So you’re giving a speech? You’re probably either excited, terrified, or confused. Most likely, you’re a combination of all three. A lot of people have natural stage presence and can woo an audience with little effort, feeling energized and excited to perform. But maybe you’re in the terrified camp, nerves getting the best of you and stage fright taking over. Performance anxiety is one of the most common fears around the world, so even professionals fall victim to it. You’re not alone.
But for most of us, we don’t know how to give a great, audience-engaging speech. We’re left scratching our heads, wondering how to shake the nerves and offer fantastic performances. So, how do great speakers do it? They tend to assess, plan, personalize, and adapt. Let’s take a look at what that means for the average speaker.
What Gets in the Way?
When you have a fear of public speaking, your goal can quickly change from ‘give a great speech’ to ‘get through your speech at lightning speed.’ Most audiences want to be entertained and engaged by their speaker, so it’s vital to use your time on stage as best as you can. When nervous, we tend to babble and lose our natural cadence. Speeches fall flat, leaving the audience wanting more.
The Steps of a Great Speaker
So, how can you—despite your nerves—engage your audience? There are a few tricks that you can adopt that will take the attention off your stage fright and properly involve your guests. You don’t need to reinvent the wheel when you can follow the steps of a great speaker.
Assess the Situation
Every audience is different. That’s an obvious statement, but it covers more than just the people in attendance. What time is your speech? Does it fall within dreaded sleepy zones, such as early in the morning or after lunch? Is it late in the afternoon, the last performance of the day when everyone is ready to go home? Where is it located? Are guests sitting in rows or tables? How many people are attending? All of these factors contribute to how you can best engage your audience.
Plan, Plan, Plan
Now that you’ve assessed your particular situation, it’s time to plan. The average speaker imagines their performance as a simple act: you get on stage, you give your speech, and you say goodbye. If you approach every address like this, you will inevitably fail. If you want to engage your audience as a speaker, you must plan for your particular situation.
For example, the way you present your information will be distinct for a broad audience sitting in an auditorium. To engage so many people in an impersonal setting, you must utilize your voice, your humor, and lots of visuals. If you have a smaller audience sitting in round tables in a small room, you can be far more interactive with them. Interacting with your audience is one of the best ways to keep them engaged.
Don’t forget to consider the timing and lighting. If you’ve drawn the short stick and must give your speech after lunch in a darkly-lit room, you’re in for a challenge. A lot of people will be late, and the rest will be sleepy. In this case, it’s essential to consider your presentation style. You’ll need to use visuals, videos, music, and other tactics to keep the energy high.
You’ve already personalized your speech techniques for your precise situation. Well done! But now you must make your content personal. Start your speech with a story so your audience can get to know you. If they care about you as a person, they’ll care more about what you’re presenting.
Getting personal is one of the best speaker strategies when engaging your audience. But if you don’t feel like you can be particular for yourself, then try to be intimate with them. Start with a story to which they can relate. Maybe it’s an everyday struggle in the industry or something that pulls at their heartstrings. Soon enough, they’ll be nodding along thinking, wow, this speaker gets me!
Prepare to Adapt
Guess what? Regardless of who much you plan, the situation might change. Great speakers know how to adapt. Maybe you scored the prime speaking time, but then your audience turns out to collectively carry the energy of a sloth. You’ll need to adjust by upping your energy, asking the audience questions, telling a story—something to wake up your guests.
Because things don’t always go according to plan, it helps to have a few tricks up your sleeve. Have more interactive handouts that you can employ if you need your audience to get moving and talking. Include a nonessential video or two that you can play if your guests need some stimulation. If you assess, plan, personalize, and adapt, you will surely engage your audience and feel successful as a speaker.