Most people don't relish public speaking, since it's not a skill that comes naturally. Fear of embarrassment and lack of confidence often means a long evening for the intended audience. The good news, however, is that your audience wants you to succeed -- having experienced similar feelings themselves. Success depends on extensive preparation, as well as your willingness to make the crowd an ally in your bid to entertain them.
Do Your Homework
Smart speakers know the value of attending to details. Key factors to consider in advance include the audience's demographics and size, how long you will speak and whether you need specialized equipment like overhead projectors, according to the University of Pittsburgh's online guide "Speaking in the Disciplines." If you wait for the last minute to resolve these issues, you will spend more time dealing with outside distractions than polishing your speech and presentation style.
Eliminate Technical Issues
Before you incorporate technical aids in a speech, take extra time to ensure that audiovisual setups work properly, suggests Deborah L. Jacobs in her Forbes magazine article "Six Ways to be an Amazing Public Speaker." For example, if you're using a PowerPoint presentation, ask the host to provide you computers or projectors. To further minimize the risk of technical mishaps, save speeches in multiple formats or store them on cloud computing systems for easy retrieval.
Keep Consistent Eye Contact
Eye contact builds audience rapport, so don't miss the chance to capitalize on it. A good rule of thumb is to focus attention on a specific audience member during a whole thought or sentence, according to Kim Lachance Shandrow in her article in Entrepreneur magazine. When you finish, repeat the practice with a different person each time. This approach feels natural and conversational. You're more likely to hold an audience's attention if they hear you addressing them directly.
Prepare Excess Material
Good speakers avoid relying too heavily on notes, which restricts eye contact and makes a presentation seem less dynamic. That's why attorney Conrad Teitell, a 30-year speaker, recommends preparing far more material than you're likely to use. Teitell offers several other tips in a Forbes magazine article. The audience's reactions will dictate if you add or drop extra jokes and anecdotes. If you're planning a question and answer session, prepare a couple of open-ended statements -- such as, "People often ask me" -- to serve as ice breakers.
Rehearse and Record Yourself
To ensure a smooth, confident delivery, practice your rough speech seven to 10 times and document the results through audio and video recordings, the University of Pittsburgh's guide advises. Remember that nervousness speeds up delivery, so keep a watch handy to calculate your rough running time. This technique will keep you focused, especially if you've got to stay within a time limit. Also, practice your text in front of a mirror, which helps evaluate how your body language is coming across.
Ralph Heibutzki's articles have appeared in the "All Music Guide," "Goldmine," "Guitar Player" and "Vintage Guitar." He is also the author of "Unfinished Business: The Life & Times Of Danny Gatton," and holds a journalism degree from Michigan State University.