Sweat trickling down your temples even in an air-conditioned room, sweaty palms, quivering lips and shaking knees, all a common occurrence when speaking in public for many of us.
Having the fear of public speaking or of speaking in general which is termed Glossophobia or speech anxiety. It is also commonly known as “Stage Fright”.
There are a plethora of reasons to why a person may feel agitated when speaking in public. A fear of embarrassment and probably previous unfortunate public speaking experiences maybe haunting. Being Medical students, we are expected to be able to speak in public with confidence. The countless presentations and speeches we have to give, certainly demand good communication and public speaking skills. Therefore, it is crucial for us to learn methods to improve these much needed skills.
Furthermore, captivating an audience is a skill that needs constant polishing in addition to the years it takes to develop. There are a constellation of ways to improve speaking and presentation skills. Here are a few simple pointers that you may find useful.
Know your stuff
Those who feel at ease presenting in front of a crowd usually just wing it when it is time to speak. For those who do not have the courage to do so, it is definitely advisable to prepare beforehand. A sound understanding and knowledge is of utmost importance when presenting. Do some research and more reading about the topic you wish to present as everything or at least the gist should be at the tip of your fingers. Your confidence will increase with the better understanding you have regarding the topic.
Plan and be prepared
If you fail to plan, you plan to fail. Do not leave the preparations to the eleventh hour. Check your microphone, speakers, presentation slides and all the necessary equipment prior to the scheduled presentation. Organise your notes and slides. Nothing looks worse than a presenter fumbling through his unorganised notes. If possible, familiarise yourself with the venue and get comfortable. In the unfortunate event that things do not go according to plans, DO NOT PANIC! Keep calm and move on. As Taylor Swift would say, “Shake It Off”. Your reaction to the matter will be as important as your presentation. Handle glitches calmly and let the show go on.
Getting tips from seasoned public speakers will help you experiment with different styles and habits. Pick up on the positive aspects and incorporate them into your own style whenever suitable. Trial and error is a way to find a style you are comfortable with.
Dress the part
Look professional. Dress smart and look the part. It is important to show people that you mean business and respect your audience enough to appear well groomed. However, remind yourself not to sacrifice comfort for style.
Practice, practice, practice
Once you have prepared, have a “mock speech” to ensure that things go smoothly during your presentation. Try practice in front of the mirror, record yourself, pinpoint the parts you would like to improve and maintain the good attributes. Practice with your family and friends. You will actually get better every time you repeat yourself.
Know your audience
Ensure that the contents of your speech or the manner you deliver it in suits your target crowd. Determine whether you want to teach, entertain, share, or convince your audience. Knowing your purpose will help you prepare a relevant speech in addition to help you go through it with better fluency.
Take a chill pill
Do not be hard on yourself when things do not go according to plan. Step back, take a moment to reboot and come back stronger. We are usually our own harsh critics. Do not let the fear of being ridiculed or embarrassed deter you from delivering your best.
An effective way for some to calm down is the deep breathing method. Relax your mind and body by practicing the method before you speak to your audience. Stand still and feel the ground beneath your feet. Close your eyes and listen to your breathing. Breathe in through your nose and into your abdomen. Then, slowly breathe out through your mouth while releasing the air from your abdomen. This should help you calm down a little.
You are what you think you are; do not sabotage yourself
Be positive. Although it is easier said than done, do not let your own negative thoughts bring you down. As the Malay saying goes “Jika Kau Fikirkan Kau Boleh, Kau Pasti Boleh Melakukan!” If you believe that you will do great, then you certainly will.
Do not sabotage yourself by admitting that you are nervous, do not make an excuse or justification as your opening statement. Not many will notice your anxiousness unless you give yourself away. Appear confident and composed, even if you are knees are trembling. An example of a sabotaging statement would be: “I was notified at the last minute, therefore, I did not get enough time to prepare…” These “excuses” may set you off on the wrong foot and might give the audience an impression that you are not dynamic enough to handle such situations; hence wasting their time.
To err is human
Many of us are guilty of uttering the word “err” or “umm” during speeches. Most of us call it “Err-itis”, an infection which causes a person to err uncontrollably. This tends to happen when you are extremely nervous. Cool down, take a breather, have a sip of water and carry on.
Do your text or speech justice instead of speeding through it like a bullet train. Your audience should be able to listen to you before they even begin to comprehend the content of your speech. Try to speak in a normal conversational pace, or even slightly slower than usual. Sometimes, slower for you is actually just fine for others when it comes to public speaking.
Make eye contact
Eye contact is a key factor when speaking to people. It helps the audience trust you more and may even put them at ease. Do not stare at your notes/slides or plainly read from them. Acknowledge the fact that the audience is there to listen to YOU. Acknowledge their presence and show your appreciation by making eye contact. This indirectly helps to portray you as a confident person.
A little laughter goes a long way
Cracking a joke or two may help break the ice with your audience. The audience will pick up on your positive vibe and will be more open to your speech. Nevertheless, do not turn yourself into a comedian. Too much laughter may cause the audience to not take you seriously or may weaken your points.
Kiss your presentation (keep it short and simple)
We have all been in a situation where speakers go on and on with their speeches without considering how the audience was feeling. Be considerate, the audience does not need to listen to prolonged ramblings when the point meant to be delivered can be done so in a short period. Spare your audience the auditory and emotional torture. Be considerate.
Body language and voice tone
Public speaking is an art. One where you have to articulate your words well with the appropriate fluctuation in tones and also where your body language makes an impact. Having said that, do not turn your presentation into a Kung Fu demonstration. Subtle gestures and movements shall suffice. Use the space you have, the stage is your asset, if possible, do not confine yourself to the rostrum. It is a balancing act, between standing still and melting like a Popsicle under the sun and performing Kung Fu. A little goes a long way. The occasional hand gestures would enhance the appeal to your speech tremendously. Tone on the other hand is important as no one wants to listen to a monotonous robot.
Public speaking is an experience you should learn to enjoy. Do not stress yourselves by preparing and micromanaging till you forget to appreciate the essence or contents of your speech. Deliver with the best of intentions in mind and have fun.
Put these tips to test and tell us what you think! Looking forward to hearing from all of you.
Nurul Firdaus Binti Salahul Ahmed is a 4th year medical student in Cyberjaya University College of Medical Sciences (CUCMS). Learn more about the Young Columnists under the Team page.