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Keys to becoming a great public speaker

By Kace O'Neill | |8 minute read

Public speaking is a daunting task for anyone, no matter their communicative skill set. Learning skills that will make speakers more courageous in this situation is incredibly important.

When we’re asked to do a speech, whether it’s in front of our primary school class or our business colleagues, often a nervous rush fills our body, and a crippling fear of embarrassment starts to grow. Public speaking is an art form, and many lack the skills to be able to deliver a clear, concise, and engaging speech, which feeds the anxiety of having to do it.

David Crisante, founder of the Sydney Comedy School, believes that when we engage in public speaking, we’re often carefully thinking about what is coming out of our mouths and that public speaking isn’t solely standing on stage addressing a crowd.

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“We often think about public speaking as being on stage addressing an audience. But there are many other times when we exhibit the exact same behaviour that we would in that scenario throughout our professional lives,” Mr Crisante said.

“So, when we go for a job interview, when we give an update on our project in a meeting, where we’re being really careful about what we’re saying, even when we meet a client for the first time, we’ve got a degree of self-censorship because we’re trying to guess what they want to hear and we’re trying to present ourselves in the best way.”

The importance of body language

Along with verbal communication itself, body language is a significant aspect of public speaking, and often, our bodies react negatively to this situation.

“There’s basically a series of body language things that we do because we’re actively thinking about what we’re saying; our body stops being relaxed. When our body stops being relaxed, the people who are listening to us can see that what we’re saying verbally and what we’re saying physically sometimes are quite different,” Mr Crisante said.

“As a result, they can develop distrust. They can think that we lack the expertise that we’re trying to say that we have. There’s a degree of questioning that starts occurring in their mind.”

The intertwinement between verbal and body language is crucial when wanting to deliver a public speech to an audience.

“When we’re good at public speaking, what’s happening is we’re able to ensure that what we’re saying verbally and what we’re saying physically is in alignment. Equally, the stories that we’re telling are stories that are relevant to our audience,” Mr Crisante said.

“The audience can see themselves in our story, and that’s why they want to support us and help us, because actually what they’re sort of doing is supporting themselves.”

3 keys to public speaking

Fundamentally, Mr Crisante explained that people should rely on three key elements of public speaking that will develop their ability. “The first one is having expertise in what you’re talking about. And the good news is all of us have expertise when we’re doing public speaking. If we’re on stage talking about something, there’s a reason why we’ve been put there,” he said.

“The second thing that’s really important to make a good public speaking experience for your audience is to be really prepared. This is where we can do things with our voice, our body language, the way in which we look at people, what we do with our face. There are tried and trusted techniques that will work for anybody.”

The final technique is repetition. Giving yourself opportunities to practice for these public speaking instances is crucial to gain confidence and learn what works for you and what doesn’t. Basically, you can treat meetings and daily interactions with other people as if you‘re public speaking.

The repetition is key to building that confidence when you’re in front of an audience and is the key to breaking down that nervous feeling that often feels paralysing before and during public speaking.

“By the time you get to a scenario where the stakes are high, you’re going for a job, you’re in front of a really big audience, actually,” Mr Crisante said.

“You’ve built up these positive feedback loops where you know that that behaviour works for you, rather than you getting nervous, getting up on stage and exhibiting sort of weird body language or weird things that you do with your voice that you wouldn’t do with your mates.”

How to deal with nerves

When it comes to nervousness, mindset is so important. If you lower the stakes of the moment in your mind, then your body will react, and you will have a calmer approach; it will stop being as scary. Physically, smiling yourself can bring out a smile in your audience, which can be reassuring for you as you speak. Coupling smiling with humour and it can engage the audience, which results in you spending less time worrying about whether they’re actually listening to what you’re saying.

Pacing around the stage and exerting nervous energy are common for people during public speaking, but Mr Crisante has a trick to stop this.

“One of my hot tips is, and if anyone’s ever gone to yoga, you might have heard this, you can do whatever you like with your toes, and nobody can see most of the time, depending on what shoes you wear,” Mr Crisante said.

“You can actually curl your toes almost as hard as you possibly like. Nobody can see it. I’m doing it right now, and it grounds you. It makes you feel more in control of your own body. And if you’re getting the shakes or if you’re not sure where to put your energy, it will help you to have a more powerful stance.”

Overall, great public speaking is a skill that anyone can acquire if they work hard to develop their confidence and routine. The benefits of having great public speaking as a tool are endless for business and can open doors in multiple avenues.

“Great public speaking is where you can position yourself as that or your product or your solution, but actually enable the other person that you’re speaking with or the audience that you’re speaking with to see themselves in that thing. That’s really powerful,” Mr Crisante concluded.

The transcript of this podcast episode was slightly edited for publishing purposes. To listen to the full conversation with David Crisante, click below:

Kace O'Neill

Kace O'Neill

Kace O'Neill is a Graduate Journalist for HR Leader. Kace studied Media Communications and Maori studies at the University of Otago, he has a passion for sports and storytelling.