Numerous surveys taken over the years suggest
that some people fear speaking in front of a group more than snakes,
heights, disease and death. In fact, 85% of people surveyed said
that they feel uncomfortable about speaking in public.
All public performers actors, opera singers, comedians
feel nervous tension just before they go on. You never lose
that sensation the tightening in the stomach and the quickening
of the breath and pulse. The secret is to face that fear
and turn it to your advantage. There's a fine line between anxiety
and excitement. Practice and skill will develop in you the ability
to control that fear and get on with the presentation.
The physical symptoms of speech anxiety include: sweaty palms,
dry mouth, and increased heart rate or butterflies.
Some people though, see these as positive - some then feel ready
to begin. However, for others it is a real fear. Speakers
often imagine the worst and their anxiety increases.
Excessive anxiety is felt by people who view speeches as performances,
in which they must satisfy an audience who will carefully evaluate
gestures, language and everything else they do.
Try to view speeches as "communication" rather than 'performance'.
Remember it takes time to develop these skills or any skills. It
Your role, as a speaker, is to share ideas with an audience which
is more interested in hearing what you have to say rather than in
analysing or criticising how you say it. View your speech as an
As a speaker, be aware that the confrontation stage
is short-lived and to some extent everyone experiences this.
WAYS OF ENHANCING YOUR PERFORMANCE
It may be obvious but it is worth repeating that a thorough knowledge
of your topic is the most important component for success in this
task. Audiences soon detect speakers who are unsure, who are tentative,
who are under-prepared or who don't really know what they're talking
about. You should plan and research carefully and don't stick to
a narrow or rigid version of your topic, or a question that is just
'outside' your topic may confuse you. That being said, you can't
be expected to be an 'expert' and your oral presentation should
be focused and tightly planned.
Preparing for an Oral Presentation
Once you have gathered together your notes and completed your research,
it is important to distil all that material into a manageable 'bundle'
for your audience. In many respects this is the most difficult part
of the process; it is tempting to continue collecting information,
but the task requires that this material be synthesised and delivered
to an audience orally.
Make sure that your speech is right for your audience; if
you know that several people in your class are intending to talk
on similar topics then make sure your approach is slightly different,
or get together with them to take on various aspects of the issue.
Practise your speech ahead of time. Take time to pause in
the right places to make eye contact and catch your breath. You
may want to mark your speech where you want to pause. If the talk
is difficult or doesn't seem to flow when you practise, rewrite
The best way to deal with nervousness is to practise. Practise
your speech so much that you can do it without conscious strain
or effort; so that it's a familiar task.
Your audience is there to hear your talk. Concentrate on
the ideas, not yourself; acting self-consciously only draws more
attention to you and away from the ideas you want to communicate.
Using Visual Aids
If you use PowerPoint slides or overheads, stick to no more
than five major points per slide.
If you are not going to use technology, it can still be a
good idea to provide your audience with some kind of handout summarising
your main points.
Consider other visual aids; a visual aid is anything the
audience can see that helps you get your message across.
If you intend using any technology, even something as simple
as an overhead projector, check carefully that it is working beforehand.
Don't rely on others to know how to fix it for you.
If you are working on a group presentation ensure that the work
is evenly spread and each group member's role is clear. Remember
that you will be assessed individually but the coherence and effectiveness
of the group is also important.
Talk to the audience, not to your overhead or slide, or notes. Everyone
(except the most experienced presenters) refers to notes but remember,
if you are looking down more than looking at the audience, engagement
with the audience is lost. Have your notes in an accessible form
so that you can quickly find information by just glancing down.
Practise to find out what you feel most comfortable with: extensive
point form notes; notes on cards, PowerPoint, overheads, no script,
Reading a full script
This is not recommended because you are simply reading
aloud (which is not the purpose of the oral presentation)
and it is easy to lapse into a monotonous and flat delivery. If
you need a script, have it near you, but do not hold it; refer to
it only when you need to be prompted or to refresh your memory.
Have the script set out very clearly so that you can keep your place.
(Some experienced speakers put just one point in large print on
each page.) You are strongly advised to prepare a series of cue
cards that cover the main points of your topic. You will receive
very few marks if you are directly reading from sheets of paper
Learning your presentation by heart
This depends on your experience, but practising (preferably in front
of a mirror) will help you enliven a learnt speech.
It is important to constantly check how you are impacting on the
audience and this is where varied pace, changing emphasis,
eye contact, some gestures if possible and good diction all come
Diction is most important, easily undermined by nervousness and
haste. Avoid swallowing important words. Emphasise key words. Do
not run words together. Try practising with a friend and use a home
video if you have one to help identify the quality of your diction.
Vary your pace. The same pace whether fast, slow or average is monotonous
Guard against rushing. Even though this is very difficult if you
are nervous, work out some ways to control the speed of your delivery.
Pauses of only a few seconds can be vital; these also provide time
for your audience to digest material.
Make eye contact with the audience. Connect with them. Make them
pay attention to you. If you're nervous you may want to make eye
contact with just a couple of people in the audience; imagine you're
speaking just to them.
Try to be natural and animated; harder than it sounds sometimes.
Use hand gestures or move around a little. But don't rock back and
forth - that conveys nervousness.
If you're nervous while speaking, concentrate on breathing slowly
and deeply. Nervous people have a tendency to take short shallows
Structure use signposting
The order of you points is critical - listeners must get a clear
sense of where your talk is going. Signposting is a structuring
technique that does this using strategies such as firstly, secondly,
thirdly and so on. As well as helping you to be purposeful, this
cues the audience into the organisation and direction of your talk.
End on a strong note. Avoid letting your voice fade away as you