Abundant Optimism

Helping people regain and keep an optimistic outlook in challenging circumstances and improve their creativity, mind, and skills.

Public Speaking -- Everyone’s Favorite Activity

By Tamara Martfeld

I have actually met a few people who enjoy public speaking. However, most people do not look forward to that presentation or speech they are required to give for their job or special function. Frightening though it may be to stand in front of that sea of shining faces, it is really not going to hurt or kill you.

The best thing you can do prior to facing that audience is to be prepared. The better you know your material, the easier the speech will be. Using notes is always fine. Notes will help you keep on topic, remind you to cover key points, and help you keep the material flowing as opposed to being choppy. However, having a written speech that you read word-for-word is not generally recommended. Go ahead and use a written speech to practice with, but work to learn the speech and then speak from the notes. This is where preparation and knowledge of your topic come in. If you know your topic and know what you plan to say, the specific words are not important as long as accuracy is maintained. Speaking from a few notes or an outline will make your presentation stand out.

Another important part of a speech is to ensure that people can hear you. Test your microphone before your presentation so that you know how to use it. Some microphones need your mouth to be one or two inches from it to work. Others will pick up your voice from several feet away. Test how the one you will be using works and don’t rely on the word of other people. I have had the person in charge of the microphones give me bad direction. If the microphone is stationary, move your head around it to face other directions. Basically, pretend that your chin is connected to the microphone with a solid bar and cannot move away from the microphone. Many professional speakers do not do this, and as a result the audience hears every other word – the words that happen to come our of the mouth when the mouth is properly facing the microphone.

When giving the speech, if you thank anyone, be sure to actually thank them instead of stating how much you want to thank them. Use the words, “I thank” instead of “I would like to thank”. You can even start out by pointing out how many at award ceremonies tell of all the people they would like to thank, but never actually thank those individuals. It might add a little humor to your presentation.

Whether to use a podium or walk around is a personal preference. As an audience member, I prefer the speaker to stay put in one place. Others prefer the speaker to walk around. For many, walking around helps keep nerves from taking over the speech. For others, the barrier of a podium helps those nerves. It is your speech. Unless the boss has given a specific direction you wish to follow, do what is comfortable for you. However, if you do choose to walk around, keep out of the way of any visual aids you are using.

If you are standing without a podium, keep your body language in mind. Crossing your arms or legs tend to be received as putting a barrier between you and the audience and have negative connotations. Rocking back and forth or side to side may make you appear nervous even if you are not nervous. There are many resources regarding body language available. I suggest reading a few to be aware of negative body language so that you can avoid such language.

As for those visual aids, use them to enhance your speech, not replace your speech. Use them to give examples and present key points. If you know your material well enough, they can double as your note cards. It is generally a bad idea to read directly from the visual aid and not provide additional information. If all you do is read from a slide presentation, then you could have just given out copies of the slides and stayed home. Reading what is there and then expanding on the information is ideal. If at all possible, give your audience legible copies of the visual aids. Many people have trouble reading from a screen regardless of how large the letters appear, and this can prevent interruptions from people asking you to read a slide to them.

Last, but perhaps most important, remember to look at your audience. Your presentation is for them, not you. Look a few in the eye if you can, and pretend to do so if you cannot actually do it. Look into the audience, not over the audience. This will help them connect with you and feel better about the experience. Again, this is about them. Also, because it is about them, they are really not going to care how you do. If they get the information they want from the presentation, they will be happy. And since they are really not going to care how you do, don’t worry too much about how you will do. Just be yourself and do your best. Not everyone is going to excel at public speaking and come out as the most charismatic person, but then again, not everyone is going to be great in your own field of expertise.

Have a wonderful autumn! If you are planning on having a Jack-O-Lantern Pie, remember to plan ahead so that Mr. O’Lantern can safely be used in that pie. If you do not know what I am referencing, please see the article on my web site.