According to research conducted by the National Institute of Mental Health, the fear of public speaking or, glossophobia affects nearly 3 out of 4 people in the United States. Many Americans even go so far as to list public speaking as their greatest fear ranking it above heights, snakes, bugs and drowning. And while many of us have experienced some form of social anxiety speaking in front of groups, the good news is that with practice anyone can become a better public speaker. Simply follow the tips below to avoid the three most common missteps in public speaking.
Not Connecting With Your Audience
One of the biggest mistakes most people make in public speaking is failing to engage the audience. Often, many speakers who are nervous forget to maintain eye contact, rely too much on PowerPoint or Keynote slides or end up reading their speeches word-for-word off the printed or digital page.
To get audience members interested in what they have to say, speakers should try using humor to break the ice and reduce their nervousness. Humour is a great way to diffuse a tense situation, but should be used with caution. For instance, if a joke the speaker is telling comes across as off-base or sarcastic, then he or she may turn audience members off and leave a lasting negative impression.
Not maintaining eye contact and standing in one spot during the entire presentation are two ways speakers lose their audiences. Speakers who don’t look out at the audience and instead stare at their notes, laptop, or projector screen are perceived to be inauthentic, unreliable, and uncertain even if they don’t have any of those qualities. To help avoid this, speakers should aim to be more conversational and should learn to use their space effectively. Rather than standing behind a lectern, they should move around the stage and use their body language to make people more receptive to their message.
Trying to Make Too Many Points
More often than not, speakers try to talk about too much in one speech. Rather than focusing on a ton of points, it’s far more powerful to focus on one central idea and use supplementary media such as video, audio, slide, and concrete examples to illustrate the main message.
Keep it simple. Speakers who attempt to cover too many ideas can risk losing and confusing their audiences. Presenters should be able to summarize their message in a sentence or two, to determine what supporting statements they will need to make to get their main message across to the audience. It’s also important that speakers work within their time constraints, deliver a compelling opening and closing statement and most importantly, let their passion to shine through their presentation.
Not Having Practiced Enough
Practice makes perfect. Like everything else in life public speaking becomes easier the more someone does it. However, one of the best ways to feel less anxious and better prepared is for speakers to actually rehearse their presentations. Whether it is in front of a mirror, colleagues, friends or family, the best way for a presenter to feel confident and secure is to actually rehearse their speech in front of an audience. Naturally, a dry run won’t be the same experience as delivering the speech on an actual stage in front of a large group, but it can help take the edge off when the time comes.
Just like anything else, public speaking becomes easier with time and practice. Speakers shouldn’t become discouraged when their speeches don’t go as well as they expected. Even the best speakers will occasionally stumble over a word, say “um” or skip a slide during a PowerPoint presentation, but the speakers who can learn to organize their thoughts, engage with audiences in an authentic way and rehearse their speeches in front of people they trust, will improve and might even enjoy public speaking.