Can Public Speaking be learned?

Hello and welcome to this wonderful tutorial on public speaking. You’re here because you either have to speak in public soon or you’re just looking to improve your public speaking skills.

Whatever your profession may be, it’s likely you’ll need to speak in public at some point. That may be in a small meeting room for ten people or at a large conference for 100. And it’s not just professional; you could be asked to speak in public at a party or even at a wedding. Whatever the situation, speaking in public can be quite daunting. In fact, studies have shown that public speaking is many people’s worst fear. This can be hard to admit, too. We might be worried that it will have a negative impact on how we’re perceived at work.

If public speaking does unnerve you, you’re in good company. Even teachers and actors with years of experience will still tell you that they feel those famous butterflies in their stomach before they get in front of an audience. Those nerves aren’t a bad thing; they’re a sign that you’re energized and want to do a good job.

Treating your speech as a performance can help recentre your focus onto your content.

And you don’t have to be naturally charismatic or an extrovert to be a good public speaker. The key to a good presentation or performance is preparation. Preparation allows you to focus on the what, when, and why you are speaking. By narrowing all the elements down, you become familiar with your subject. It allows you not only to give a more concise presentation but to reduce fear of the unknown. This produces fewer nerves and therefore more confidence on the actual day.

Preparation is not limited to the subject matter. Warming up your body and vocal chords and creating a positive mindset are also key to success. Remember, our body and mind are the tools we use to transmit our message. The more relaxed and natural we appear, the more successful we will be in grabbing and maintaining our audience’s attention.

We all start off at different levels. However, by the end of this tutorial you will have learned that with the right tools, anybody can become a good public speaker. But before we actually speak in public, we first have to figure out what we want to communicate.

When preparing your presentation, the first thing you should ask yourself is,

who has requested that I give this speech or presentation? What is our relationship and what is their role?

For example, are they your manager, a colleague or an acquaintance?

Once you have done that, you need to get as many answers as possible to the following questions:
And why?

Answering these questions will help you create a defined plan. It will also make it easier to adapt your speech to your audience. Making your presentation as relevant as possible will help you capture and maintain your audience’s attention.

Let’s start with the first question: who? Who are you going to be speaking to? Will it be a group of 200 people, 20 people, or 5? Depending on the size of your audience, the way you express the content of your presentation will be different.
You should also ask yourself, how familiar is my audience with the subject I’m going to present? Are they beginners or experts? Will you be speaking to a tech savvy crowd, a room full of managers, or a group of students? By determining the demographic, you will be able to adjust your vocabulary accordingly.

There’s nothing worse than attending a presentation where the speaker assumes that the audience has the exact same background and knowledge as them. Inevitably you get lost in the jargon, lose concentration, and stop listening to the speaker.

The second question you need to ask yourself is: How will your presentation be made? Will it be face to face? Remote or online? Live? Or pre-recorded? You must also consider what equipment you will have at your disposal. Will you have a microphone and, if so, will it be worn or hand held? Also, will you be able to use slides for your presentation? Will there be a projector? Will you have to ask for a remote control? Depending on these answers, your hand gestures will differ. You’ll also know if you have the possibility of carrying notes.

The third question is when? When do I have to give this presentation? More importantly, how long does the speech have to be? Will it be two hours, one hour or five minutes? By defining the date and length of the presentation, you’ll know how much time you have to prepare yourself.

The next question is what? What are you going to talk about, exactly? It might sound obvious but it’s important to be able to prepare a well-structured speech. This means not getting side-tracked on details that aren’t relevant.
Finally, the most important question is why? Why have you been asked to give this presentation? What makes you the best person for the job? Are you an expert on the subject? Do you have any experience to share? Maybe you’ve got certain qualities that can bring life to the presentation such as a good sense of humour. The point is, you need to know why you are there. Is it to inform, teach, or inspire your audience?

Write all this information down. Your ideas and plans will stem from the answers to these questions. It will also serve as an outline for your draft.

When giving a presentation or a speech, your content is extremely important. However, what a lot of people forget or indeed struggle with is that their body also sends messages to an audience. We refer to this as body language. Body language is non-verbal communication. The position of your body, the spacing of your legs, your arm movements, and your facial expressions are all part of it.

For example, when you’re stressed, you may cross your arms or tap your foot. Unfortunately, an audience can interpret these gestures to mean that you’re either bored or that you don’t want to be there. It can also look unprofessional. Let’s look at some ways in which we can improve our body language.

