10 Ways to Avoid Bombing While Public Speaking

by Ian McKenzie on July 18, 2013

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Speak the speech, I pray you, as I pronounc’d it to you, trippingly on the tongue, but if you mouth it, as many of our players do, I had as lief the town-crier spoke my lines. Nor do not saw the air too much with your hand, thus, but use all gently, for in the very torrent, tempest, and, as I may say, whirlwind of your passion, you must acquire and beget a temperance that may give it smoothness. —Shakespeare, Hamlet

You’ve been asked to give a speech. You do your research, you prepare what you’re going to say and you practice, practice, practice.

Now you’re on stage, you’re picturing the audience sitting in their underwear and you’re ready to go. Only thing is, you can’t remember why you’re there.

For all the time you spend getting ready for a speech, things can still go horribly wrong, once you are on stage. Here are ten things you can do to avoid crashing and burning when public speaking.

  1. Stick to your plan – the following three points will always form a logical presentation: This is where I was, This is where I am now, This is how I got from there to here. Or you can use the familiar outline: tell them what you will tell them; tell them; tell them what you told them.Have a plan, rehearse the plan and stick to it. Two sentences in is not the time to decide to say something else. You are less likely to lose your train of thought if you have spent time preparing your speech.
  2. Keep it simple – Clarity is almost alway synonymous with simplicity. You run two risks by making your speech complex, you will lose audience attention and you increase your chances of mucking up what you say.
  3. Make each point clear – Don’t blend your material so as to blur your topic and make it incoherent. Make each point distinct. Use what, how, and why in covering each point.
  4. Use good English – You don’t have to be a grammar expert, but the more your presentation conforms to good language usage, the easier it will be to understand. Follow these five rules:
    1. Use a common word instead of an uncommon word: ancestor rather than progenitor
    2. Use a specific word instead of a general word: knife rather than cutlery
    3. Use a single word instead of many words: He was vague rather than the specificity of his intentions did not immediately manifest itself
    4. Use a short word instead of a long word:  bank rather than banking institution
    5. Use the Saxon word instead of the Latin word: hot rather than torrid
  5. Use emotion appropriately – Channel your stage fright into emotional energy that heightens the effect your communication. This doesn’t mean blubbering like some over-mascara-ed televangelist, or uncontrolled laughter at your own jokes. Nothing will destroy your credibility faster than inappropriate emotions.
  6. Use humour – Humour can go a long way to keeping the listener’s attention. However, if you can’t tell a joke or aren’t particularly funny, skip it. Humour that is badly used will quickly turn off listeners.
  7. Control interruptions – There will be times when you have listeners who try and control your speech with questions or comments; you may even have hecklers. Don’t allow these people to control the pace of your speech.You also need to practice skills for handling interruptions. Whether you burn the heckler with a zinger or ask the excessive questioner to see you after the presentation, you need to know how to respond. Most of all, you must never lose self-control.
  8. Make the most of a mistake – There are any number of mistakes you can make while speaking. You might get someone’s name wrong; you might lapse into a ; or just plain warble your gurds. Don’t get rattled. Apologize if you have too. Correct your error. Make a joke, if you can. Don’t dwell on your mistake: move on.
  9. End on a high note – You’ve told your audience where you were, where you are and how you got there. Now it’s time for your call to action. This is not the place to trot out or review facts and statistics. Up until now, you’ve been talking from your mind. Now it’s time to open up and speak from the heart.
  10. Finish on time – Stand up, speak up, shut up!

 

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