Unlock the Power of Your Voice with Six Steps Towards Better Public Speaking
Consider the following:
“Four score and seven years ago –“
“I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed –“
You probably know that these short fragments were spoken respectively by President Abraham Lincoln in his “Gettysburg Address”, and by Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. in his iconic “I Have a Dream.” You probably know who said them, where they came from, and how the words sounded when they were spoken without even thinking. Why? Because these were powerful words and the that voices spoke them were even more so.
They left an impression on you. What you may not know is that your voice could also be your greatest superpower.
Public Speaking: Why It Scares You
It may shock you to learn that in many studies suggest that fear of public speaking often outweighs the fear of death. This doesn’t reflect weakness on your part; it’s evolution. Humans have a profound need to fit in, to be part of a group. The primitive part of your brain knows that to survive harsh weather and predators it must remain a part of a group. To be ostracized or separated from that group means death to the primitive mind and that part of your brain can’t tell the difference between that danger and the perils of public speaking. Yep. It’s that serious.
Overcoming Your Fear: Why it’s Worth it.
The same thing that makes you scared of public speaking is what makes it so powerful! People admire the sheer gall and confidence of someone who’s brave enough to risk drawing attention to themselves. A good speaker makes all of the difference during a meeting, a presentation, or on-stage in front of hundreds of people. So, learn to speak up and put your audience in awe! Here are some tips to get you there!
1. Record, Speak, Playback
You probably don’t like the way your voice sounds played back at you. Get used to it! You have tools at your disposal that the great orators of old didn’t. That’s right! Get out your smartphone and record yourself! Then, watch your videos so you know how to improve.
Finding your voice is just like everything else; it requires practice, practice, practice. You may hate it at first. You may hate watching the playback because you don’t like the way you look and sound, but as you get used to it you’ll notice something amazing. You’ll find that you no longer feel as awkward and that you begin to look and sound more confident. One day you’ll realize that you’re not watching a scared amateur anymore, but an impressive orator, capable of holding the attention of your audience. Your biggest critic is yourself. Aim to impress!
2. The Way to Improvement: Constructive Criticism
Once you begin recording your videos, start writing down the things you like about them and the things you want to do better. You need to keep a record so you don’t forget what it is that you should be working on.
And don’t stop there! Dozens, hundreds, or even thousands of people may listen to your voice someday! If that frightens you, then start out speaking to some of your close friends and family. Ask them for suggestions and advice and be receptive to it. Your knee-jerk reaction to criticism will probably be to take offense. Don’t.
3. Watch and Learn
The way forward has already been paved for you by masters in public speaking. Put their knowledge and experience to use and watch them. Watch the videos of the speakers who make an impression and write down what it is about them that you like. Is it their tone? Their body language? Their sense of humor? What do you think they could do better? These are your teachers and they have a lot to offer. If you aren’t sure where to look first, try checking out TEDx talks or campaign speeches.
4. Learn to Project
Do you remember in middle school when everyone in your history class had to give a presentation and everyone stuttered out soft, frightened words and kept their eyes fixed on the carpet? Could you hear them? Was it painful to watch?
An audience won’t retain information if the speaker doesn’t project his voice with confidence. They’ll be too busy trying to stay awake! Here are some tricks to help you avoid the middle-school-project scene. You may want to practice these in front of a mirror.
- Breathe into your abdomen instead of your shoulders.
- Put your hand to your diaphragm and practice pushing your breath out forcefully, feeling your diaphragm move up and your stomach move in towards your navel.
- Now try exhaling sound using the methods above.
- Now try making the sound using your usual, weak breathing method. Note the difference.
See how much more powerful you sound when you take control of your breathing?
5. Body Language: It Can Make or Break You.
People don’t just listen; they watch. Experienced public speakers know that their body language is as important (if not more so) as their voice. People look for the correlation between what someone says verbally and what their body says. If the two don’t match, an audience will doubt the speaker’s authenticity or honesty.
Body language can also communicate confidence. Speakers who stand stiffly or with their shoulders hunched show the audience that they’re afraid. Here’s what people want to see:
- Practice good posture. Keep your spine straight and aligned. Don’t slouch.
- Stay Relaxed. Let your hands speak with you. It’ll make your audience feel more engaged and It’ll help you relax!
- No fidgeting. Move with the rhythm of your speech, but try to eliminate nervous habits like smoothing your hair, crossing your arms, or clasping your hands. Instead, focus on movements that keep you open to the audience.
6. Always Say, “I Can”
Can’t is a word that you must eliminate from your vocabulary. If you say you can’t then can’t. Self-sabotage will ruin all of your chances of success before you even begin. Practice positive affirmations and know that you can do whatever you put your mind to. Remember, the only thing that can get in your way is you!
Learning to make yourself heard can be frightening and awkward. You may feel safer flying under the radar and keeping your head down. If you can overcome these fears, however, your voice can be your superpower, taking you places you wouldn’t have imagined were possible. It needn’t be difficult! Just practice and believe in yourself. The results will be worth it!