How to Become a Great Public Speaker (with No Stress)


December 22, 2008   •   Fact checked by Dumb Little Man

We have all heard that famous statistic, the one that claims the number one fear people have is public speaking, number two is death. Seinfeld had a joke about this stat, he said apparently if people are at a funeral they would rather be in the coffin than be giving the eulogy. If that statistic is accepted as fact, Seinfeld’s joke, while ridiculous sounding, would be technically correct. What is wrong with this scenario?

Would people really rather be dead than speak in public? Why? Well I am here to tell you that speaking in public is nothing to be afraid of; I do it all the time. Like most things in life, the more you speak in public, the less nervous you become when you do it. Unfortunately, most people choose to avoid giving speeches so vehemently that they will never do it enough to become comfortable with it.

So for all of those people out there who avoid speaking in public like, well, death, I am here to tell you how to breeze through any public speaking engagement and come out the other end as a hit public speaker, with as little stress as possible.

  • Admit You are Nervous
    This is part of connecting with the audience. When you admit to your nervousness you expose your humanity on a personal level to the audience and they will empathize. They are just as afraid of public speaking as you are. When you admit to your nervousness, the elephant in the room has been directly addressed and neutralized.

Admitting that you are nervous also relieves tension within yourself. It allows you to get that obvious impediment out of the way from the start. You could also segue into our next point from admitting you are nervous, which is…

  • Tell a Joke
    This seems to be one of the oldest cliches out there, but in my experience it works. I absolutely advocate telling a self-deprecating joke. If you are giving a work presentation, admit how nervous you are as outlined above, then make sure to thank the makers of pepto bismal for helping you settle your stomach before your presentation. “You may be able to see the pink film on my teeth” you could say. That is sure to get a laugh. 

Once the joke is told and a laugh is shared between you and the audience, even more tension is released and your confidence will begin to build. You’ve already scored with your joke, so they are likely to enjoy the rest of your public talk.

  • Tell A Personal Story
    This is another key way to connect with the audience. If you are giving a eulogy, tell a story about yourself and the deceased. If you are giving a work presentation, tell a story about when you first started with the company. Personal connection with the audience is essential to maintaining their attention and impacting them with your public speaking engagement. 
  • Talk to One Person At a Time
    It is much easier to speak to one person than it is to speak to a whole group of people. If that were not true, no one would be afraid of public speaking. You will calm your nerves and be a much more effective speaker if you speak to one person at a time, for a few second each. When you have spoken to a person, making eye contact, you then move to another person, and so on and so on. 

By speaking to one person at a time you have neutralized the overwhelming fear of looking out at a see of faces that are trained on you and every word you say. When you narrow that crowd down to one person at a time, all of a sudden your public speaking becomes much more manageable.

Another reason to speak to one person at a time is to connect with the audience and knock your public speaking engagement out of the park. One of the keys to successful public speaking is connecting with the audience. When you make eye contact with individual audience members, you connect with them and make them feel like you are speaking directly to them. For that time period when you are speaking and making eye contact with that person, that is exactly what you are doing, talking to that one person individually.

  • Be Honest
    When you are sincere and honest, people can tell. It creates a bond between you and the audience that makes your presentation much more authentic and impactful. If you are doing a presentation for work and open it up for questions and answers afterward, you may get a question you do not know the answer to. Don’t hem and haw and make up an answer; admit you don’t know the answer and open the floor to someone else that may. If no one can help, assure the questioner you will research it and get back to them with an answer as soon as possible. 

Being honest is a method which allows your to be a more effective presenter. It also alleviates a lot of nerves that people artificially impose on themselves. If you are set to give a talk for work and think you need to know the answers to every single question each person asks in relation to your presentation, you are going to be much more stressed than if you just go into the situation knowing that you cannot possibly know every conceivable answer, and that is okay.

People understand that you are a human being, not a walking database for every possible scenario related to your topic. When you lift the burden of knowing everything off of yourself, you alleviate a huge stress burden from your public speaking baggage.

Written on 12/22/2008 by Mike S. Mike writes about personal development for intellectual thinkers at his website Photo Credit: sheilaellen

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