How To Speak With Confidence
As a rising executive or man of business, you will be asked on occasion to speak publicaly. Most of the books dedicated to teaching the supposed art of the subject are filled with so much information that they are likely to make you self-conscious rather than effective. No amount of tricks gleaned from the pages of pop psychology can make you a good public speaker. I have suffered through—and you probably have as well—many a talk in which the speaker engaged in dull banter and other failed attempts at humor in order to flatter the audience. These simply don’t work, especially if you’re not naturally funny, which most of us aren’t. Instead, you should seek to deliver your presentation with clarity and purpose. The intelligent management and presentation of material is the crucial element in good public speaking.
You can only be effective if you are interesting. And you can only be interesting if you are organized, articulate, coherent, and discerning. Being prepared and ready, and feeling so, will give you confidence; and it is this confidence that will shine through as you speak—doing its work to keep the attention of your audience.
Here are a few attitudes and habits that will enable you to speak with confidence.
By knowing the people who make up your audience, you can pitch your remarks at the right level and in the right way. If you are addressing your colleagues, you can assume a level of professional sophistication that will allow you to present your ideas with confidence that they will be heard with a ready grasp. If you are speaking to a group on a subject that is unfamiliar to them, you will want to give a speech that contains more detail and proceeds step-by-step.
To prepare a speech of any kind means assembling and organizing the material. You should write out the text or notes, and measure the time it takes to deliver them. Limit yourself to a few points—no more than six. You should present them in the beginning of your talk, refer to them later on to show relationships, and restate them in your conclusion. The audience does not have the written text before them, so they cannot re-visit a point they may not have gotten the first time. You want to do all you can to make up for the possibility of such uncertainty and other forms of elusiveness that come with word-of-mouth presentation.
Depending on the type of talk, you want to keep either notes or a full text before you. Even if you are familiar with the subject matter, you should keep aids to memory in reach. This prevents you from getting off the topic, repeating yourself, or going completely blank as you speak. There is no real upside to memorizing a speech or trying to get by without notes of some kind. You will be expected to have something prepared and to read from it, so you should take advantage of that.
It can be easy to get carried away during the talk. Remember, you are in command and in control of your delivery. Slow down and regroup when you need to. Go at a pace and rhythm that feels natural. You neither have to be stiff and mechanical nor excessively humorous and entertaining. In my experience, the key to speaking in public is to be vivid and illustrative. Give real world, concrete examples that demonstrate your points. But do so in a way that doesn’t take you too far afield. Your audience will appreciate those kinds of nuggets because it will help them “see” what you’re getting at in their mind’s eye.
You will inevitably have to speak about your subject after the formal talk is over. The more casual conversation afterwards—over dinner or drinks—may require you to drill down into details. At times, people take their impressions of you from what you say after the talk rather than what you say during it. Speaking with confidence in these smaller, more intimate settings requires you to exercise more flexibility in how you discuss your topic. One of the best practices here is to get more people involved in the conversation, so as to make things more sociable.
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About Christopher Reid Chris was born in Washington, D.C. and lives in Britain. He works as a blogger, essayist, and novelist. His first book, Tea with Maureen, has just been published.