Most of us don’t like giving speeches. Unfortunately, sometimes there’s no way to weasel out of delivering them. Maybe your jerk boss asks you to put together a PowerPoint presentation. Or your jerk friend decides to get married and you have to give a toast. Or some jerk milkman leaves an empty milk crate on the street for you to stand to warn people about the end of the world. Whatever the situation is, you need to be ready to perform when the time comes.
To help you pull it off without embarrassing yourself, we asked Daniel Rex, executive director at Toastmasters International, for pointers on how to give an effective, engaging speech.
Test Your Material
Write down what you’re planning to say and practice your speech. And when you’re done practicing, rehearse a little more in front of the mirror. Then you should find an audience to practice in front of to help you iron out any kinks. Ask your girlfriend, a coworker, the homeless guy on the corner — anyone. When it’s over, ask which parts of your speech worked, and which parts made them want to pelt you with tomatoes.
Control Your Mannerisms
You might use the word “like” too often, or say “uhh” during every pause, or maybe you tap your fingers on the desk or podium. Not only will those subconscious tics make you look like an amateur, but they’ll also distract the audience. Since you won’t notice them — trying to find them would like trying to smell your own breath — ask your rehearsal audience to spot them. And make sure you tell them to be brutally honest. It might sting a little, but a few people calling you out will be much less humiliating than an entire room.
Use Selective Focus
Keep in mind that most of the audience is rooting for your speech to succeed. (If it sucks, they’ll be bored to tears.) But if you see people playing on their phones or nodding off, ignore them and key on audience members who appear attentive. “Focusing on those people should help ease any jitters,” Rex says.
Look Comfortable (Even When You’re Not)
If your speech bombs, you’ll look (and feel) like an ass. So it’s normal to be nervous beforehand. Thing is, you can’t sell that you have butterflies while you’re speaking; if you look and sound in control by projecting your voice and paying attention to your body language, the audience will buy it. If you don’t, they’ll tune you out. “Don’t put your hands in your pockets, don’t crack your knuckles, and don’t constantly run your fingers through your hair,” he advises.
Additional Resource: Effective Presentation Training Tips
A Story Can Be Your Lifeline
If your speech is going down in flames — and the feeling that you’re dying a slow, painful death will let you know if it is — resist the urge to panic. Instead, when you sense you’re losing the audience, tell a story. If you’re at work, tell a funny office-related tale the crowd can relate to. If you’re at a wedding, ditch the cue cards and dive into the time the groom ate his weight at Godfather’s Pizza.
Learn How To Stall
You won’t always have ample time to prepare a speech. So if your boss puts you on the spot and asks you to explain a simple and fun topic like nuclear fission, buy yourself an extra second or two to formulate a response by repeating the question. “Pause for a moment and say, ‘So if I understand correctly, what you want me to do is …'” Rex suggests. “You’ll make sure you know exactly what you’re supposed to answer, and the pause will allow your brain more time to develop an answer.”