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5 Tips for Public Speaking

Photo by Tim Bayer

Photo by Tim Bayer

Public speaking has dropped from #1 to #5 on the list of Americans’ top fears (it now hovers just below internet safety and random shootings), but it still makes me a little nervous. I’m getting the hang of it, though, so hosting Cincinnati Wedding magazine’s second fashion show was a lot less nerve-wracking than hosting the first. I talked about fashion trends and answered questions from attendees about everything from dress length to mother-of-the-bride etiquette. I can blather on about fashion forever, so it was actually fun!

It seems counterintuitive, but I also think being distracted helped. Running around picking out looks for eight models, schlepping everything to the venue, and dressing everyone was no easy task, but thanks to Nancy Dawson’s team at BRIDEface and stylists Michael and Hannah of Salon Concepts Oakley, hair and makeup was a breeze (seriously, they had everyone done in like an hour) and I could focus on getting everyone dressed and accessorized. Not having much time to think turned out to be a boon, as I’ve noticed that the less I worry about what I’m going to say, the easier it is to be natural and relaxed speaking in front of a crowd.

Here are five tips that help me when it comes to public speaking:

1. Talk about something you actually know

This is number one for a reason: talking about a subject you know is helpful to your audience, makes it much easier to speak off the cuff, and having fully formed ideas and opinions about your topic gives you the background to answer questions on the spot. For example, someone asked about black dresses for the bridal party and since I’m totally in favor (your wedding party will love you because they can wear those dresses again!), it was easy to respond confidently.

2. Prepare, but don’t memorize

Jot down some notes about what you want the audience to know, and if you have to specifically talk about, say, event sponsors, feel free to make a list and read from it. Otherwise, think about ideas you’d like to talk about as opposed to lines you want to say. If you’re anything like me, trying to memorize a script is just asking for trouble, because what if you forget a line?

3. Talk to one person at a time

Trying to speak to a whole room of people is daunting, but there are usually at least 2-3 friendly faces who are receptive to what you’re saying and clearly want you to do well. Try talking as if you’re having a one-on-one conversation with them, and go ahead and make eye contact provided you don’t hold it for too long.

4. Speak in your natural voice

It’s tempting to go into “newscaster mode” in front of a group, but if that’s not how you usually speak it’s just gonna sound weird. It’s perfectly okay to drop your g’s (just don’t turn into Sarah Palin) and throw in some slang if it comes naturally to you. Conversely, if you always enunciate your “ings” and have lots of $5 words in your everyday vocabulary, go with that. It’s likely you’ve been asked to speak because of your knowledge and the way you convey it, so give the people what they want!

5. Take time to pause, think, and breathe

When you’re nervous, it’s tempting to speak fast and easy to forget to breathe. Take your time! The crowd isn’t going anywhere and they want to hear what you have to say, no need to rush through it. When you notice your voice catching or getting high, it’s likely because you need to take a breath. Pausing also shows that you’re thoughtfully considering what to say next, and helps eliminate the “ums”, which are just placeholders. Use that “um” time to take a breath and think about what you’re going to say next instead.

Photo by Tim Bayer

Photo by Tim Bayer

Do you have any other helpful tips for speaking to a crowd?

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4 Comments
  • Kelly

    November 10, 2015 at 8:40 pm Reply

    Public speaking is really polarizing for me. I have no fear whatsoever when speaking before ‘my peeps’ – aka, like-minded people of my same field, area of interest, colleagues, whatever. Somehow, knowing a shared interest puts my mind at ease. Then, having to go present to say–the finance team at work, who know nothing about what I do and vice versa..much more nerve wracking.

    xoxo – Kelly
    http://www.dreaminlace.com

    • tamia

      November 16, 2015 at 10:26 pm Reply

      Kelly, I agree. I’m much better at talking to a like-minded crowd than I am at having to explain and justify things to people who have no idea where I’m coming from.

  • Julia

    November 10, 2015 at 9:57 pm Reply

    This is wonderful – I wish I had this last week when I actually had to do just this! Public speaking is my worst fear but it is absolutely necessary for my business and if I want to grow I have to do it. It’s about pushing myself out of my comfort zone and doing it over and over again. It’s also about confidence and, like you said, if you can talk about what you know then it makes it much easier because it’s more like having a conversation with friends. THANK YOU for this – I’m printing it and saving it for the next time I have to speak to a crowd 🙂

    • tamia

      November 16, 2015 at 10:24 pm Reply

      I keep telling myself that I know I need to do it to get better, and it turns out I kind of enjoy it! Glad I could help 🙂

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