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Speak with Power and Confidence in Public

By P. A. Imenge, Director General of The Institute of Public Speaking Nigeria

Speaking, especially in public can be a daunting task for many people and anyone who has experienced stage fright knows that presenting in public can be draining and challenging, but it needn’t be. Great and experienced public speakers like Winston Churchill, have also encountered difficulties while speaking in public. A pool was conducted in 2005 in America, where respondents were asked what they feared doing the most. Unsurprisingly, 42 percent of the respondents said they dread speaking in public.
Warren Buffet, one of the foremost richest men in the world, was at a point in time in his life, terrified of speaking to people in public. He took his first step to become a public speaker at the age of 21, but he dropped out before the program even started. Leonardo Dicaprio, a Hollywood celebrity, was always nervous about giving acceptance speech that he preferred not to win an academy award for which he was being nominated for. But because it is imperative to be able to communicate one’s ideas, a person cannot dodge and escape the dangers of not being able to speak confidently and with power.

The reasons why you may need to speak with confidence and power in public

  • The difficulty in holding the attention of an audience today is a bitter reality pill to swallow. So a speaker who can deliver their messages with aplomb and power will warm their way into the hearts of the audience.
  • The communication gap between speakers and listeners can be easily bridged with speakers who are knowledgeable and have the confidence in themselves to impart this knowledge.
  • The training of public speakers who have confidence in themselves will invariably result to the establishment of great leaders.

Speech Anxiety a Barrier to Public Speaking
Glossophobia or speech anxiety is the fear of public speaking or of speaking in general. This type of anxiety takes over a person when he or she is called upon to speak or otherwise perform in public. It makes little difference whether the audience is large or small, composed of familiar or unfamiliar faces. Some of the most common symptoms of speech anxiety are: shaking, fidgeting, sweating, butterflies in the stomach, dry mouth, rapid heartbeat and squeaky voice.

Causes of Speech Anxiety
Shyness has been attributed to be one of the major causes of speech anxiety. Cognitive psychologist Phillip G. Zimbardo found out that shyness figures in everyone’s life. He said that most people experience the symptoms of anxiety such as jitters, sweaty palms, watery eyes, rapid breathing, dry mouth, memory lapses and others especially when under pressure. However, there are other plausible causes of speech anxiety. They are

  • Self consciousness in large groups.
  • Fear of appearing nervous.
  • Not having adequate knowledge of the topic you want to discuss.
  • Fear of how the audience might react.
  • Fear of rejection and failure.
  • Unfamiliarity about the setting of the event.
  • Doubt over your speaking abilities.
  • Past failures.
  • Poor or insufficient preparation.

How to Overcome Speech Anxiety
Since speech anxiety is a common phobia to most people and past failure can be haunting, and people overtime try to protect themselves by either avoiding public speaking. Hence, some people begin to choose college course work or jobs in such a way so as to avoid public speaking, rather than face it head on. However, with some of these methods below, we can become reasonably success in surmounting speech anxiety. They include:

  • Seeing the speech as a way to share your experience and ideas.
  • Better preparation and practice.
  • Recognizing that being nervous during a speech is a normal thing.
  • Making eye contact with your audience, with a relaxed smile.
  • Watch yourself in the mirror and record yourself speak.
  • Organize your speech and supporting materials.
  • Pick a subject and topic that you really care about.
  • Don’t over think audience reaction.
  • Avoid talking too fast and speak with passion.
  • Identify the audience and tailor your message to their needs.
  • Take control of the stage and communicate with excitement.

The Importance of Planning and Preparation
Of all the ways listed above to banish fear, one method stands out the most; adequate preparation. For a speaker, lack of preparation equates to a student going for exams without reading; the chances of success are drastically reduced - but the prepared and ready know not such terror. Rather they realize the important role preparation plays in laying down the foundation for a successful speech.
A perfect epitome of adequate preparation is none other than Abraham Lincoln. He was known for carrying notes of his speech in his hat. His famous Gettysburg speech was written over two to three times, and he still said “I shall have to give it another lick before I am satisfied.” It is thus advisable for a public speaker to practice over and over again before delivering their speech.

How to Prepare for a Speech

  • Think about the purpose of your speech; it could be to inform, persuade or entertain. For a speaker to be effective, they need to first know the purpose of their speech.
  • Analyze your audience; know its members, understand their interest, attitude and know the demography of your audience.
  • Do adequate research on the topic and gather enough material. Take advantage of the internet, scientific journals, and others.
  • Compose a sentence that conveys the theme and subliminal meaning of your speech. This sentence should be catchy.
  • Use support materials to expatiate your ideas and drive home your points. This gives support and credibility to your speech.
  • Master the use of presentation aid for added effect.
  • Develop an opening line that will resonate with your audience. This will make you begin your speech with a bang, which is a minimum requirement.
  • Construct your conclusion in a way that will make you leave with a bang.
  • Write your speech and go over it multiple times.

