have a clear and positive
opening worked out. This is one part of the speech you can
memorise to get you through the first few moments. Just tell
them who you are, what you are talking about and what they will
gain from listening. Then get on with it.
7. Stand still and donít move your hands about.
A lot of people who are inexperienced at public speaking try
their utmost to stop themselves moving about. They seem to have
some fear that their bodies will go out of control and theyíll
do something totally ridiculous or embarrassing. So they try to
keep absolutely still, often by holding onto a lectern like the
survivor of a shipwreck clinging to a piece of driftwood on the
The best way to make contact with an audience and to keep their
attention is to behave as if you are speaking to them in a
normal conversation. So you move about, you use gestures, you
look at them. When speakers try to stop themselves doing these
things, they become unnatural, distant from the audience.
So donít get too hung up about any mannerisms you think you may
have. Itís usually better to look natural than to try to deliver
a talk as though from a straightjacket. Just avoid some obvious
distractions, like playing with something in your hands, pushing
your hands in your pockets and juggling your change( a male
thing ), shifting back and forth on one leg. But, if what you
are saying is interesting, people will listen.
8. Stare over the heads of the audience.
This is a way of pretending to establish eye contact without
really doing so, because some people feel awkward about it. They
donít really want to look at the audience. The idea is that, if
you look out over their heads, they will think you are looking
Actually, they wonít. Theyíll think ď Why is this person looking
over my head? ď.
To my mind, the key factor in gaining an audienceís attention
and keeping it ( apart from the fascinating content of your talk
) is eye contact. If you were talking to someone who never
looked at you, what would you think?
Chances are youíd think ď This person isnít interested in me.
Heís not listening. ď Or, if the person was speaking but not
looking at you, you may think they were a bit shifty, perhaps
dishonest. In any event, you wouldnít find it a pleasant
The same goes for speaking in public. If I am in an audience and
the speaker doesnít look at me, I canít feel that person is
interested in me or whether I am listening. So I stop listening.
On the other hand, if the speaker makes a point of keeping eye
contact with me, it gives me the feeling that he cares about
making some connection with me and Iíll feel less inclined to
So look at them while you speak, keep your eyes moving around
the room so you engage everyone there. If itís a very big
audience, you can look at a section at a time but, with a small
audience, you will need to look at individuals. Not for too
long, but glance at everyone as you speak so no Ė one feels left
9. Imagine the audience naked.
This is supposed to be another way to deal with nerves. I have
actually seen it in guides to presentations.
The best answer to this is one I found in the book ď Successful
Presentations for Dummies ď by Malcolm Kushner: IDG Books. He
says there is probably half the audience who you wouldnít mind
seeing naked. The other half you certainly would never want to
see naked. Either way, itís not a calming thought.
Another Ď tip Ď I have come across is to pretend the audience
isnít there. This probably works in a way because I can
guarantee, if you pretend the audience isnít there, pretty soon
it wonít be.
I mentioned eye contact above. You canít just ignore the people
out there and expect your talk to have any impact. There are
lots of ways to tackle nerves but they come under 3 categories:
* preparation, think through what could go wrong and prepare for
it, know your subject and be clear about why you are giving the
talk, also keep things in perspective Ė whatís the worst than
can happen? Youíre not performing brain surgery.
* relaxation or deep breathing exercises.
* positive self Ė talk, visualise the talk going really well,
tell yourself it will be a success, know that you have prepared
and that you can do this and stop yourself when you start to
think it will all be a disaster.
Above all, remember that everyone gets nervous when they have to
speak in public. If you donít feel nervous, you should ask
someone to check your pulse. The nerves themselves are not the
problem. You can carry on and give a great talk even though you
feel nervous at the start.
10. Have a drink beforehand to calm your nerves.
No, no, no. Alcohol and nerves are a lethal combination. Have
you ever sat through a Best Manís speech at a wedding? Then
youíll know what I mean. Donít do it.
Incidentally, if you want to have a glass of water at hand in
case your mouth gets dry Ė use still not sparkling. Belching
into a microphone is not to be recommended.
There you are Ė the top 10 things to avoid when speaking in
public. Keep away from these, follow my simple rules, and you
wonít go far wrong.
About the Author
Alan Matthews is a Marketing Coach, Trainer and Speaker who helps business owners to prepare and deliver a compelling marketing message. For a free report " Why Isn't This Working? How To Get People Interested In Your Business " email mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org
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