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The thought of public speaking is enough to make even the most composed and confident among us a little nervous. While public speaking is often ranked among people’s worst fears, it is also an experience that many of us encounter at some point. Over the years I’ve been given a lot of advice on the best ways to approach a public speaking opportunity. These are some of my favorite tips.

Be prepared…but not too prepared. It goes without saying that practicing a speech is beneficial. I’ve known some people who can practice once a few minutes prior to speaking and they’re ready to go, but I need a little more preparation. If possible, I’ll practice in front of a group and ask for feedback. Am I talking too fast or too slow? Am I using awkward hand gestures or not making enough eye contact? Is my speech too long or too short? Also, I like to practice with any technology I’ll be using, like a wireless mic or slides. In the course of practicing a presentation I have found that there can be such a thing as over preparation. There often comes a point where I find myself second guessing my remarks and wanting to make a lot of last minute changes. This is the point when I’ll stop, put the speech away, and focus on something else for a while.

Keep slides simple. My husband does a lot of presentations that involve the use of slides. His advice when it comes to slides is “less is more” and I tend to agree. Text heavy slides or slides with a lot of graphics or animation can distract from what the speaker is saying.

Be comfortable. The colleague who gave me this advice was referring to physical comfort. The day of a presentation is not the day I choose, for example, to wear a new pair of shoes for the first time. I make sure to carefully choose an outfit that fits the event’s dress code (if there is one) and that I’m comfortable in. Clothes can be a great confidence booster but they can also be a huge distraction if I’m onstage tugging at my jacket or thinking about how my shoes are pinching. Being comfortable with the place where I’ll be speaking is also incredibly helpful. If possible, I’ll do a run through on site to get a sense of things like the size of the room and how much space I’ll have to move around.

Finally, I try to remember that I’m the only one in the room who knows what I’m going to say. The audience doesn’t have my speech memorized so if I forget a line or make a small mistake, chances are I’m the only one who will know.
I have found public speaking to be great for building self-esteem and each of my experiences has certainly been a terrific learning opportunity! How do you approach public speaking? Have you received any particularly helpful tips or advice?

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