It happens to the best of us.
You’re walking up to the stage, legs are feeling a little shaky but at least you can put one foot in front of the other to walk. You make it to the microphone, and as you place your notes on the podium you look up into the audience. Oh no - those lights are bright!, you think to yourself. You fumble through your note cards, looking for the one titled “Introduction”. But you realize the notes are out of order - you forgot to organize them before you walked up to the stage! You start sweating, and you stammer through a few filler words while you frantically search your notes. “Oh...sorry… A-hem, uhh, just give me a few seconds here…”
Needless to say, giving a presentation in front of a group of people is not easy. True, some people may be naturally gifted at it, but for the vast majority of us, public speaking of any sort is a nerve-racking experience.
Luckily, however, presentation skills can be improved - all it takes is the right kind of practice! Here are five tips you can use to hone your skills and ease any associated presentation anxiety. (And click here for a free, printable PDF of the tips!)
Tip #1: Practice, practice, practice!
Ok, so this tip isn’t really anything new, but I find that most of my clients don’t know the best way to practice. After your presentation is written and you’ve read it to yourself a few times, practice the entire thing in front of a trusted person - family, friends - and record it. Play back the recording and take notes the following:
Vocal quality: Did your voice sound hoarse or gravelly? Or did it sound smooth and clear?
Vocal pitch: Did you vary the pitch of your voice so that you sounded engaging? Or did you speak in monotone?
Speech fluency: Were there any sections of the presentation that were more difficult to say or get through? Were there any specific words that were challenging to pronounce?
Face/Body posture: Were you standing up straight? Did you constantly shift from side to side? Where were you looking - down at your notes or up at the crowd? Did you look at all sides of the room or just straight in front of you?
Facial expressions: Were your facial expressions appropriate for the content of your presentation? Did you look enthusiastic or energetic? Or did you maintain a static expression the entire time?
Arm/Hand gestures: If you didn’t have a podium on which to rest your arms, what were they doing? Were they straight at your sides like a soldier? Or did you move them around?
Review the notes and practice the entire presentation as many times as you need to feel comfortable. And don’t forget to time yourself, especially if you have a time limit (you don’t want to go over the allotted time).
Tip #2: Warm up your voice
Any time you are going to speak, it is wise to warm up your voice just like you would warm up your body before exercising. Click here for a PDF of six easy vocal warm-ups you can do in less than 5 minutes.
Tip #3: Take control of your breathing and heart rate
Our body is a wondrous machine that can do all sorts of amazing things. And unfortunately in this case, that includes ramping up our “fight or flight” mode when we encounter stressful situations (like public speaking). Once we feel stress or anxiety, the result is that our heart rate and breathing naturally increase and our muscles contract, preparing us to either “attack” or “flee”. Neither of these responses are good when you are about to give a speech!
Try this easy breathing exercise to take control of your breathing, which will in turn bring down your heart rate and help you feel more relaxed.
The 4-7-8 breathing technique:
Breathe in for 4 seconds
Hold your breath for 7 seconds
Exhale slowly for 8 seconds
It doesn’t matter if you breathe in through your nose or mouth - do whatever feels comfortable for you. Go through these steps 2-3 times.
Tip #4: Calm your voice with this easy trick
I learned this trick from a fellow speech-language pathologist, Jackie Gartner-Schmidt. To calm your voice and help re-establish good airflow, try the following:
Take a few deep breaths
Say the vowel “ooo” with an open, breathy voice (relax your throat)
Wag your pointer finger in front of your mouth as you say “ooo” and feel the airflow
Do this 5-10 times before speaking
Tip #5: Remember - the audience is on your side
We sometimes forget that the audience is there to hear what we have to say. They don’t want us to fail - they genuinely want to learn the information that is in our presentation. Otherwise, they wouldn’t be there. Trust that the audience is there to support you, and remember that they most likely feel the exact same way that you do when it’s their turn to talk in front of a crowd.
I hope this helps! And I'd love to hear from you - contact me to learn how we can work together to perfect your American English pronunciation!