What is it that makes some speakers standout and irresistible? What is it that makes some speakers win the applause and adulation of the audience? What is it that some speakers have that makes the audience insatiable? The trait all these speakers described above possess that the rest don’t is confidence.  For some speakers, speaking confidently in public requires just a little effort. While for others, it takes more work. Speaking with confidence and power means being in control, assertive, calm and speaking with authority when communicating your ideas, either to a large audience, your surrogates at work, in a meeting, at a social event or even to a small group of friends.
Acquiring the ability to speak with power and confidence is a requisite skill for good public speakers. And since all public speakers, to some extent experience nervousness at the beginning, during or after a speech, it is pertinent to explore and employ strategies and tactics which can surmount this fear.

Manage Your Fear
It has become a well known fact through academic research in the field of communication, that it is nearly impossible to completely rid ourselves of fear. This fear has always been ingrained in human beings needed to be accepted in social groups through thousands of years of evolution. In other words it is perfectly acceptable to want to gain the admiration and applause of others. In fact speakers who are not nervous are often unsuccessful when giving a speech because they don’t care how they come across to the audience. Beyonce Knowles, an American musician and song writer once confessed that “I get nervous when I don’t get nervous. If I’m nervous, I know am going to have a good show.” However, the difference between successful and unsuccessful speaker is that the former has learnt how to manage their fears, while the latter haven’t.

Maintain a Positive Attitude
Maintaining a positive attitude is an important criterion for delivering a good speech. A speaker should see the speech as an avenue to share their experiences and also acknowledge that being nervous during a speech is natural and will fade away with time and practice. Professing negativity and harboring a defeatist mindset inevitably translate this pessimism into a speaker’s message which leads to nervousness. However, a speaker who imbibes a positive mindset has a higher chance of speaking with confidence and power.

There are many people that believe speaking is something you are good at or not. However, through personal experience from renowned public speakers, ability to speak is something you can develop over a period of time and become good at it. But the person must be willing to practice. The speaker, who wants to learn the art of public speaking, should volunteer to give free speeches at events – church, work, among friends and associates. With this, it is guaranteed that there will be a steady improvement in the speaker’s ability to communicate in public.

Use imagination
 It’s important for a public speaker to visualize themselves performing in their mind’s eye. This involves thinking through the series of events that will constitute the speech in a step-by-step way. Create a clear mental picture where you see yourself delivering a successful speech. As you do this keep your mind focused on the positive aspect of your speech and do not allow negative presumptions to eclipse your positive thoughts. Visualize yourself standing calm, confident, relaxed, and smiling as you address your audience. See the audience leaning toward you, smiling, laughing, enjoying and hanging on every word you say, as if you were amazingly intelligent and entertaining.

Own the Room
To speak from a place of strength and authority, you have to own the room. This mean as a speaker you have to be dominant and self assured. As a speaker, acknowledge that you belong there, that you are an expert, you have the right to be heard, and also have it at the back of your mind that when you stand to speak, the audience wants you to succeed. This will give you a feeling of confidence. Hence, the speaker will not approach the audience as if they are being tested. It is also important to project the body language of a champion – standing erect, do not drop your shoulders, and hold your head up.

Begin with a Bang
It is much more difficult to straighten a bad session than it is to keep a good one on course. So, a speaker should think hard about how to begin a speech. It could be an anecdote, a story relating to the theme of the speech, a quote by an authority or even a joke. The goal of doing this is to help the audience identify with the speaker. Many a speaker succeeds by wooing the audience early and the key is getting the right trajectory.

Get the Audience Laughing
An opening joke is the right and guaranteed way to start your speech and make your audience laugh. It immediately lightens the mood in the room and also helps the speaker to relax. Getting your audience to join you in the laugh when making a joke creates a level of trust and competence, and it breaks down the defenses of the audience. Hence it causes them to pay attention to the speaker. However, a speaker should not laugh at themselves because it is self deprecating and interpreted the wrong way by the audience.

Give Your Speech Slowly and Avoid Using Fillers
During ordinary conversations people tend to speak a lot more quickly, but this sort of speech will not cut it when speaking in front of a group or an audience. A speaker needs to be able to carry the audience along with what they are saying and also give the audience time to process the speech. This is where speaking slowly and more carefully comes in. A speaker should allow for small pauses between different ideas, or important themes in order to give the audience time to reflect on it. A speaker should also eliminate speech fillers such as ‘ums’ and ‘like.’ These words can be used in regular conversations, but they make a speaker sound incompetent when speaking to a large audience.

Never Memorize a Speech Verbatim
The dangers of memorizing your speech verbatim cannot be overemphasized. If you commit to memory your talk, you are almost likely to forget it; and the reaction from the audience may not be positive, for nobody wants to listen to a prerecorded speech. Even if you don’t forget it, it will sound memorized. Therefore, the speaker may not be able to connect with the audience. If, in a longer talk, you are afraid you will forget what you want to say, then make some brief notes and hold them in your hand and glance at them occasionally. This will usually suffice and make the speaker more confident.

Become an Inveterate Speaker
In public speaking, the more you speak the more comfortable and confident you get. If you only give one presentation every year, of course you will be nervous the next time you attempt to give a speech. It feels unnatural because you don’t do it that often. Enrolling in a public speaking course is a good first step to build your confidence as a public speaker. So to become more confident as a speaker it is required that you speak time and again.