Public Speaking

When you think about having to speak in public or delivering presentations how do you feel? If you are one of those lucky people who loves it and will take every opportunity to address an audience and hear the sound of your own voice consider yourself lucky. For most this is something to be avoided at all costs and the mere thought of it can cause sweaty palms, a dry throat, heart palpitations and sleepless nights. If it’s any consolation, research has shown that glossophobia (speech anxiety) is ranked as one of the most common phobias.

This fear can present itself in many different ways. It may occur to a student praying the teacher will not ask them a question. Managers can suffer panic attacks at the mere thought of having to present to their superiors. Socially, it can happen at a party where the possibility of having to speak to someone new fills you with dread. This fear can be paralysing and may cause us to miss out on social, academic and career opportunities.

Can you remember the last truly memorable presentation you attended? Are you still thinking? Unfortunately, too many presentations are easy to forget. Now you are probably wondering, “How is this helping me? It’s just making me more anxious!” Well, I hope to be able to give you a few ideas on both how to deliver an impressive presentation as well as a few tips on how to remain calm and in control.

What makes a good presentation?

I was once told the key to a good presentation is simply to tell them what you’re going to tell them, tell them and tell them what you told them. Whilst this is a very simplistic approach, it is remarkably effective. When learning to write stories at school we were always told it has to have a beginning, middle and an end. So the number 3 seems to be relevant when thinking about the content for your presentation. Continuing on the theme of this number 3 here are 3 tools to allow you to deliver an excellent presentation.

  • Understand the objective of the presentation
  • Be Prepared
  • Be clear, succinct and lively when delivering the message

Before you launch into preparing your presentation take a step back to understand who you will be talking to, what you want to say and what they might be expecting to hear.

Who is your audience? What are they expecting to hear?
What message do you want to convey? How will you know if you have achieved it?
How can you convey the message most effectively? This is where you think about structure, language, time and visual aids with your audience in mind.
Why should they listen? Tell them. Use metaphors and stories. Go into detail when necessary and present concepts and patterns with metaphors. This is what your audience will remember!

Be Prepared

I am sure many of you are familiar with the 5 P’s – “Prior Preparation Prevents Poor Performance”. Often preparation is underrated. It is not enough to know your topic, you must practice. You know what they say, practice makes perfect. You will need to be prepared for how you are going to feel as well as what you are going to present.

Try not to think of your presentation when you are nervous or anxious as this will create an association between presenting and fear (more on the fear factor yet to come). You want to practise your presentation at least 3 times (the magic number again). The first time you’ll probably just be checking general coherency, spelling and length. For round two, think about how you will deliver the presentation and evaluate places where you might want to pause, concepts you wish to emphasise, places where gesturing may be effective and timing. Third time round is dress rehearsal. Go through it and maybe even tape yourself or get someone you trust to listen to you. Imagine it’s the real deal so even if you make a mistake just keep going. Remember to stand while you do this as you would in a real presentation (standing will also make you sound more confident).

Be clear, concise and lively when delivering the message

Delivery can make or break a presentation, no matter how well prepared and clear your message is, if you stand there and chew gum whilst looking at your watch every two seconds nobody will be listening to a word you are saying.

Less is more. Be succinct and specific when wording your message. Try to use words that captivate all the senses by describing how things may look, sound, feel, smell and taste. As individuals, we all place different emphasis on each of these so evoking all the senses means you are appealing to all personality types in the audience.

If you are using slides limit the content of each to a few bullet points, a statement or diagram. You don’t want it to draw attention away from what you are saying. It is there to help support your message not distract the audience.

Vary your voice and tone to keep your audience alert. Imagine you are a conductor in an orchestra. If appropriate use humour to break the ice (you must know your audience extremely well in order for this to be effective. Use sparingly!)

Don’t talk too fast. We all have a tendency to speed up when speaking in public. Pauses are effective and powerful. Use them wisely.

