Mash Media MD Julian Agostini gives eventprofs some top tips on how to become a confident public speaker.

Has anyone ever asked you to love them? It’s normally when you don’t, of course so unfortunately, it’s kind of a futile request isn’t it?  But whilst it might be awkward, it’s not as annoying as someone telling you to be calm if you’re in a panic or ‘just be confident and be yourself’ when you are a bag of nerves.

Public speaking engenders this reaction for a lot of people, many of whom are otherwise, extremely confident in themselves and in what they do. However put on a stage with a microphone and audience and it quickly falls apart and by its nature, there’s no way of covering it up.

The problem with poor public speakers, be they too nervous or just boring, is that it’s a terrible experience for everyone watching or listening as well. Everybody in the room is desperate for the nightmare to end.

It’s questionable as to whether self-confidence is really something you can teach or, therefore, learn but perhaps it can be built over time by conquering our fears and achieving. Easier said than done, of course but here are a few ideas that might help next time you have to perform on stage.

  • Break yourself in gently by agreeing to be on panels with pre-set questions
  • Next you can move to a partnership on stage; take a colleague and ease the pressure
  • Plant one or two people in the audience to ask you a question you would like to answer
  • Start with a question and plant one or two people in the audience that you know will answer with a hand up
  • Use stats, especially early and make it impactful/slightly leftfield; 87% of event professionals said they’d prefer to cancel their event rather than speak publicly (that might even be true)
  • Use a lectern, it’s a good prop; you can keep notes hidden and it hides trembling legs!
  • Make a maximum of three points in your speech
  • Use video but not too long; short, sharp clips; it takes the eyes of you but still engages
  • Use slides but make them short and punchy ideally with images – again these are handy props to take pressure off speaking but do not just have your speech in bullet on the screen
  • Do not try to force or use pre-packed humour; unless it comes naturally, it will die
  • Set out your presentation with a basic structure of tell them what you’re going to tell them, tell them then tell them what you’ve told them
  • Do not pad out; there is no set length; no audience likes hearing ‘we’ll come back to that later’….urgh, how much later?

It’s all about engagement.  The fear that rages is about dying on stage so if you can engage early, you will relax considerably hence the strange stat to grab attention and some tame questions, that you’ve planted.

Make sure your plants also give you a good round of applause as well; the audience will follow and once you’ve heard that a few times, it will give you confidence to try again.

The good news is that people want you to do well; the audience is not your enemy, far from it.  Good speakers are few and far between and everyone appreciates how difficult it is, so they are on your side. Perform well and you won’t have to ask anyone if they loved you.