What is the difference between a good public speaker and a great one? What makes people want to know more about one person, and tune another one out? Although content, of course, has a lot to do with who listens to whom, something else that can make someone particularly successful at public speaking is confidence. Without it, talks can be impersonal, boring, flat, and uninspired, and all because the person giving the talk has no confidence in themselves, and what they are saying. To be a powerful public speaker, confidence is key.
Here are some ways to gain that confidence and enthral your audience.
Have a positive mentality
Believing that you can do something – and do something well – is half the battle. When it comes to public speaking, confidence can be gained by believing that you can stand up in front of the room and give your talk passionately, expertly, and from the heart. If you believe that something will go wrong, that you’ll lose your place, that you won’t be interesting, then that is likely that will happen. It’s not magic or sorcery; it’s the mind. The mind is a hugely powerful tool and when that power is harnessed correctly it can be a marvellous thing. Thinking that the worst will happen will set your mind on that track – it might even be the cause of you stumbling over your words or completely forgetting what it was you were talking about. Believe things will go well and your mind will set you happily on that course.
It can be hard to do this, of course. Nerves can be powerful things. So one thing you can do is actually picture yourself giving your talk. What can you hear? Can you smell something? What can you see? How does the lectern feel under your fingers? Can you feel the faint but constant breath of the air conditioning unit? Be as accurate and as detailed as you can and then give your talk in your mind. Did anything go wrong? Highly unlikely. And now your mind and body are learning about what it is you want them to do.
Find your stage persona
Although the best kind of public speaking is honest, truthful, and comes right from the heart, that doesn’t mean that you can’t adopt a different persona to go on stage with. We’re not talking about a false name and a costume – it’s still got to be you, after all. Public speaking is not about putting on an act and pretending to be someone else, but it can be about finding a persona that helps you reach into the more confident parts of your personality.
To develop this persona, ask yourself what it is that people like about your public speaking events. What are your very best qualities when it comes to doing what you do? Do you persuade people to change their lives for the better? Do you solve problems and prevent disagreements? Whatever it is, that’s what you need to grab hold of. That’s your selling point.
Practice, practice, practice
So you’ve written something fantastic, you think it’s really to the point, you think people are going to love it, and, hopefully, act on it. Don’t leave it there. You can have the best material in the world but if you can’t deliver it in the way it deserves to be delivered, you’ll lose your audience, and without an audience, a public speaker is really just talking to themselves. So make sure that you practice your talk. You can rehearse in front of a mirror on your own or call in friends and family to listen. When you give the talk for real it needs to feel polished and natural, so you’ll want to do away with as much paper as possible. Whittle your speech down to a handful of notes, and it will be easier to listen to. Rehearsing and learning your lines will help you get this right.
See your audience as individuals
One of the things that makes giving a talk in public so dauntingly overwhelming is the size of the audience. The larger the audience, the more nervous people will tend to be when speaking to them. Something that is important to do is to treat that audience as many individuals. Make eye contact, acknowledge people. Pretend you’re talking to just one person (although don’t focus on just one person as that will leave your subject feeling uncomfortable and leave everyone else feeling rather left out) and your nerves will diminish. After all, one person will be quite happy to sit and listen to something you have to say. You don’t have to worry about them. Just because there are many of this ‘one persons’ in front of you should not, in the end, make any difference at all.