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Public speaking

Sarah Horrocks
by Sarah Horrocks Published on 13 June 2008

Presenting a project in front of your colleagues, a speech at a wedding or chairing a debate at work? Need to address an audience? Don’t panic! Even the best public speakers have experienced stage fright. Here are a few leads to help you speak in public with aplomb!

Before D day
- Write it down!
Rare are those who succeed in improvising with talent. Don’t be afraid to write down, clearly and legibly, the points you want to make and develop. Make a themed plan with a chronological order, and on D day keep cards in your hands.
- Call upon your friends and family
In front of your children, your partner or your friends, practise and rehearse what you're going to say. Be receptive to their comments (‘you're talking too fast, not loud enough, you don’t articulate enough&rsquo and correct accordingly!
- Correct yourself
In front of a mirror, with the help of a recorder or (even better) a video recorder, become your own critic. Observe your expressions, your little tics, your grimaces, your delivery and improve. Bear in mind how you like to see a speaker behave in front of you.
- Relax naturally
The night before, take a relaxing bath and put yourself to sleep with a good book that will help to take your mind off things.

D day
- Warm up your voice
Make sure you talk a bit before the crucial moment. Don't be silent beforehand otherwise your voice may sound frog-like when you start to speak. Just like a soprano, you need to exercise your vocal chords. Do it in the shower, have a short conversation with the girl in Starbucks when you buy your coffee or chat to your colleagues.
- Don’t forget to breathe
Stress is often accompanied by an increase in heart beat. At best, your delivery will be ultra rapid and at worst you can end up hyperventilating! A few moments before your presentation, isolate yourself and practice this super-efficient breathing exercise: breathe in deeply through your nose and stick out your stomach, then breathe out through the mouth, bringing your stomach in. Repeat 4 times, and then repeat just before speaking.
- Put things in perspective
Your life does not depend on this speech and your head won't be on the block if you mumble a bit or hesitate between two sentences. Your audience are human like you, they tremble as well when they need to speak. A classic way of not crumbling under pressure is to imagine everyone naked, but careful - this may give you nervous giggles!
- Hydrate
Nervousness can make your throat dry and make speaking difficult. Keep a glass of water near you to relieve this sensation. Drinking can also make little breaks in your speech and help calm you down.
A very effecient trick that actors use to fight against dry mouths is to run your tongue over your gums.
- Adopt a good attitude
Don’t cross your arms: it restricts your breathing and gives away your unease. Stand or sit firmly, with your hands on the table, chin slightly raised and wait for silence. Smile and start. To get the attention of your audience, start by saying something funny and original rather than a simple hello. During your speech, don’t forget to stop and look at an audience member every 3 seconds. Use the silences and breaks and change the rhythm of your speech to avoid monotony.

by Sarah Horrocks

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