Ahead of our inaugural TEDxOpenUniversity event (yes, we’re pretty excited!), we thought what better way to whet your appetite than to provide some simple and effective tips on public speaking.
Public speaking is an art form in its own right. It requires heaps of courage, lashings of confidence and a lot of preparation. Many of us shy away from speaking in front of an audience. It’s the stuff of nightmares and we’ll do anything we can to avoid putting ourselves in the firing line. But it doesn’t have to be this way.
Speaking in a public arena – whether in a work meeting or a hall packed with students – can be the vehicle to getting your voice heard, advancing your career and gaining that promotion. It’s a life skill that takes practice, patience and perseverance – it doesn’t come naturally to most.
Dr Janet Sumner is an expert in public speaking, with extensive broadcast and media experience. She’s presented numerous BBC natural history series and it’s fair to say that for Janet, being in front of an audience is second nature.
Janet shares her top tips for public speaking to ensure you’re prepared for the task ahead.
1. Think about your audience and tailor your language accordingly
Before you put pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard) to craft your speech, consider your audience and the key points you want to make. This will help to refine your tone of voice, vocabulary and style, e.g. is it a motivational speech, or a speech built around facts and statistics?
Practice reading your speech out loud to check it flows well. Get rid of any awkward, unnatural phrases and cut out any waffle or repetition. This is a trick used by writers, actors and public speakers – proof it really does work!
2. Write a script, count your words and rehearse so you don’t run over time
When you write your script, aim for approx. 150 spoken words per minute.
Author and communication expert, Dianne Booher, said: “If you can’t write your message in a sentence, you can’t say it in an hour.” Write a brief summary of your speech explaining the purpose and intent. What will the key takeaways be? How do you want the audience to feel? This should be your starting point.
Avoid repetition and using too much conversational language. There’s a balance between informal and formal – your speech should aim to sit somewhere between the two.
3. Build and tell a story within the given timeframe
Carefully plan your speech, listing the key points and impacts you need to make. Always be mindful of the overarching theme and avoid deviating from the main topic. Create a visual timeline or map that lists the key ‘plot points’ within your story’s narrative. Don’t be tempted to speed up and gabble if you’re running out of time.
4. Be aware of body language and stage presence
Command the space you occupy. The TEDx ‘red dot’ may keep you in position, but don’t let that mean your presence on stage needs to be small.
Initiate eye contact with a few audience members. Treat them as your allies throughout to help diffuse stage fright and make the audience appear more intimate. Project your voice so it’s loud, clear and reaches the back of the room.
Remember to take pauses and breathe. The author, Mark Twain said: “the right word may be effective, but no word was ever as effective as a rightly-timed pause.” A well-timed silence can have a powerful impact and gives time for the audience to reflect and fully absorb what you’ve said.
5. PowerPoint slides should only be used as a visual aid
Use slides sparingly and only if they complement your main argument. Only use imagery if your explanation requires a visual example, such as statistics, photographs or diagrams.
Some speakers make the mistake of reading text verbatim off the screen. This is a big no-no, as it appears stagnant, robotic and impersonal, plus the audience will grow bored very quickly.