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How to speak in front of an audience in a professional and empathic way

Updated: Jan 31

Speaking in front of an audience can create uncontrolled fear. Nodding knees, stomach cramps, or sweat can paralyze an unprepared speaker beforehand, but also on stage. The result is that your message does not get across or worse, that you present yourself half as skilled as you are about a subject. That is a missed opportunity for your personal image, network opportunities, and perhaps to gain potential customers.

Why are we so anxious to speak in public? That is a science that Personal Brand Experts and Communication Experts have been studying for a long time. Common fears are:

  1. Feeling insufficiently prepared

  2. Think that your audience knows more about a topic than you or that no one is interested in your story

  3. Believe that your audience will not find your story catchy, or that you don't speak the language of your target audience

  4. Being afraid of not using the right words, that your voice will be different, or forgetting to tell important topics

  5. Suspect that nobody is willing to listen to you or your story

How do you prevent fear of speaking?

People who often speak on stage will tell you that they too have had these thoughts in mind once in a while. There is nothing strange about it. The only difference is that experienced speakers have a remedy for each of the fears above so that they can deal with them. They realize that all fears of speaking in front of an audience are in their heads and rarely have anything to do with reality.

Insufficient preparation

The biggest mistake people make causing a presentation not to go well is your preparation. The best speakers rehearse, rehearse, and rehearse again until they can tell their story on autopilot. Creating a professional presentation is also part of this.

Why is preparation for your speech so important? If everything goes wrong, even when a lamp falls off the ceiling and someone in the room calls the story boring and outdated, you can always fall back on your exercise. It is the foundation on which your presentation consists.

What is the best preparation for a speech? That is different for everyone, but what works for many people is just practicing the speech in front of a mirror.

How do you know for sure that you know enough about a subject?

There is always someone who knows more or different things about a subject than you do. How bad is that? Indeed, there are enough who do not know that. And if you are invited somewhere, there was apparently a question about what you know about it. The most prominent speakers don't want to be the best speakers or the ones with the most knowledge. They want to convey what they know about it. No more and no less.

What if I believe that my audience will not think my story is catchy?

Telling a story in a way that the public can hold attention is a profession on its own. This depends, among other things, on several aspects:

  1. The Art of Storytelling

  2. Intonation and rhythm of your voice

  3. Speak the language of your audience in word usage and examples

  4. Body language

  5. Humor

Steve Jobs's rare footage is great to learn from when speaking in public

Steve Jobs demonstrated the art of presenting rare footage. He is asked a question in front of the camera and immediately starts storytelling. Exactly as it should be. After almost a minute he finds out that he can tell it better and more simply and asks for a few seconds' break.

The remarkable thing about this fragment is that with exactly the same gestures and toning he tells the same story but in other words. That is the art of presenting to the camera or audience. The change starts at 2.05 minutes.

Speaking in public is a skill that you can learn

Public speaking is a profession, but everyone can learn it. It starts with believing that you and your story are worth it. Therefore, consider which story is not worth telling. I don't know any!

Every story can be told. Every story has a core of knowledge or emotion that may be conveyed. The speaker and the style of the speaker are secondary to this.

10 tips to watch out for once you're onstage

Once you are well prepared and confident that you can tell an inspiring and informative story, the real work begins. The presentation itself. How do you act, where do you keep your hands, how do you look and how fast or slow should you speak? Questions that we rarely think about in a one-on-one conversation, but once on stage are on many a person's mind. Here are some tips:

  1. Breathe calmly and deeply: Once on stage, it is extremely important to breathe calmly and deeply. There is no rush and you can take all the time you want. Even though you may feel that a lot is expected of you, the people in the audience, are just curious. Nothing more and nothing less.

  2. Keep your feet flat on the floor: To stay well "grounded" it is important to keep your feet firm and flat on the floor. So don't lean forward or backward, or stand more on one leg than the other. Two feet flat on the floor will help you.

  3. Look straight over the heads: Unless a question is asked, you don't have to look at anyone. You usually can't, either, because the light will shine into your eyes. As a result, you won't see anyone, and the audience will see you. Therefore, look just over the heads and make sure you look slightly to the left and then again to the right. The audience will perceive this as if you are personally giving them all your attention.

  4. Keep looking at the audience: of course, you can look at your presentation from time to time but do not read your slides with your back to the audience. After all, they can read that themselves. They want to hear the accompanying story behind the slide or presentation. Talk about that and keep your chest focused on the audience as much as possible.

  5. Speak loudly and clearly: Make sure you are easily understood. You don't have to shout, but mumbling is out of the question. If the opportunity is there, do a sound check beforehand. If not, ask the audience in the back of the room if you can be understood it well.

  6. Don't apologize if something goes wrong: Of course, something can go wrong. You may suddenly find yourself shaking, forgetting a lyric, or accidentally skipping a slide. The best remedy for something that makes you nervous is to tell the audience that you're pretty excited. It's exciting, too, and the audience knows that. You're not a professional, so it's not expected of you at all. Just say what is going through your mind and the audience will appreciate your honesty.

  7. Be yourself as much as possible: Don't put on a play. The audience will see through this. If you normally speak slowly, do the same on stage. If you normally take a break between a sentence, do the same on stage. Whatever you do, you won't get an Oscar for it, so just be yourself

  8. Speak with your hands: If you see someone speaking very enthusiastically at a birthday party, you will notice that that is what hands are used for. So don't put your hands precariously in your pocket or behind your back. Do not keep them lifelessly along your body either, but use them to portray what you are telling. If you are talking about a girl who is 6 feet tall, show how tall that is. Are you saying that the moon is round, make a circle with two hands in the air.

  9. Use a cheat sheet: make and cheat sheet in advance that includes at least the essence of what you want to tell per slide. You don't have to use that one, but it's allowed. Even experienced speakers and presenters sometimes use cheat sheets. Sometimes these will tell you something like: "Just checking my cheat sheet to see what I wanted to say." You can be honest with the people in the room. They will appreciate that.

  10. Ask for questions: If the situation lends itself, ask for questions from the audience. Interaction is always the best presentation. Have someone raise his or her hand and point to the person when you are ready to answer the question. In doing so, you don't have to answer everything. There is nothing wrong with sometimes not knowing something. In that case, tell them that you will be happy to come back to them another time.

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