Public Speaking 101

Almost everyone in his or her lifetime has had to make a public speech.  Whether it be presenting a group project in front of a classroom, speaking at a business conference in front of potential clients, or maybe something as simple as addressing a group of friends about an idea you have.  For some people, this seems like no big task, for a large majority of others, they would rather walk around Dracula’s castle at night because their fear of public speaking is so immense.  I want to help the larger group of individuals who have a fear of public speaking with a few key points to make the next time they have to speak in front of a group of people a little easier.

The first topic that makes speaking public easier is having a good cadence.  Normally we associate cadence with the words a football quarterback yells out to his team before the ball is snapped and the play begins.  In the world of public speaking, cadence is the rhythm or specific things you become accustomed to when you are making a public speech.   That being said anyone can have a specific cadence, but you want to have a great cadence, because it helps keep you in line when you are speaking.  A few things you can do to help you create a great cadence are:

  • Make sure you have the correct stance in front of the room. You want to start your speech in the middle of the room, part way through move to the right side of the room, then to the left, and finally by finishing in the middle of the room.
  • Pace your speech so you do not sound like you are rushing or speaking too fast. The audience is there to listen to you, so do not let them dictate the pace of your speech. Never be afraid to take pauses.
  • Make sure you aren’t reading directly off of slides or notecards, you want to look and sound as prepared as possible. The fastest way to lose an audiences attention is by spending your whole time looking at a sheet of paper.

Room Control is another important aspect of public speaking that can help you with your speech. One of the easiest things you can do to keep that control is by making eye contact with your audience.  So many people casually scan the room when they speak, and that disconnects them from the audience.  If you take the time to look at individual members of that audience for just a second or two it makes them feel involved in what you are talking to them about and will help them stay attentive.

The last topic to cover is the actual presentation itself.  Before you speak in an auditorium or large room, go in there and do a dry run of your speech. You want to make sure the acoustics sound right and you are generally comfortable. You don’t want any surprises when you go to make your speech, so familiarizing yourself with the room makes things that much easier for you.  Also know the audience you are speaking to.  Why is your topic specifically important to them?  What do they expect to learn from your presentation?  Finally with the actual presentation, you can never be too prepared for what the audience may throw your way especially when you plan on having a Q&A session at the end.  Take the few extra minutes with your preparation to make sure you’re ready for almost anything that can be thrown your way.

With public speaking there are a million self help books and guides to help you become better, but just stick to your basics, know your material, and maybe follow a few of the points highlighted above and you’ll be absolutely fine.  No one starts as an amazing orator, so do not put yourself down if your first few speeches do not sound the best.  With a little practice and preparation you will be able to speak in front of large groups in no time!

Richard Merlino, Beta ’16

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