If you’re anything like me, you know that awful feeling you get just before you have to do any type of public speaking or speaking up. Whether it is breaking bad news to someone, going into a meeting with an important contact, or speaking in front of an audience (of any size), the jitters are the same. And, if you’re like most people, you may even be asking yourself something like, “How can I get out of this?” As someone who has been thrown into my fair share of unexpected public speaking situations, I can say there is one thing I have learned that allows me to conceal my nervousness and instead mask it with confidence and self-assurance. Instead, I ask myself “How can I prepare so that I sound more confident and intelligent in order to win over this audience?” Following are my recommendations for getting yourself ready:
Step 1: Know your topic
As a public relations agency, we prepare our clients with specific message points and information that help them prepare for efficient and effective delivery of their topic. They are already experts and have deep knowledge of their industry or business, but it is still important to hone in on those key messages that make you sound focused and intelligent. When you feel that you are delivering clear information to an audience, your confidence automatically begins to build. You can only go up from here.
Step 2: Practice
Studies conducted by Susan M. Hughes, from the Department of Psychology at Albright College, show that we rate people’s expertise on a subject based on the pace they use when they speak. And, people who speak slower when presenting, breathing and building in pauses, are more likely to be perceived as knowledgeable compared to those who rarely pause for breath and are just trying to spit out as much information as possible. When I first started public speaking I would rush through everything I wanted to say and as a result, my words were never as effective as I wished they would be. Little by little I practiced slowing down when I would talk, and noticed a stark difference in the way my audience reacted when I did manage to put the brakes on. Other things to practice are eliminating “ums” and “likes” or any other unnecessary words we tend to use when we haven’t practiced or aren’t prepared.
Step 3: Practice some more
Working in an industry like public relations, where public speaking is an everyday thing, we get a ton of opportunity for hands-on practice. For anyone who doesn’t have this chance to speak in a room frequently, it is a great idea to treat every meeting or phone call as a way to practice public speaking by using the same methods of preparation. Know what you have to say, know what is important to accomplish, breathe, take your time as you speak, and know that you’ve got this!