At some point in our professional lives, we all need to present information. For some, it’s a keynote speech at a conference while for others it may be a presentation at your team meeting. Public speaking is a nerve-wracking experience for many, but it doesn’t have to be. Here, we’re tackling the top reasons people fail when making speeches and how you can fix them:
1. Not knowing your audience
Izolda Trakhtenberg, author of Speak From Within: Engage, Inspire and Motivate Any Audience, says one of the biggest reasons people struggle with speaking in public is because they don’t understand their audience.
While you can practice your speech over and over, trying to perfect your rhythm and timing, Trakhtenberg says spending time building your listening, awareness, and perception skills will lead to a much more fulfilling speech for both you and your audience.
Asking the event organizer for the demographics of your group can help you to prepare and understand who your audience is, but you can also build camaraderie with the audience and engage them as soon as you step out on stage by asking them directly who they are and what they’re hoping to get out of their time with you.
2. Preparing the speech, but not your body
Preparing for any presentation or public speaking opportunity requires more than just knowing what you’re going to say. Trakhtenberg says proper preparation means warming up your body, mind, and spirit before stepping out onto the stage. “A marathon runner warms up before running a race, but we get up to talk without preparing our instrument–our voice, our body, and our physical presence,” says Trakhtenberg.
To physically prepare for a speech, Trakhtenberg recommends marching in place for 2-3 minutes to oxygenate the blood and deepen your breathing, making your body more relaxed. “One of the worst things you can do is walk up on stage and be nervous,” says Trakhtenberg. Yet, for many people, public speaking doesn’t come naturally and they are a bundle of nerves when stepping up on stage. Trakhtenberg recommends a breathing technique that is practiced by the Navy Seals to stay calm under pressure. In this deep breathing exercise, you inhale for a count of 4, exhale for a count of 4, inhale for 4, exhale for 4, repeating this cycle 3-4 times. This allows the heart rate to slow and for your body to calm down. Breathing naturally lowers your stress levels and helps you to appear calm when you step onto the stage.
3. Not speaking from the heart
“What you say must be authentic or it won’t excite or hook your audience,” says Trakhtenberg. “If you approach every public speaking opportunity as a chance to connect with people and inspire them somehow, you will be successful.”
Being authentic and speaking from the heart means sharing a piece of yourself with your audience. Connecting your speech topic to a personal story is the easiest way to do this. “We all have stories from our own lives that can help relate what you’re talking about,” says Trakhtenberg. Heart-centered speeches captivate the audience, pulling them into your presentation and creating a memorable moment.
4. Over-rehearsing your speech
Practice makes perfect, but over-practicing your speech can kill off the passion and presence in your words, making you sound dull and monotone. Trakhtenberg recommends writing out your main talking points or even the whole speech, but avoid memorizing it word for word. “If you write the whole thing out, you’re not leaving that room to engage with the audience,” she says. Writing out your main points means you’ll know the gist of what you want to say but you’ll be more flexible to adapt your speech to your audience and you won’t completely close up if you forget a couple of words.