(c) Sunny Gill
(c) Sunny Gill

Public speaking is one of the hardest skills to learn as a freelancer. Standing in front of a crowd of people, presenting your thoughts on a topic can be nightmare inducing. As someone who was a shaking, stuttering red-face mess at school when presenting anything to more than two people, I know this fear well. I’m the introvert who felt uncomfortable being the centre of attention at my own wedding.

Even two years ago, I’d have stayed away from anything that involved the words ‘public’ and ‘speaking’. Embarrass myself publically? No ta.

But I kinda love it now. I get what people mean when they talk about the buzz you get.

So, how did I go from bumbling mess to someone who feels more comfortable with public speaking? (not TED talk comfortable, but room full of 100 people comfortable). Here are five steps I took.

1) Using PowerPoint? Update to Prezi

As tech is something I both enjoy using and find keeps me calm, my first step was to look at what I was using. Mainly my presentation tools. PowerPoint has been doing the same thing for years and it shows. Prezi is far more impressive and a little bit more intuitive (plus if you activate it with your iPhone, people tend to get very excited). Other tools you could try are Haiku Deck and Slideshark.

2) Make it funny

One of the best ways to keep the attention of your audience during your presentation is to make it funny. I’m not talking about using an entire stand-up routine, but the occasional funny picture in your presentation or perhaps a funny experience you can share will keep them hooked.

3) Make it interactive

Ask the audience questions or for a show of hands throughout your presentation. If you show you’re interested in what they think, they’ll be interested in what YOU think. Also, it keeps everyone awake…

4) Do it YOUR way

The danger of watching too many TED talks is that you can feel pressurised to use the same approach. You know the one. Dramatic pauses for effects. Not a single indication of nerves. It’s brilliant, but if that’s not you, then don’t do it! The more natural you are, the more the audience will enjoy it. So if you prefer to use a bunch of props, pace around the stage (I’m a pacer and a hand mover), do it! It’s worth filming yourself beforehand though, so you can pick up on anything you’re doing wrong (such as talking into your boobs or failing to look at the audience).

One thing EVERY public speaker needs to do though, is plan what they’re going to say. The idea of blagging it may seem appealing, but it rarely works out well.

5) Practice, practice, practice

This is the best advice I can offer. I’ve been fortunate to get a year of experience under my belt, working at a business school for young people. A couple of friends who saw me present at Blognix last year and this year mentioned they could tell the difference. Teaching classes of 16-year olds can do that!

The more practice you can get, the better. Volunteer at local networking events to kick things off. Do training events at companies. It’s all great experience and will help you create your own personal presenting style. If you can’t do any of those, try YouTube. Set up an account (make it private if you want), and get talking about things. Or try podcasting (check out my lovely friends Sam and Lea at The High Tea Cast for more info on podcasting)

I can’t promise you’ll be rivalling Tony Robbins anytime soon. And you’ll still worry that your legs will give way when you stand up to do your talk. But hopefully, you’ll also start to kind of enjoy public speaking.

Do you have any tips for being a better public speaker?

3 comments on “Five ways to be a better public speaker”

  1. Love this Emma, some great tips. I’d add ‘feel the fear and do it anyway’ into the mix. I’m naturally introverted but am occasionally called upon to conduct presentations. Initially I’m always nervous, but it’s amazing how quickly the endorphins kick in and I almost always end up enjoying it. Oh and don’t be scared to use a PA system if you need one. It can feel a bit QVC but if you don’t have a strong voice it’s better to use a mic than to have half of the room straining to hear you. 🙂

  2. Two words: Toast Masters. Er, wait, no, that’s not it, I mean Toastmasters International. It’s one of the cheapest, best, and *funnest* ways to improve your public speaking, leadership, and confidence, with also ample opportunities for the *networking* so vital to us freelancers. Just be sure to check out several of your local clubs, since the atmosphere can var widely.

  3. I can’t say I find that easy either, it’s not something that comes naturally to me but ‘feel the fear and do it anyway’ is a must.

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