Rather than becoming deflated after botching a speech, recognize and fix your mistakes to become a stronger speaker next time around.
Start by analyzing your technique. Objectively review a recording of your failed speech, or ask a trusted colleague who heard your presentation to give honest feedback. Scrutinize body language, vocal tone and energy level. Identify words that needed more emphasis and ideas that needed more explanation.
In addition to noting what you did wrong, note what you did well. Build on your effective techniques and find a way to use any bad habits to your advantage.
Example: If you utter too many filler words, “ums” and “uhs,” practice pausing and being silent instead. That will make you appear thoughtful.
— Adapted from “How to Recover From a Disastrous Speech,” George Dixon, Presentation Magazine, http://www.presentationmagazine.com.
Giving a presentation or speaking in public can be a nerve-wracking experience. It’s OK to be nervous. However, you can take steps to build your public speaking confidence.
If you find yourself panicking before you present, remember one important rule: Never apologize for being nervous! Apologizing in advance for your nerves undermines your credibility and sends a subconscious message to your audience that you are lacking confidence in yourself and the message you’re trying to share.
Even worse is apologizing for being underprepared. No one in the audience needs to know that you had to step in and present on another person’s behalf or that you were so busy you prepared at the last minute.
Furthermore, if you confess that your presentation isn’t good because of a lack of preparation, your audience members could resent that you are wasting their time with a bad presentation.
Be direct about any miscues or stumbles, and move right on. Attempting to endear yourself to the audience by revealing and apologizing for your last-minute preparations almost always backfires. Don’t do it.
If the thought of delivering a presentation to a large audience fills you with dread, you’re hardly alone. When we asked readers “Which speaking situations do you find difficult?” 64% said “Presenting to a large group.”
Whether you are speaking to five people or 5,000, careful preparation and rehearsals will allow you to speak with greater confidence. When you are speaking to a large group, take these actions too:
- Speak to individuals. Instead of facing a room full of strangers, connect with as many people as possible before you speak. Interview members of the group as you prepare your remarks, and arrive early to chat with attendees as they enter the room. If you are speaking at a conference, mingle with people in the day or two before you speak. Then you will be able to make eye contact with people you know, mention audience members by name and integrate their anecdotes into your remarks.
- Move around. If the room setup permits, walk around during your presentation, spending a few moments in every section. Walk as you make a transition, and then stop to deliver your point.
- Take a break. Ease some of the pressure on yourself and make the presentation more interesting for the audience by not speaking the entire time. Plan an exercise the audience can complete in small groups, share the stage with another presenter or show a video clip to illustrate one of your points.
Stage fright doesn’t just occur in your head. Sometimes it’s the physical symptoms of your nervousness that cause you the most trouble—and reveal your anxiety to your audience. Marjorie Brody, one of America’s most accomplished speakers and speaking coaches, cites seven major forms of physical stage fright … and 14 ways to cope with them.
For dry mouth:
- Avoid dairy products, soda and alcoholic beverages for an hour or so before you speak.
- Lightly coat your teeth with petroleum jelly. That will keep your lips from sticking to your teeth.
- As an emergency measure against oral dryness, bite the tip of your tongue. That will help you to salivate.
- Drink room-temperature or warm water—with lemon, if available. Ronald Reagan frequently did that before delivering a major speech.
For sweaty hands or body:
- Use talcum powder or cornstarch on your hands or body to absorb excess moisture.
- Carry a handkerchief—but use it only when you really must.
- For blushing or breaking into red splotches when nervous:
- Women should wear pink or red colors. A red tie and strong, dark suit colors help for men.
- Women should wear high necklines.
- Use humor to release endorphins—natural proteins that can exert a calming effect on the brain and relieve blushing.
For shaky voice:
- Make a concentrated effort to project your voice to the back row of your audience. Louder, more forceful projection will cut down on the vocal wobble.
For shaky hands:
- Gesture—but use small gestures and avoid jerky or wild movements.
For shaky legs or knocking knees:
- Move about the platform or circulate in the room.
For rapid heartbeat:
- Breathe deeply.
- Avoid caffeine before speaking.
— Adapted from Speaking Your Way to the Top, Marjorie Brody, Allyn and Bacon, http://vig.pearsoned.co.uk.
When drafting a speech, how do you know how many words to write to fill the time you have allotted? Use this trick:
For one minute, time yourself reading aloud an excerpt from a favorite book or article. Make sure you are familiar with the content, and inject the appropriate pauses and intonation as you speak.
After a minute, stop and count the number of words you’ve read. That will give you an approximation of your speaking pace. Once you understand that, you can write enough words to fill the time frame as needed.
Note: Some experts suggest that 125-130 words per minute is ideal when you are giving a presentation. So if you speak much faster or slower than that, work on adjusting your rhythm until you feel comfortable speaking at that pace.
– Adapted from “Words per Minute When Speechwriting,” Rich Watts, http://www.richpublicspeaking.co.uk.
Photo credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/ashleyv.
Successful speakers handle impromptu questions with ease. Their answers appear planned, pertinent and polished—even if the question caught them off guard. Use the acronym SEER to guide you to create better spontaneous responses. The letters remind you of these elements:
Summary. Give a one-sentence statement that sums up your answer.
Elaboration. Offer key points to support your answer.
Examples. Specific illustrations clarify and make your key points memorable.
Restatement. Wrap up by giving your one-sentence summary again.
Here is an example of the SEER technique in action. In this example, the question is “Do you think that we are likely to see more cuts that will affect our industry?”
Summary: “No, I don’t think that our industry will face further cuts at this time.”
Elaboration: “For the past three years, we have seen net operating margins grow by 6% industrywide.”
Examples: “Also, don’t forget that service industries like ours tend to revive more quickly than others. In the last recession, our recovery set in fully six months before other industries noticed improvement.”
Restatement: “So no, I do not think that we need to worry about taking another blow in the near future.”
— Adapted from Speak With Confidence, Dianna Booher, McGraw-Hill, www.mhprofessional.com.