Anybody can learn to give a great speech, says Jane Praeger, a faculty member for the Programs in Strategic Communication at Columbia University’s School of Professional Studies. She offers five tips on how to keep speeches both simple and authentic.
1. Practice Beforehand
Practice replacing filler words like "um," "so," and "like" with silence. If you can rehearse in the space where you’ll be speaking, that’s a real plus. Go to the back of the room, imagine that you’re hard of hearing or distracted, and you’ll know how to reach those people.
2. Work the Room
Try to speak to audience members before your speech, so that you can focus on a few friendly faces, particularly if you get nervous. If you’re making eye contact with a friendly person in one quadrant, those nearby will think that you’re talking to them. Then do the same thing in another quadrant. You want to see your talk as a series of conversations with different people throughout the room.
3. Prepare with Relaxation Techniques
If you’re nervous before approaching the stage, take a few deep breaths. Picture yourself delivering a successful speech. Most people will be nervous for the first few minutes, but you want to channel that adrenaline into positive energy.
4. Don’t Read Your Speech
Tell your speech from heart or use a notecard with bullet points as a cheat sheet. Bring the card with you and place it on the lectern. If you freeze up mid-speech, you can take a deep breath, look at your card, and know exactly which story you’re going to tell next.
5. Stand Up Straight
Whether you walk across the stage or stand behind a lectern, try to maintain good posture. Imagine that your head is being held up by a string. Standing up straight shows that you have confidence in what you’re talking about and your audience will feel more inclined to listen.