How to master the art of public speaking

Credit: Getty Images
Credit: Getty Images
Clear your throat, find your voice and step into the spotlight with confidence next time you speak in front of a large audience, with these helpful tips

“I don’t like being the centre of attention.”

“I forget my words.”

“I don’t like everyone looking at me.”

These are all phrases you may hear from someone who hates public speaking – which is actually more common than you may think. In fact, almost 30% of Americans have admitted to being afraid or very afraid of public speaking.

But unfortunately, there are times in our professional careers where we do have to speak in front of a large group of people, for example in conferences, interviews, events, or if you’re lucky enough, TedTalks. So rather than burying your head in the sand and dodging these important opportunities, learn these techniques that may just help you master the art of public speaking. 

Use powerful language

Harvard Business Professor John Antonakis researched charismatic verbal tactics, to find that those who used specific techniques boosted their leadership ratings by 60%. These tactics include using rhetorical questions, the use of similes and metaphors, and 3-part lists. He found that not only did these techniques help the speaker to recall the information, but it had a higher chance of captivating the audience, too. 

Tell a story

Sure, you can share facts and figures while telling the audience what this issue is and why it needs to be sorted. But it’s not always the most effective approach. Research has shown that if you tell a story, the listener's brain becomes engaged and imagines themselves in the plot. Telling a story will not only capture the audience’s attention, but the timeline will give you something to focus on, too. 

Understand diaphragmatic breathing

Your voice is the most important tool you need when speaking to a group. Diaphragmatic breathing techniques are often used by professional singers to help them control the tone, pitch and volume of their voice. Before your speech, place one hand on your abdomen and breathe into your hand, counting to 10 as you inhale and fill your stomach. Then, do the same when exhaling. Studies have shown that diaphragmatic breathing can improve sustained attention and cortisol levels, which will reduce the feelings of speech anxiety.

Practice with distractions

Before any presentation or speaking event, chances are, you’re going to practice – especially if you’re nervous. Reciting a script may work well when you’re in the comfort of your own home, but how will you react when faced with distractions, such as phones ringing, or people nattering in the back row? Rehearse what you want to say in front of the TV, or when you’re preoccupied with something else, such as cooking or driving. 

Try rhetorical strategies

American writer and CEO Nancy Duarte spent years studying rhetorical strategies. From Martin Luther King to Steve Jobs, Nancy was on a mission to understand why the most powerful speeches known became successful. She found that the speaker needs to start by explaining the problem at hand (the “what is”), and then move on to address “what could be”. For example, the problem is ‘the process’ and the solution is ‘having a more productive day’. Once this has been explained, the audience needs to understand why they should follow the speaker's advice, and what’s in it for them.

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