A confident speaker is someone who, first and foremost, feels confident in his own mind and heart about his ability to deliver a good speech or presentation. Being confident is not something anyone can give you nor you can buy from somewhere. Confidence is built, step-by-step, from our previous successful experiences, and can be boosted and improved as time passes. How do you build and improve it? By never wasting any chance to practice. If you mess up or make mistakes during your initial attempts, learn from these mistakes and move on. Remember, even the most renown speaker has started as a beginner. So, practice! Practice by yourself in front of a mirror or your own video camera at first. Soon enough, you can practice in front of a small, trusted audience. You can even practice in front of your pet, in the absence of a trusted human audience. Anyone can become a good speaker provided he agrees to work on it. This article provides a few pointers on how to achieve this goal.
- Think of a good idea or subject to make a speech or presentation on. If you are just making an informal speech or presentation with no subject restrictions, it would be helpful to choose a topic that you yourself are interested in. This way, it would be less difficult for you to talk about the subject, as opposed to something that you know very little about. Of course, it would also be better if the subject that you choose is engaging enough to a wide variety of people to begin with, so that it wouldn’t be very hard to capture their interest.
- Choose your audience. For the first few times that you are practicing being a good speaker, you might want to choose like-minded people who are likely to have the same orientation as you have regarding the subject of your talk. This could be a group of colleagues, acquaintances, members of your community, or other social groups that you deem appropriate. As you gain more experience and confidence, you would be able to gather knowledge and techniques on how to capture and engage even an audience who is just hearing about the subject of your talk for the first time.
- Research on your idea or topic. With any talk that you are giving, it is important that you know your subject. The general assumption of your audience is that you, as the subject matter expert, know about the topic more than they do, and that you are there to share knowledge and information that they do not know about yet. There is nothing more embarrassing than a speaker who does not do his homework, and who comes to a talk unprepared and with little knowledge about the topic. If you research and prepare adequately, that in itself will already boost your confidence level and lessen any apprehensions that you might have with giving the talk.
- Rehearse and prepare several versions of your presentation. Depending on the reception and response of your audience — which you will not know until the minute that you start your talk — you might want to rehearse different versions beforehand to tailor to your audience’s needs: one shorter, one more detailed, one for interested people, one for an audience who seem to be losing interest. This will ensure that you keep the audience engaged.
- Always make a paper copy of your slides or handout. This is so you can have a hard copy of something to refer to during your talk, and so you can distribute copies to your audience as well, if you wish. Even if you have a beautiful, stylized, and well-rehearsed PowerPoint presentation, you never know what you will find when you get to your speaking place. A very distracted IT guy who cannot get the presentation to display on screen right away, perhaps? It is always important to have a contingency plan in cases like these, so that you are not at their mercy. Encountering these situations and not having a back-up plan will not make you feel confident.
- Find ways to connect with your audience. Keep a pleasant, cheerful disposition all throughout the talk. Maintain eye contact with the audience members. These actions will also allow you to relax better, since by establishing a connection, you will be able to see your audience as humans — just like you are — who want you to do well in your talk, and not as high-and-mighty beings who would take a lot for you to impress.
- Engage the audience. Remember they are there because you have already done something right: perhaps, you wrote an intriguing outline of the talk, or you have interesting credentials or a fascinating biography, which has persuaded them enough to come to your talk. Either way, you definitely have something they are interested in since they took the time to come and hear you speak. Engage them by interjecting humor in your talk, and by inserting personal anecdotes. Doing these will keep the talk from being too rigid and formal, and will definitely keep your audience more interested. If you sense that the audience is already losing interest, shorten your talk and go with Q&A for the rest of the time. People are always more engaged when there is more dialogue between the speaker and themselves.
- If an audience member asks you a question that you don’t know the answer to, don’t panic. Take a moment to jot down the question with utmost consideration, ask for the name and contact details (including the e-mail address) of the person who asked, and tell them that you will send them that information no later than two business days. Of course, make sure that you follow-through with your commitment, even if you find the question “silly” or “stupid”.
- Show your audience how much you admire their intelligence, and how much you respect their opinions. No matter how difficult the audience can get, or even if there are some who might not agree with what you are saying, never become irritated with them. Remember that you are the speaker, so you need to maintain authority and keep yourself in check. Remain polite, calm, and courteous at all costs. If you address them properly and in a dignified manner, the difficult people who cause you troubles will end up standing out like a sore thumb in their rudeness, while you will look kind, patient and magnanimous. You will have plenty of time to indulge in those feelings and commiserate with your friends about it as soon as the talk is over, not before.
- Always tell the audience, in the end, that they were a great audience. Thank them for their time. Each person in the audience likes to think it was him or her who made you say that. It makes their day.
- Do not forget to smile. This is an important thing to remember, no matter how stressed you are during the time of your talk. People are inherently attracted by a smiling face, and will already create wonders for how your talk would go.
- If you do stumble with your words or mess up, just laugh it off and don’t stress over it to much. You may have made a mistake, but you likely noticed it more then your audience. Remember that mistakes are an integral part of the learning process, and will help hone you to become a better speaker in time.
- Research your talk but do not forget your own take on the subject. Perhaps a story or two from your personal experience? It will make you look more human and genuine, as opposed to using just plain facts.
- Use humor whenever you can, but keep it under control and make it classy. Don’t overdo it. It will look terribly unprofessional.
- Be sincere at all times. Even if you don’t know something, be sincere and admit it. It will work much better than stumbling over a “non-answer” answer.
- Do not forget to be kind to your audience. It will carry you a long way. In general, people coming for a presentation tend to be supportive and helpful. They don’t wake up thinking: “I will embarrass my speaker today.” If that happens, often inadvertently, it is up to you to stay in control handling the situation with great poise and dignity.