Get sweaty at the thought of public speaking? Sarah Lloyd-Hughes, author of How to be Brilliant at Public Speaking gives us 13 tips on how to give a winning speech
1. Start with the audience in mind
What’s the first thing you do when you’re landed a piece of public speaking? Probably (after you’ve had a good panic) it’s to ask ‘oh no, what am I going to say?’ This is normal, but it’s a basic error. The first thing you should think about is your audience, not yourself. Ask yourself who they are, what they need and how you can best serve them through your words. That way, they’ll get what they want and your talk will go 100% better.
2. Nerves are normal
There’s only one difference between you and a professional public speaker and it’s not about whether or not you experience nerves. All public speakers that I’ve come across have nerves. The difference is whether or not you take the nerves seriously. Nerves are a sign that your public speaking is important to you. Speakers without nerves can get complacent and actually do less well. So, embrace the nerves and enjoy the energy – they make your speaking more alive.
Nerves are a sign that your public speaking is important to you.
3 Speak about something that’s more important than the fear you feel in speaking
A great way to work around your nerves is to look for a sense of purpose that goes beyond personal. Gandhi as a young man was painfully shy and a terrified speaker. Yet he found his strength through wanting to change his nation through non-violent principles. It was this purpose that made him able to stand up and speak in public. If you can find a similar level of purpose, your nerves become minor in comparison to the thing you’re fighting for.
4. Look for your ‘golden thread’
Talks are often jumbled with too many ideas and too much information. It’s because we’re eager to please the audience. But the best talks have one simple idea that threads its way through the whole talk. We call this your ‘Golden Thread’. Once you know your Golden Thread you can return to it throughout your talk, even if you go off track.
5. Perfectionism DOESN’T help
If you’re a speaker who invests hours and hours of research and preparation into any talk, you could be a perfectionist. Whilst that sounds glamorous, it’s not helpful in public speaking. Waiting to ‘get it right’ causes more anxiety in speakers and it also means that you’re less spontaneous. When you over-prepare you often edit out the bits of your personality that the audience would most enjoy.
Waiting to ‘get it right’ causes more anxiety in speakers and it also means that you’re less spontaneous.
6. They’re thinking about themselves more than they’re thinking about you
Although it may feel like everyone’s scrutinising you, most of the audience are much more wrapped up in themselves than they are in you. They don’t feel your shakes and wobbles, they don’t know if your outfit feels uncomfortable and they don’t know that you missed out a bit of your talk. This is great news because it means you can relax about yourself, just a little bit, and place that spare attention on serving your audience.
7. Audiences like human beings
Think about your favourite speakers; politicians, business leaders, TED speakers and so on. Probably you’re drawn to them because they behave like human beings rather than inauthentic robots, is that right? That’s probably why politicians like Boris Johnson, Jeremy Corbyn and Nigel Farage standout. Whatever you think of their politics, they are a bit more ‘human’ than some of their highly polished Westminster counterparts. Audiences love the life, energy and fallibility of real human beings. Which means that vulnerability, personal stories and even mistakes (shock horror) are all more than welcome.
Audiences love the life, energy and fallibility of real human beings. Which means that vulnerability, personal stories and even mistakes (shock horror) are all welcome.
8. Don’t play it too safe
Safe speeches are often dull speeches. Before you reach for a PowerPoint slide deck, ask yourself what could you do to bring your talk alive? Great speakers take risk, whether that’s sharing something personal, or giving a more expressive performance. Imagine Martin Luther King Jnr’s ‘ I have a dream’ speech if he’d played it safe. If he had stuck to his original script he would never have even said those famous words, as that piece of his speech was improvised in the moment. That’s risk-taking for you.
Great speakers take risk, whether that’s sharing something personal, or giving a more expressive performance.
9. Dare to do something memorable
When our minds experience something familiar looking, we pay less attention because we think we’ve seen it before. That’s why PowerPoint presentations often lack impact. As soon as the PowerPoint flicks on our mind switches into a similar pattern as if we’re watching a movie… except the movie is a really dull, bullet point one. How much of that are we likely to remember? If you want your audience to remember you, or your message, you need to do something different or unexpected. We are more likely to remember things that are unusual, dramatic or personal.
If you want your audience to remember you, or your message, you need to do something different or unexpected.
10. Stories are great…
Stories add character, drama and colour to a talk. They’re one of the best ways to connect with your audience and to have them remember your message. But be sure to look for stories where there’s interest to the audience. They may not want to know the specifics of your trip to the stationery shop, but they may be interested in the story of how your organisation started, or a funny thing that made you realise why the topic is so important.
11. …and they help your memory
Stories are great for filling a longer talk. And because you’ve typically lived through your story, it’s much more easy to remember than a set of statistics. Just go back to your memory and relive what happened.
12. Use your whole personality
Great speakers can be assertive when they need to be, precise, kind, inspiring and many other qualities. The trick to fantastic public speaking is not to be on one level for the whole of your talk. Use different aspects of your personality to emphasize different parts of your message.
Seek to consciously influence, impact and inspire through what you say and how you say it.
13 Public Speaking is an act of leadership
Having the time and attention of a group of people in this day and age is precious and unusual. Make the most of this opportunity. Your role as a speaker is to bring benefit to the audience by leading them somewhere. Seek to consciously influence, impact and inspire through what you say and how you say it. Dare to create change in your audience.
Sarah Lloyd-Hughes is a popular speaker on confidence, communication and inspiration. A social entrepreneur and the founder of award-winning company, Ginger Training & Coaching, Sarah has worked with hundreds of professionals, leaders and entrepreneurs to help them communicate with courage in order to inspire others and create change. Featured in the TEDx series of public speeches, Sarah is an energetic, original and deeply authentic speaker, and works tirelessly to inspire others to fulfil their own potential.
Her book, How to be Brilliant at Public Speaking: Learn the Six Qualities of an Inspiring Speaker – Step by Step (£12.08, Pearson) is available to buy from amazon.
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