Public speaking is nerve-wracking, and feeling comfortable takes confidence, experience and a healthy dose of courage.
Asking yourself these eight pre-speech questions, however, will help you feel more confident the next time you have to give a talk in front of a group of people.
1. Do I know my audience?
It's easy to get tangled up in the self-indulgent aspects of your speech, but thinking everyone is as interested in what you and your business have achieved is the first step to losing your audience.
Rather than thinking about why you're up on stage presenting, ask why your audience is there and what do they want to take away from the talk?
Analyze your audience beforehand. What's the gender split? Are they all from the same generation? What is the average level of education and how knowledgeable are they on the subject already?
Answer some of these questions, and you develop a solid picture of the individuals you're speaking to. Without knowledge of your audience, you might approach your subjects from the wrong angle or pitch at the wrong level, leaving you unable to connect with your audience.
2. Is my content engaging?
This can be particularly tricky if you're dealing with a dry subject or presenting research that includes a lot of statistics, but content that resonates is vital for a successful speech.
As much as possible, look to avoid a data dump. Instead, use your data to tell a story. Pitching emotionally is much more likely to resonate. A study by Standford university reported a retention rate of 5 to 10 percent when just statistics were cited. However, that rate increased to 65 to 70 percent when statistics were coupled with anecdotes.
3. Do I have actions as well as words?
One key aspect of nailing your speech is providing not just words and findings on a particular topic but actions and takeaways the audience can apply. Early on, outline a central, overarching outcome of the speech you would like and use every subsequent branch of content to reaffirm that outcome.
This is a good opportunity to go back to the second point on making your content engaging. Does every aspect of your speech support the final idea? If not, it's probably a detail you can leave out.
4. Is my body language right?
According to Professor Albert Mehrabian's famous rule of communication, 55 percent of our feelings, attitudes and beliefs are deduced by nonverbal communication. One of the biggest mistakes you can make is not giving body language the attention it deserves.
Good body language starts before your begin your speech. As audience members arrive, approach some of them and introduce yourself. This is a good opportunity to give out business cards and other information. (You may not get chance at the end.)
During the speech, be sure to make regular eye contact, switching to different members of the audience as you go. To ensure you don't overdo it, concentrate on one member as you begin a sentence, and move onto someone else when you start the next one. In addition, talk with your hands, using them to supplement the flow of your speech. Point your palms outwards, as inward-facing palms can be interpreted as the speaker hiding something from the audience.
Finally, maintain good posture from the moment people walk in. Put a smile on your face and convey confidence throughout.
5. Are my visuals strong enough?
If you're planning on using slides with your speech, hold it to the same standards as what you'll be saying. If design isn't your strong point, keep the number of slides to a minimum and minimize the amount of text on them as well. The audience doesn't want to read paragraphs of text from the screen, as this distracts them from the story you're trying to tell them.
If you have the means, slides can offer an alternative medium for making your point. Graphics or photos that visualize your content can offer important details that are easy to consume.
Ultimately, you don't want your slides to do the work. Your audience will be much more invested if you talk about your subject with enthusiasm and passion.
6. Am I wearing the right clothes?
It's a question you might easily overlook, but dressing appropriately has a real impact on your speech. This is obviously heavily influenced by the tone and formality of the event you're speaking at, but you can still apply a couple of rules.
First, don't wear anything too distracting – you want the focus to be on what you're saying not on what you're wearing. Second, avoid bangles and hefty bracelets; the noise they create will interfere with the rhythm of your speech and break the audience's concentration.
7. Do I know my room well enough?
The size, decor, and positioning of the room you'll be speaking in influences how you approach your talk. Call the venue in advance of your event (or even better, pay it a visit) to get an idea of the size and style of the room and the equipment available.
It could, for example, lead to your changing the color of your clothing so you don't clash with the walls (or blend in). And what about the size of the podium? If it's particularly big, you'll need to create a greater presence for yourself by moving around more.
8. Am I fully prepared?
Many people make the mistake of not practicing their speech. Hearing yourself say the words out loud irons out any sentences that don't sound quite right, plus it helps you feel more confident and relaxed the day of your speech, making it more likely for the audience to connect with what you're saying.
Plus, you can test yourself against your allotted time and adjust accordingly. No one likes a speech that's dragged on well beyond the allocated time. Place brevity high on your list of priorities and trim the fat to get the perfectly pitched speech.