I still remember this day like it happened yesterday. I was a new student and had been 2 weeks late in the term, and late for a presentation session that the other students had undertaken. Our English teacher asked me to prepare a five minute speech on a certain topic and was to present it to him and the history teacher. I spent most of the day in the library researching about Hitler and his works. And the day arrived. I got into the classroom and lo and behold! Eleven teachers and five students were sitting down with notepads, fiddling with their pens. Praying for a quick death was an understatement! Amid sweat beads breaking out all over my body, I made my presentation. To this day, I can't remember anything that I said!
Public speaking is one thing that does not come naturally to some of us- even in the slightest. There are numerous tips that have been given to us time and time again to aid us in public speaking. These tips have ranged from imagining the audience in their underwear to avoid intimidation, to being told to ‘ breathe in just relax’. The latter being the most ineffective. However, this does not mean that public speaking is totally undoable. There are tips and tricks to improve your eloquence as a speaker and I am here to tell you what I have learnt so far since that day .
Before your speech, make sure you are well prepared. I cannot stress this enough. Know your content back to back. You want to assure your audience that you know what you are talking about. This can only be achieved if you, the speaker, knows what you're talking about. Moreover, if you are well prepared for your speech, you are less likely to be nervous.
To prepare for your speech you should: take time to thoroughly go through your notes and powerpoint, practice and let your family and friends be your audience, accept feedback from your test audience and implement this feedback in your presentation, do it again and again even in front of a mirror.
Don't think about it too much
Overthinking breeds excessive worry. Before going on that podium, remember that it is never that serious. While there are perfect speakers littered all over the world, you should not burden yourself with this goal. Yes, you can be a good speaker, but never perfect. That being said, ensure you do not over analyze your words and beat yourself up about it. Know your content and remember you are the only person who knows your delivery, they can't judge what they do not know. If you're too nervous, you can admit this at the beginning of your speech to ease yourself and to make the audience more forgiving just in case your nervousness is noticeable during delivery.
Know your audience
This is key. To ensure a good delivery, you have to know who you are speaking to. This will help you know what language to use and what examples to use in your speech so as to increase its efficiency. You will want to use examples they relate to. In addition to that, ask yourself what you would gain from your speech if you were in the audience. Ensure your tone and language are appropriate for your audience. Lastly, make your speech interactive. This can be done by speaking to individuals in the audience.Have conversations with the people in the audience to boost interactivity and concentration.
Ensure your presentation is coherent
You want to make sure everybody can hear you. Your presentation has to be clear and concise and for this to be achieved, you have to keep a steady pace while speaking. Make sure you don't talk slowly or too fast. You should also pause as you present to enable your audience to consume your content. This also helps you gather your thoughts and relax. Besides, pauses help you omit unnecessary words such as “um, uh” which project your nervousness. Lastly, ensure your pitch varies from one tone to another, a monotonous tone bores the audience and makes them disinterested.
Use the space given to you
Command your space and move freely while speaking to your audience. Being stiff (like my first attempt) will not yield anything positive. Use gestures as you speak but don't fidget with your hands; keep them free. Furthermore, you will want to face your audience and make eye contact. This may seem hard to do at first but as you make your speech, it gets easier. You don't have to hold eye contact for too long, just ensure you sneak in glances once in a while. If this scares you, you can redefine your audience. By this I mean, you can change how you view your audience by imagining they are at a lower rank than you perceive them to be. You can imagine them as your colleagues or your fellow students. This makes it easier to stand before them and speak.
All in all, giving a speech might not be the easiest thing in the world but I have learnt that following these tips can make it less difficult. Most importantly, believe in yourself and your message. The audience is only human and so are you, learn from your mistakes and grow. What's the worst that can happen ?
Mugure Waithaka is a 2nd year university student taking Film and Creative writing