Public speaking: learning to talk with confidence

Whether you’re preparing a best man’s speech or presenting your winning business idea to potential investors, you will want to portray self confidence. But your mind might be swimming with doubts: will you freeze up and look a fool? Is your speech going to finish too early or will you waffle on while your audience cast bored glances at their watches? Will your jokes meet with a deadly silence?
Confidence in public speaking is an elusive thing to pin down, but there are a number of things you can do to enhance your chances of delivering a killer speech.

Do your homework
To speak with self confidence you need to have confidence in your knowledge about the topic. While this is less important in a wedding speech than, say, a presentation to the board, it is important to carry out the necessary research.
If you need to sell a business idea, know your figures backwards. If you’re talking about a topic, try to guess what questions your audience might ask; prepare some model answers in response. If there’s any aspect of your presentation that you’re likely to be unsure of on the night, ensure you know how to field a query on it – even if it is to admit you don’t have an answer.

Don’t plan to fail
There is a great quotation, often attributed to Ben Franklin, which says: ‘If you fail to plan, you plan to fail.’ In the context of public speaking, this means you need to organize your presentation – and yes, that does mean on paper! It is a rare skill to deliver a great speech ‘off the bat’, and I have a hunch that most so-called ‘spontaneous’ speeches are actually finely crafted.
By taking the time to organize your speech, you will feel less pressurized; less pressure equals more control – and more self confidence. A big part of planning, especially in formal presentations, is ensuring your speech fits into its allotted time slot.

Employ humour – with care
I’ve left this one to last because it’s not for everyone. Do you have the ability to be naturally funny? Do people genuinely laugh at your jokes? If the answer is no, or you’re unsure, you may want to steer clear of the gags. Otherwise, working in a laugh or two: a funny anecdote, a joke or a pun, can liven up any speech. There is no better boost to confidence than having your audience rolling around in their seats. Be warned though, failed humour can dent your self confidence instead.

Other tips
Anxiety is about fight or flight. If you get an attack, move around a bit to discharge the impulse and regain self confidence. Don’t pace; try to walk slowly and confidently, taking care not to pull out your mic lead or trip over your note-stand.
Using well-placed visual props, such as photos, slides or even text handouts is a great way of taking the attention off you for a moment and giving you time to regain composure and self confidence. Don’t forget that props should be used to support and enhance a presentation – not replace it!

And finally – practice!
Utilise the help of a supportive partner or friend to rehearse your delivery. Not only will you benefit from increased confidence on the day, you will have the chance to receive some valuable feedback. Were your jokes funny? Was your material engaging? Did you talk fluently and with variation in tone or were you monotonous? Did the presentation finish on time?
Master the above and you will find yourself speaking with confidence, no matter what the occasion.

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