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Ask someone who knows: alumni give us their real-life public speaking advice

public speaking adviceAfter the success of our last article in which your fellow alumni gave us the career advice they wish they’d been given in their twenties, we thought we’d ask you for your pearls of wisdom on another subject – public speaking.

If you’ve got a fear of speaking in front of people or need help perfecting your pitch, you could learn a thing or two from these successful alumni about public speaking with confidence and eloquence.

Everyone gets nervous

“Everyone is nervous of public speaking, but the audience won’t notice your nerves,” advised one former student and now CEO.

“Expect to be most nervous at the start, especially in the first minute,” he said. “That’s completely normal and will improve throughout your speech. Remember to smile and speak slowly. I still write ‘smile’ and ‘slowly’ at the top of my speaking notes.”

The general consensus amongst the alumni was that everyone gets nervous before giving a speech – but that’s okay and it can be dealt with.

“Remember that the audience is on your side,” advised one alumnus, a partner in the publishing industry with experience giving speeches in front of hundreds of people. “They want your presentation to be good!”

Preparation

“Prepare fully because the more comfort you have with the topic, the more relaxed you will be,” advised the head of a national company with more than twenty years’ experience of public speaking.

“Write bulleted notes which mean something to you in the order you want to talk about them,” he said. “Never read the slides out if you are using presentation slides however, your audience can read just fine.”

The former student also advised to practice the timings of your presentation. “You will be amazed how much ground you can cover in ten to twenty minutes,” he said. “Also, remember if you have not got your point over in the first twenty minutes you probably never will.”

Confidence and Passion

“If you’re passionate about what you’re speaking about you will be fine,” said another alumnus.

“I would say that you have to be confident in your speech first of all. You have to know what you are saying and being passionate about it does help. The audience needs to see that you are confident and this is always seen through the tone of voice a speaker uses,” the International Business Management graduate and CEO said.

Delivery and engagement

Start with a joke, or a positive, engage your audience,” said an alumnus who is both a Business Developer and Mentor.

Another alumnus, a former Lord Mayor, Lawyer and Justice of the Peace Magistrate said: “Pause for effect. Don’t gabble. Change your tone and emphasis from time to time. Make short and sharp deliveries rather than long and rambling ones. Beware the most interesting of subjects can be made boring but even ‘boring’ subjects can be made interesting. Sometimes the shortest of speeches will require the most time to prepare.”

Structure and content to engage

One alumnus, the Director of a global events and conference company, gave his essential criteria to structuring an effective speech.

“Think about significance,” he said. “Why does it matter? How do I grab their attention? What do I want my audience to do or learn? Then think about whether your structure is convincing and memorable. Simplicity is key. Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler.”

Finally, and Area Manager for a leading pharmaceuticals company suggested: “A personal story linking to your subject engages and inspires your audience.”

Practice makes perfect

“You ultimately have to put yourself outside of your comfort zone and consider every statement you make in class, every speech in assemblies and every presentation you have as practice,” said one former student who has been named Undergraduate of the Year in a competition hosted by TARGET Jobs.

“I’ve pushed myself out of my comfort zone in order to develop my public speaking, despite the nerves and unsuccessful attempts. It’s difficult at first, but by also being fully prepared and knowing inside-out the core points that you need to put across, you will become more confident.”

We also received advice from an Art Psychotherapist with a Master’s in Art Therapy, who suggested getting used to your audience by arriving early and watching your audience come in: “If someone isn’t used to standing up in front of people I’d say before you do your talk to stand there for a while your audience settles down to get used to the space. It sounds weird but it works for me!”

Finally, a Project Manager for a leading environmental service alliance said: “Don’t beat yourself up if you, in hindsight, forget to say something you wish you had. The audience won’t know any different.”

Thanks to all the alumni who contributed.

If you have any further advice on public speaking, please let us know in your Linked In group.

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