Muddassir Hosein — Public speaking can be powerful. Public speakers can help create social movements. They can help officials be elected to office, such as the President of the United States, and they can urge teams to victory. Although many of you may think that public speaking is limited to politicians, many people become public speakers for various reasons. For example, religious leaders, sports figures, and CEOs are often public speakers.
Not all of you have political aspirations, and may not think that you will ever speak in public. However, public speaking is not limited to politicians. There are many careers that involve public speaking, such as teachers, company presidents, and lawyers. Many people do public speaking at some point in their lives, even if it’s not their main task.
Communication apprehension is anxiety of speaking in public. Communication apprehension is a learned response. We are conditioned to it by our society. Physiological changes that you may experience with communication apprehension include sweating and increased heart rate, speaking fast, and twitching. Many people start to move. They get fidgety. They start playing with things when they become nervous.
Some people talk too much. Other people talk too fast. Some people might just talk slow or look around. So even though you may be nervous, which is a normal response, everyone reacts just a little bit differently.
There are three main ways you can ease your communication apprehension. These are: to prepare, to practice, and to release tension. The more you can prepare for your speech, the more confident you’ll be when you give your speech.
Become familiar with your topic, with your audience, and the location where you’ll be giving your speech. Know as much as you can about your topic. Do researches, read articles, ask other people what they know about the topic. Ask them what they want to know about the topic. The more that you feel that you know about your topic and questions that might come up, the more confident you will be speaking about that topic.
Also become familiar with your audience. Who are they? What do they expect? What do they know about the topic and you? The more that you feel that you know your audience, the less nervous you’ll be when you have to speak in front of them.
You also want to know about your location. You want to know if there’ll be a podium or table you’re speaking at. You want to know how much space you’ll have when you’re speaking. You also might want to know about equipment. If you plan on using visuals, such as an overhead projector, is one available, or do you need to bring your own?
The next thing you want to do is practice. Practice giving your speech in its entirety. You might want to start by just saying a few lines. If you want to know and you haven’t heard your voice, leave yourself a message on your cell phone or your voice mail. See what you sound like. See what you can improve. Are you speaking too quickly? Do you have inflection?
Once you feel comfortable with that, you can move up to the next step. Practice your speech in its entirety. Say it out loud whenever you can. You might want to practice it when you’re driving to work, while you’re taking a shower, or at any other spare moment you have.
Once you feel comfortable with your speech, then it’s time to videotape it. At that point, use your webcam. Videotape yourself several times if you need to see where you’re strong and what you can improve.
You also might want to practice in front of a mirror if you don’t actually like recording yourself until you have to. The more you know about how you sound and how you look, the better off you’ll be when you actually give your speech. You’ll know what to expect, and you’ll know what you do well.
You also need to relieve tension. Many people hold tension in their back, their shoulders, and their neck, in such areas. If that’s where you hold your tension, you’ll need to try to release it. That might mean stretching. Rotate your neck. Stretch your shoulders. Wherever your tension is, do stretches such as that several times before you give your speech. If you start to loosen your muscles, you’ll start to become a little more relaxed.
You also might want to do deep breathing. Breathe as deep as you can from your abdomen and hold your breath for a while. When you’re ready, let your breath go. Do that slowly. Breathe in slowly, breathe out slowly. The exact time you hold your breath will vary on each person and how comfortable you feel doing that.
Breathing slowly actually slows your mind, slows your thinking. It also slows down your body. So if you feel nervous, it will start to calm and relax your muscles.
Another thing you might want to try is to clench your muscles. For example, you can put your thumb to your hand and clench as tight as you can. Hold that for several minutes, and then when you let go, it will relax all the muscles in your body. If people can see your hand, then you might want to use your toes. You can clench your big toe. People can’t see that, and again, it’ll have the same effect, and once you release that, you’ll release tension in your body.
Speaking with confidence is important, and it is achievable. The first thing you want to do in order to help your confidence is to fall in love with your audience, not your materials and your message. Many people make the mistake of giving a speech thinking that they have to say everything they planned on, and have to fit every detail of their speech. If you know that you’re running out of time or that your audience isn’t interested, you want to adapt to them. You might need to take some information out. You might want to change the direction you’re going with your speech.
You’ll also want to master all communication elements. Although people will be looking at you, visual communication only accounts for 55 percent of the message. People will notice your image; how you’re dressed; how you look; how your grammar is; if you have an accent. Things like that will be part of your vocal qualities, and that makes up 38 percent of a message.
Your verbal qualities are actually different than vocal. These are the actual words that you use. So while you write your speech, it is important to have a good speech that’s well-written, but you need to keep in mind that people will also be looking at the visual aspects. That means that if you say yes while shaking your head this way, and then saying yes, the audience is going to see no. You need to make sure that your body is in tune with what you’re saying, and make your speech consistent.
If you’re asking a question by someone in the audience, you need to step towards the audience. Have an eye contact. Look engaged. That shows you’re comfortable. If someone asks you a question and you step back, it makes it appear that you’re fearful.
Some people do want to move. If you get nervous, as we said earlier, some people tend to move. They tend to fidget. They tend to look around. Some of that’s okay. It’s natural to move. It’s natural to have gestures. You don’t want to overdo it.
Again, the best thing you can do is be prepared, practice, and release tension. That will help you becoming confident. You also, again make sure that you focus on your audience. What is it that they want to hear? The more you please your audience, the more comfortable you will be. Visualize yourself doing well, and try to master all communication elements.
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