I owe a great deal of my confidence in speaking to a woman named Maggie Randall, a retired teacher and children’s worker at our church. When I was about 12, Maggie gathered a group of us young people together from our church to coach us for a service where we would each be doing a reading.
At that short evening session I learned 5 simple things about public speaking that have helped me feel in control every time I stand on the platform.
Now your content is important, as is your passion and style. But no matter what kind of talk or reading you are doing these five simple tips will instantly improve your delivery and make public speaking feel much more comfortable.
- Slow Down
When you are addressing a crowd you need to talk far more slowly than you would in normal conversation. You cannot rush your words, no matter how much you would like to hurry up and get it over with. You have to slow down, and you have to slow down a lot!
Speaking slowly makes you speak more clearly which helps your audience to understand you. It’s that simple.
If you speak too quickly, or even at a normal pace, you will be more likely to utter ‘um’ and ‘err’ and your nerves are more likely to show through. But if you slow down you take control of the words, and you give your mind time to remember what you are going to say next, which cuts out the involuntary ‘erring’.
Slowing down feels very unnatural at first but I promise you it doesn’t sound unnatural to the listener and you will get used to it. Just remember to slow down a lot more than what feels comfortable.
Of course there will be times in a talk where you may want to deliberately speed up your tempo for the sake of humour or to build up a point. That is great, but your cruising-speaking-speed needs to be slow and steady
- Take big pauses
This goes hand in hand with the above. Leave a good long pause between your points. Let a thought settle in the audience before you begin the next sentence. Don’t be afraid of a moment of silence.
When you are speaking in front of an audience your words are more thought out and more purposeful than they are in normal day to day life. Each sentence matters so slow down and give it space to sink in.
This works especially well for scripture, dramatic readings and poetry!
Maggie taught this by having us write a big long forward slash over each full stop in our readings as a reminder to stop and take a breath. We then added more dashes in other places where a pause would be appropriate, mostly where there are commas. So for example a reading would look this:
Believe me when you are up there speaking it is really hard to remember extra things so giving yourself visual prompts on your notes is very helpful.
- Underline words you want to emphasise
Another visual prompt you can give yourself is to underline the words that matter. This has a huge impact on your delivery as which word you emphasise can dramatically change the meaning of the sentence.
For example, the simple phrase ‘I love you’ can have three slightly different meanings depending on which word you stress. Try saying the phrase aloud three times, each time stressing a different word, so if you say:
- I love you – your point is ‘I’m the one who loves you, not that other guy.’
- I love you – your point is ‘I don’t just like you, I love you.’
- I love you – your point is ‘it’s you that I love, not someone else’.
Do you hear the difference? Apologies if you are reading this article at work and have now unwittingly declared your love to a perturbed co-worker.
So when you know what you are going to say, look over your notes and underline the words that you want tob place the stress on so that you really get your point across.
- Lift your chin up
This is a fairly obvious one and doesn’t need expanding much, but remember to look up and out into the audience. It is tempting to just look at your notes and imagine the audience aren’t there but you do need to connect to the listeners.
Lifting your head up makes it easier for you to project your voice and people will find it easier to understand you when they can see your lips move. When you do need to look at your notes read a couple of lines in your head, then look up again and deliver them.
Finally, when you do look up, smile. In most circumstances your listeners won’t be scary judgemental critics waiting to tear you a part; they will just be good, ordinary people, so remember to be friendly towards them.
If this is tricky, find someone in the room who you know is rooting for you, make eye contact, smile and then share that smile with everyone else. Smiles are contagious and you will find that people start to smile back.
The more at ease you look and feel, the more at ease your audience will be and more you both will enjoy the experience.
Those are my 5 simple tips for excellent delivery. Basic but effective. So the next time you are called to speak remember to slow down, take pauses, choose your emphasis, lift that chin up and smile!
You’ve got this!