How to keep calm and manage the fear

So, you might be thinking, “thank you so much for stating the obvious so far, what I really want to know is how I stop myself from feeling physically sick and having mild panic attacks before I go up there? How do I fight the fear?”

Fear of presentations is actually a good thing believe it or not! If you were too relaxed you would almost most certainly deliver a dull presentation. The main thing is to move you away from this initial fear at the beginning of the presentation to your comfort zone that should last throughout.

There is no magic formula so here are a few tips and ideas for you to try out and see which one works best for you.

Have the following conversation with yourself:
Identify the fear. Tell yourself exactly what you are afraid of. Make sure you are very specific. Write it all down. Make the list as long as it needs to be, then refer to each fear individually. For each fear you mention, list the things you can do to prevent whatever events you dread from happening. For example, if you are afraid of losing your train of thought ensure you have precise notes. Tell yourself why you shouldn’t be afraid. This can be something like “Even if something goes wrong I can fix it”.

Attire. What you wear should make you feel comfortable, confident and poised. The idea is to put the clothes on, feel good and then forget about what you have on. Don’t forget the shoes. You are likely to be standing for a while so a brand new pair that is going to pinch your toes might not be the most sensible choice. Whatever you go for, ensure they are polished.

Visualise. Imagine yourself excelling in the presentation by creating a mini movie in your mind where you are the hero and main protagonist.

There is a simple and well known exercise you can do to increase your confidence. Try clenching your fist whilst associating it with the empowering feelings and emotions related to a successful event or time in your life. Do this often enough and by clenching your fist you will be able to recall those feelings and feel more self assured. It also works if you do the same exercise with a small inconspicuous object that you can have on you during the presentation, such as a paperclip.

Practice, practice and more practice. Prepare your preparation to the point where you are sick of hearing it.

Remember, presentations can be fun. Once you’ve enjoyed one or even parts of it this will be a huge boost. I hope you find some of the tools here useful. Good luck and enjoy!

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Written by Ana Antunes da Silva.

217 Responses to “Public Speaking”

  1. Patrick says:

    Recently gave a training session on structuring and delivering presentations. I knew I had read somewhere the term for fear of public speaking – glossophobia. Sure enough, here it was! Thanks for providing that one!

    • Hi Patrick.
      Many thanks for sharing.
      I am delighted you found it useful. If you think of any other topics that may be of interest to you or your colleagues, please do let me know and I will try to incorporate them into my blog.
      As you don't seem to suffer from graphophobia (the fear of writing), I look forward to future comments!

  2. What are copywriting classes like? I am thinking about minoring in copywriting at my school (I’m a fiction major) and I’d to know what sort of things are taught, what kinds of homework/practice/exercises there are, etc. Anybody here with experience?

  3. I found your site via google thanks for the post. I will save it for future reference. Thanks Webmaster Community

    • Ana says:

      Hi Matthew,
      I am pleased you came across my site and found it useful. Thanks for taking the time to leave a comment. If there are other topics you would like to read about, I would love to hear from you.

  4. Thank you for the great post – I had fun reading it! I always enjoy this blog.

    • Ana says:

      Thanks for your positive feedback and comments. I really appreciate it! I am delighted you enjoy this blog. I look forward to your thoughts on the other posts.

  5. i remember when i was still in high school, i always fear public speaking engagments.:”.

  6. ok thanks to your fool proof instructions my first ever comment – well done dar!!

  7. The blog was absolutely fantastic! Lots of great information and inspiration, both of which we all need!

    • Ana says:

      Thanks Tatyana!
      Really appreciate your feedback. Have you had a chance to go through the other posts on here?

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  10. Wow!, this was a real quality post. In theory I’d like to write like this too – taking time and real effort to make a good article… but what can I say… I keep putting it off and never seem to achieve anything

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  14. Kevin says:

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    • Ana says:

      Hi Kevin.
      Many thanks for your positive and encouraging comments. I really appreciate it.
      If you think of any specific topics you would like to read about please do let me know.

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