This article was last updated on March 3, 2017
Let’s face it, whether it is a room of 10 or an auditorium of 1000, you will have to become a speaker sometime in your life. If it’s not a presentation at work then it could be a wedding speech or an ‘all of a sudden’ farewell speech to test your mettle.
And that’s why, it is time you took your speaking skills seriously and worked on honing them for the benefit of your confidence and the well-being of those who will have to end up listening to you ☺
Being a superlative speaker is a lot like driving a car. Remember the first time you tried doing it? The car acted like a teenager (The gear- the clutch mis co-ordinated while the car almost bounced making a funny noise and maybe stopped) most likely☺. But now you can probably drive with closed eyes though I would really ask you not to!
As a Motivational speaker & Corporate Trainer in India; I got to do some 1100+ Events for Corporates & Youth across Asia in the last 17 years. I started off okayish. But the following helped me improve over the years. And I’m glad to be sharing my trade secrets with you☺ :
6 Simple Ways to Become a More Confident Speaker
1. Read more books
A lot of people think reading has got nothing to do with speaking. But you need to get your basics right before you take on the giant (if speaking is a giant for you to say).
If you don’t like serious literature or non – fiction, read any genre you identify with and enjoy. But do not give up on reading. It gives you the building block because some important aspects of being a good speaker are – being grammatically correct and being able to internalize your content. And what better than a reading habit to give you these two! And don’t say you don’t like reading, because then I am going to say – you haven’t found the right book yet.
I have been both – a complete non-reader and an avid reader. No guesses for what helped me more. Besides, if you look at some of the best speakers, they are all voracious readers. A habit of reading gives you the hold of grammar and vocabulary and perspectives to approach your topics from completely different and often abstract angles. That many more ways to hit your message home! And it gives you a notorious confidence, which speaking is all about.
2. Stick to your Style
Would David have defeated Goliath if he hadn’t played to his sling? I mean strength! ☺And would Harry have won past the dragon if he did not play to his flying strength?
Every speaker has a style. You just need to discover what you are comfortable with the most. And which is that one style (and probably genre of content too) where the ball is so in your court, no snobby audience member could take it away from you!
I for e.g. resort to humour and sarcasm of varying levels to connect with my audiences. The funny-ness of everyday life, I believe, is the best analogy one can draw to motivate people. Yours could be a different style. Emotional talking, lot of stories, interactive sessions, intellectual sessions, poetry– there are so many ways you could reach out.
Just figure out where your strength lies and then zoom off in that direction. To be able to build your confidence as a speaker, you will definitely need to first build your comfort. Of course a good talk or speech is a mixture of all the elements. But the major compound in the chemical reaction of your speech should be the one that can catalyse the whole reaction to your stride. So discover your style and strength. I am not asking you to get comfortable in a zone. But you will first need to find your zone before you can beat it. Else you will forever be swimming in unknown territories, and possibly get bitten by sharks along the way too! Now we don’t want that do we?
3. Pause & Breathe
I have found myself at loss of words many a times during my sessions. The mind blanks out and it is pretty normal. Initially it really got me. But I quickly learned how to get over it. All you have to do is, turn around so that the audience can’t see your face, take a deep breath and pause.
I have seen a lot of speakers who talk like a bull in a china shop. They have to say everything, and at break neck speed. Guys, you are not doing a road runner show here. You don’t have to say everything in one go. Take a leaf out of the theatre actors’ books and introduce that dramatic pause in your speech ☺
Okay! Maybe not that dramatic. But stopping sometimes can help you achieve many things. 1) It will help you declutter and unclog your mind. When sometimes, you are very prepared, it is easy to get carried away and then lose your head completely. At that crucial moment, you pause and take a deep breath. Though, not so deep that the whole auditorium listens to your windpipe. But give yourself that infinitesimal pause. Because it will also help you 2) to stress upon a point by giving your audience time to think about it.
So it has a two-fold benefit. It not only helps your regain your strength (and somewhat lost memory) but also creates a dramatic effect where the audience can think about what you just said and wait eagerly for more.
4. Use the ‘S curve Technique’
This technique is especially helpful when addressing larger crowds. And it is quite simple to ace too, after a few rounds of practice. All you have to do is, look at the person sitting at the extreme right end and curve your eyes through the crowd in an S shaped fashion until you come to the extreme front left end person. While you will be focusing on a few people as you move your gaze, the optical illusion created by this technique is that all the people in room will feel that you are look at them.
This a great trick for budding speakers to create a feeling of inclusion and better engagement. For larger audiences it is an S. But you can still try it in smaller groups too. Just be sure to make fluid eye movements and don’t roll them too much. You might end up looking demented!
5. Over prepare
In the sense that you should try and gather as much information about the topic that you are going to talk about. So much so that, when you do go on stage and get the mic, you should know more than most people in the room. Though, we are not aiming at showing off ☺
What this will do is, 1) it will give you confidence that you are not screwing it up and people are getting access to relevant content. And 2) it will also give you trivia to throw at your audience to spice up things when it is going downhill (as it sometimes will. Most sessions have ebbs and highs. It is okay).
One of the biggest reasons behind speaking calamities is that people fear they will be laughed at and made fun of. But you know, you can’t learn swimming by sitting by the pool knowing all about swimming. You will need to get into the water. Same goes with speaking. So, over prepare and then go with the flow. Because there is no shortcut other than practising as much as you can.
And while we are at it, one good way of practicing would be – listening to yourself. Record your own sessions and figure out your faults. That’s a great way to prepare yourself both content wise and delivery wise. Because, you must have heard (if not somewhere else then maybe from your girlfriend’s mouth), “It is not just what you say, it is how you say it”!!☺
So, content and delivery.
Voice modulation & Energy
Nothing kills the spoken word like a monotone does. You are a living breathing person. Your communication should not seem like it’s coming from a zombie. Depending on what you are talking about, you will need to modulate your voice & energy levels. And how to do that? Read on!
You can modulate your voice by modulating the pitch, volume and pace i.e. PVP. Create combinations of these three. Alter your pitch, or your pace, or your volume. Or all three in varying degrees to make a much deeper impact. We talked about pausing above. Right after your pause, you can alter your pitch to make your point much more impactful. Without PVP, your talk is going to flat-line, like a heart that is stopping.
For e.g. you are talking about the importance of goals. In a higher pitch you talk about the mistakes people do & then when you are giving them a final mantra for achieving, you lower your pitch just a little. Reason – your listeners have your attention from the high pitch and the high pitch has solved its purpose i.e. your attention. The lower one will bring seriousness, sincerity & subtlety. It will give the feeling that you are confident about what you are saying and has a higher chance of getting accepted. That’s how I do during my Events. And so do a lot of others who have had loads of practice. If you don’t believe me, listen to radio jockeys ☺
People often ask me ‘How can I become more spontaneous in my communication’ Spontaneity for me Fearlessness. When I started my career as a Motivational Speaker & a Trainer; my jokes were poor. They still are. But I used to tell my audiences that I am a poet and a comedian both. If my jokes do not resonate – call me a poet.
There is much more that goes into becoming a good speaker. Your ability to come across as a confident speaker depends hugely on your self-conviction in your topic, your preparation and your genuine desire to contribute to the listener. With practice, that confidence will build. And that credibility will appear. But only with practice. So be sure you get loads of that, if owning the speaker’s dais or podium or stage and owning people’s hearts is what you aim for!