Standing and speaking in front of an audience can prove physically difficult, especially if you’re not used to it. We have a tendency to get tired and to shift our body weight from one leg to another [show movements] or to cross our legs [show movement] or to do a little dance like so [show movement].
This results in giving the audience the impression of instability, uneasiness, and even clumsiness.

To correct that, you need to be well-centred. This means having a strong, stable standing position. It gives an air of greater confidence and power.

Place your legs a little further than hip width apart. Remain loose and flexible. Your legs aren’t tight and your knees aren’t locked.
Avoid slouching by keeping your back and head stretched and drawn up towards the sky. Imagine you have some kind of invisible thread pulling you upwards. Being centred does not mean staying still. Your legs are strong but you can still move and make gestures with your arms to accompany your words.
This brings us to another important point:

managing your movements.

If you have room to do so, you can walk.
That being said, avoid walking for walking’s sake. Make sure you have a destination. Wandering aimlessly for no apparent reason can become distracting. It can also reveal that your nerves are getting the better of you.
One thing you can do is to simply cross from one side of the stage to the other. Walk with purpose so that you can highlight transitions in your speech. When you change topic a few minutes later, walk back again [show movement]. Notice how I’m not turning my back to the audience.

This is useful for a variety of reasons. It changes perspective, allows you to catch your breath, but above all, it allows you to make a transition between two parts of your talk. In the audience’s mind, it marks a change which will help them follow the thread of your story.

Now, how about managing gestures?
Good gestures begin with the palms of your hands facing upwards, towards the audience. Your arms should make full, rounded gestures, not closed ones. [show movement] Like this, you can’t keep your arms folded!
Keep your arms springy, not glued to your body. Spread them a few centimetres away. Also, your arms or hands shouldn’t hide your face when you move. [show movement]
Your movements should be full [show movement] but not exaggerated [show movement]. This can sometimes be difficult if you are used to speaking with your hands. In that case, use the energy that you have from your nerves or the passion that you have for your speech and control those gestures. Use them to give examples such as “firstly, secondly, thirdly” [show movement] or to make your audience feel included like so [open arms].

Things not to do:

Don’t fold your arms in front of you or clasp them behind your back
Don’t lean on a table or a lectern
Don’t click your pen or fiddle with an object as that can irritate and distract your audience
[show movements for all]

All of these movements give the impression of boredom or lack of confidence. They have the effect of cutting you off from the audience.

Now, who should you look at? Don’t fix your gaze on one single person the whole time. That will make the rest of the audience feel that you are addressing just that person. It could also make that person feel overwhelmed or embarrassed.

Instead, include the whole audience. Sweep the room, resting your gaze at several points. To do this, you can follow the W pattern. For example, rest your gaze for a few seconds on one person, then pass to another and so on until you reach the furthest point of the audience. When you reach the end, sweep the audience in the other direction. You can also change the direction of the W. Make everybody feel included – not just your boss or the people that you think are important. Look, speak, then look again and speak again.
Last but not least, remember to smile. Smile with your mouth but also with your eyes. If your eyes don’t smile, your smile will be forced. If you’re not happy to be there then the audience won’t want to be there either.

Remember, we’re not necessarily born with good body language. It’s something that gets better with practice and experience. So, practice, put your knowledge to use, and you’ll have the audience on your side in no time.

Language is about what you say but also how you say it. This can completely change your audience’s perception of content when delivering a presentation.

Beyond choosing a suitable register for your audience when speaking, it’s important to be aware of linguistic tics .
Linguistic tics refer to things you repeat endlessly, without even being aware of it. These are often connecting words such as ‘like’, ‘basically’, ‘actually’, ‘so’, ‘and then’ and/or sounds such as ‘errrr’, clearing one’s throat or small intakes of breath.
In order to minimise your own verbal tics you need to become aware of them. This way you can first learn to hear them and then work to change them. If you’re not sure you have any linguistic tics, film yourself. Take a subject that you haven’t prepared or written down and talk to the camera.

So if your tics are words, prepare synonyms in advance. Make yourself use them in your talk.
If your tics are sounds, replace them with silent pauses and breaths.

In general, the better you’ve prepared your content, the more your tics will disappear. Practicing and training yourself in speaking will help you learn to control them. Preparation also helps to overcome stress and uncertainty. You’ll also manage any improvisation more effectively. It’s an excellent way of progressively eliminating bad habits.

Credit : Digital Garage

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