This year I spoke in public for the first time, to perform some of my writing to an audience. Only a few months down the line and I’m speaking regularly at a monthly event in my local coffee shop, and have even travelled further afield to speak to some new audiences in the city.
If someone had told me last year that I would be reading in front of an audience I would have burst out laughing. I still can’t quite believe it now, as I was always the kid who dreaded talk day at school and would make any excuse not to take part. As I moved on to university things were even worse, and I remember having to give a presentation to my History class, where my voice was trembling, the paper was shaking in my hand, I felt like I was going to pass out, and had sweat dripping from my nose and forehead.
I’ve always been shy. But what I’ve learned is that shy people can still get up and read something in public. This is true, whether it’s reading a story you’ve written in a coffee shop, presenting a paper at a business meeting, or doing a best-man speech at a wedding. We’ve all heard tips such as imagine your audience in their underwear to help get rid of nerves. Forget about that, and follow these simple tips to help you overcome your fear of speaking in public.
Edit and redraft your piece
Make sure you are one hundred percent happy with whatever it is that you will be reading, as if you’re not confident in what you have written, then there’s no way you will be confident about reading it aloud in front of others.
If there is anything which is unclear or doesn’t make sense, then your audience will be confused as you read the piece aloud to them, and you will pick up on their reaction, which in turn will impact your confidence as you deliver your speech. On the other hand, if what you have written is spot on, you will see a lot of heads nodding and smiles from your audience, which gives you a boost.
Do practice reading aloud
Stand in front of a mirror, and read your piece aloud at least a few times. You will probably feel silly at first, but this is an essential step in preparation for your speech. Firstly you will be able to time your piece, so you know exactly how long you will be up there for. People often forget that something takes twice as long to read aloud as it does to read it in your head, so if there is a time limit for each speaker, you will want to ensure you are not running over. It’s not fair on the other readers, plus you don’t want to bore the audience by droning on and on.
Reading aloud also helps you to judge the overall flow of the piece. For instance, if there are words that you tend to stumble over the pronunciation of, or if something just doesn’t sound right you can iron out all these kinks before your public performance.
As you read, try to look at the page as little as possible, and look at yourself in the mirror. This is good practice for the real event.
Do socialise with other speakers and audience members
A lot of events, especially for writers and poets tend to be quite social gatherings, usually in coffee shops or pubs, so by all means have a glass of wine to help you relax, if that’s your thing. Most traditional advice seems to advise against alcohol completely, but one drink is completely harmless, plus it’s important to be social. Whatever you do though, DO NOT get drunk before your turn to speak. If your voice is at all slurry, or if you are wobbly on your feet you will just embarrass yourself.
Even if you are speaking at a more formal event, such as a business conference; or if you don’t care much for alcohol, then go and get yourself a coffee and sit down with the other guests. If you break the ice with one or two people before getting up on stage you will be much more confident and relaxed than if you exclude yourself and stand alone in a corner for the duration of the event.
Thanks for reading! I’d love to read your hints and tips for public speaking in the comments below, or contact me on social.
Next Post: The Ups and Downs of Volunteering