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There is a difference between mediocre speakers and great speakers. Great speakers are passionate and knowledgeable about what they speak, they have charm and they are confident and not afraid to move around the stage, call to action, raise their voice and make jokes. They engage the audience and create a very intimate experience. Even when large groups of people are involved you can’t help but feel a personal bond with a good speaker – you feel like you can trust them, like you have learned something new.
If you want to be a good speaker, but you still can’t get a hang of all this public speaking business, the most important thing is to project confidence, and you can only do this if you overcome anxiety and have some good material to work with. You will often find speakers that have brilliant speeches who still get overcome by fear and mess everything up. Presentation skills are very important, and there are several things you can do to boost your confidence or to simply seem more confident.
1. Good body language
Body language and facial expressions are more important for human communication than what you actually say. This is how you can tell if someone is being sarcastic, if someone is mocking you, if a person is uncomfortable and so on. The base of confident body language is good posture, basically all the things your mother told you to do: keep your back straight, keep your hands out of your pockets, look people in the eyes when you are talking to them, keep your chin up, etc.
Your feet should to be placed shoulder-width apart, turned slightly outward, you shouldn’t swing your hands wildly but strive to make elegant, controlled gestures. You want to make brief eye contact with different audience members, but be sure to move your gaze through different segments of the audience – front to back and side to side – and hold it on each segment for a few moments before moving on. You can also push your chest slightly out and move around – don’t be afraid to take up more space.
2. Talk slowly and louder than you usually would
This takes some time to get used to, and it is where most people get it wrong. We are used to speaking a bit more quietly as our audience is in close proximity, but if we want to be heard and understood when speaking to a large number of people we have to find walk the thin line between speaking loudly and yelling.
It is also important to constantly remind yourself to talk slower, as we tend to start talking really fast and trailing off when we are nervous, which makes it difficult to get our point across. Public speaking courses and acting classes are a good way to learn how to work through stage fright and speak to an audience, or if you don’t have them in your area a vocal coach can help you a great deal with speaking loudly and fluently.
3. Make a few small jokes here and there
Jokes can be written and practiced before they are delivered to a crowd (like a comedian would do) or they can come organically from the interaction with the crowd or when you mess something up and make a humorous remark about it, breaking the fourth wall so to speak. You will seem more confident, more at ease if you can bring out your funny side.
This doesn’t mean you have to turn the speech into a standup comedy gig, you can simply add a few observations, side notes or a personal anecdote to liven up the crowd and create a bond. Try to seem frank and polite. A soft smile can make you seem more endearing to your audience.
4. Be passionate about the subject
You can be very serious at times, making long pauses for added effect, or raise your voice and make more pronounced hand gestures to emphasize parts of the speech. Let your mood change slightly, become enthusiastic like you are speaking about your favorite hobby, engage the audience and give some comparisons – use examples from everyday life that everyone can relate to.
As far as presentation skills go, your body language is the most important thing to get right. You want to seem somewhat relaxed, yet excited to talk about the subject; speak slowly and clearly yet seem a little emotional at times, lowering your voice or breaking the pattern.
If you come across as confident people will warm up to you and be more attentive, so practice walking the walk and talking the talk. If you really find yourself unable to improve and constantly lock up in front of the crowd, you can turn to local public speaking courses, which are becoming more and more popular with men and women who want to improve their leadership skills.
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