Tips for the Next Time You Are Asked to Give a Speech
Public speaking is something we all have to do at some point in our lives. Whether it’s for a work presentation, a wedding speech or an event, we all experience being in front of a group of people as they wait for us to address them. It’s well known that public speaking is regularly listed as one of the top fears of human beings, often right up there with death (which is hilarious). While it can indeed be nerve racking to stand up and talk in front of others, it doesn’t have to be.
I’ve been a stand-up comedian, performing six to seven nights a week for the last 12 years. Getting up and talking in front of people is what I do every single day. When I first started, I had to run around the block three times because I was so nervous. I would visibly shake onstage and my voice would crack right when delivering my punchlines. It was really quite bad, but after years of performing, I’ve picked up a few tips and tricks, and if you asked me to go perform in front of 200 people right now, I could do it without even thinking twice about it. While there are hundreds of books and articles on public speaking that are also useful, I’d like to share with you a few tips and techniques that have helped me throughout the years.
1. Don’t write out your whole speech and deliver it verbatim, instead make bullet points.
The number one thing you want to do when giving a speech is to be engaging. Nothing is more boring than listening to someone read something off a paper (unless they are a phenomenal speaker and are able to pull this off). Think about those times you’ve had to sit through something where the presenter just read. It doesn’t matter what the topic is, it’s painstakingly boring. The key here is to make bullet points for the things you want to cover in your speech. Think of it as an outline you want to have while you present. Here is an example for if you were maybe asked to give a wedding speech:
-that time John and Jane went kayaking
-water balloon fight when they first met
-that time we all went to Texas for the weekend
What this allows for is for you to speak in a genuine, in-the-moment manner and not so robotic.
2. Make it funny.
Humor has never once hurt a speech or presentation. Especially if your topic consists of a bit drier topic, it can be incredibly helpful to throw a few jokes in the mix to keep the audience’s attention. If someone is talking about car insurance, but they are a bit goofy and fun, I’ll watch it all day. Also, don’t take yourself too seriously. It’s not that big of a deal; remember that it’s just a speech for a few minutes and it won’t last that long. If you can play around up there even just a little, your speech will be improved 1000 percent.
3. Limit or avoid caffeine and also watch your alcohol intake.
If you’re a well-versed public speaker you can probably get around these a little easier, but if you’re already a bit nervous about your speech, this is sound advice. Caffeine is great for ideas and clear thoughts, but if you’re already jittery, it’s not going to help you to get all jacked up on caffeine. You may get more nervous and you might speak super fast. I’ve noticed this with myself even after years of performing. I can end up talking a mile a minute and not pacing myself the way I had intended. Be careful on the alcohol as well. You don’t want to go so far that you’re not able to remember what you wanted to say, and also alcohol can really hurt your timing. You’ll think you’re doing great, but it’s the complete opposite. You have to build up a tolerance for being onstage; if you’re always drunk, you’ll never develop the skills you need to improve properly.
4. Think about what you can give to the audience.
Of all the things I have learned, this has been the one that has helped me the absolute most. So often, we get caught up on how we might look to the audience. Do they see that I’m nervous? Do they see me sweating? Am I doing a good job? Am I embarrassing myself? Am I prepared enough? Thoughts like this are 100 percent not the way to approach giving a speech. They are all self, inward thoughts. If you can reverse this thinking to something like this, you’ll be so much better. Instead think, what can I give to these people? What’s the purpose of my speech? I want to give them something for them, not me. You could even write, “How do I best serve these people?” on the top of your notes. I promise that if you can remember to approach your speech from this angle (both in preparing and actually presenting it), you’ll do so much better, because the attention is now not on you, but rather on how you can affect positive change on the group in front of you.
5. Practice a few times.
This one goes without saying of course. As with anything in life, the more you do it, the better you get. You learn little tricks that work for you and what makes you better. Practicing your speech a few times will help you get down and familiarize your content. Long term, the more speeches you give (and the more frequent), eventually you won’t be nervous about speaking in front of people at all. Think of it like going to the gym. The first time seems the most difficult and it gets easier and you get better at it each time. For practice, you could check out Toastmasters, which is like a public speaking club where you can hone your skills and watch other people too.