How to speak with confidence in public


September 06, 2018 - Gini Beqiri

An estimated 75% of adults suffer from a fear of public speaking. When stress hormones are released we may behave differently - frequently, our minds go blank, our voices become harder to control, we may visibly shake etc.

Even professional public speakers have to deal with nerves but they have techniques to cope. In this article, we discuss ways of speaking with confidence in public.

Preparation and organisation

Be prepared and organised for your presentation because this increases your control and less things can go wrong. For example:

  • Visit the venue and room you'll be presenting in beforehand
  • Ensure you print any materials you need at least the day before
  • Create cards to use as cues
  • Prepare for technical faults, such as, having a back-up in case a video does not play
  • Arrive early for your speech
  • Practice repeatedly

Read our Checklist for Before and After a Presentation

Positive mental imagery

Visualise delivering your presentation confidently and successfully as this will reinforce your confidence. Really imagine being there and use all of your senses to form the imagery. If you find that your visualisations are negative then challenge these scenarios by drawing on previous experiences of successful communication. Substitute the negative imagery with more realistic imagery.

Managing nerves

Remember that you haven't been invited to present for the purpose of being ridiculed - the audience wants to hear you speak. Plan for managing your nerves by:

  • Avoiding consuming too much caffeine beforehand as this is a stimulant and can leave you feeling more nervous and shaky.
  • Preparing music or a podcast that you can listen to on the way to the presentation.
  • Find a mindfulness exercise you'd feel comfortable doing as you travel to the venue.
  • Master controlled breathing beforehand so you can engage in this right before going onstage.
  • If you have time, engage in exercise beforehand. Exercising releases endorphins which reduce stress levels and make you feel better.
  • Recognise that it's unlikely that the audience will know that you're feeling nervous - you do not look as anxious as you feel.
Nervous speaker

Pausing

During the presentation, if you notice that you're speaking too quickly then pause and breathe. This won't look strange - it will appear as though you're giving thought to what you're saying. You can also strategically plan some of your pauses, such as after questions and at the end of sections, because this will give you a chance to calm down and it will also give the audience an opportunity to think and reflect.

Pausing will also help you avoid filler words, such as, "um" as well which can make you sound unsure.

Practice

If you're very familiar with the content of your presentation, your audience will perceive you as confident. Practicing tips:

  • Don't just read the presentation through - practice everything, including your transitions and using your visual aids.
  • Stand up and speak it aloud as though you were presenting to an audience.
  • Ensure that you practice your body language and gesturing.
  • Practice in front of others and get their feedback.
  • Film yourself presenting and watch it back.
  • Freely improvise so you'll sound more natural on the day. Don't learn your presentation verbatim because you will sound uninterested and if you lose focus then you may forget everything.

Confident body language

You'll notice that professional public speakers look relaxed and confident, they talk slowly and make positive body movements. To appear confident:

  • Maintain eye contact with the audience
  • Use gestures to emphasise points
  • Move around the stage
  • Match facial expressions with what you're saying
  • Reduce nervous habits
  • Slowly and steadily breathe
  • Use your voice aptly

For more details, read our 8 Elements of Confident Body Language

Confident speech by David Cameron

Use your nervous energy

It can be difficult to hide your nerves so another way of dealing with this is to emphasise your emotions. This means conveying the emotions you're explaining/you felt at the time, for example, the disappointment you felt at a failure or the excitement you felt at a finding. The emotion you display will hide your nerves.

Speak slowly

When you're nervous you may rush through your presentation and finish too quickly. This makes it obvious to the audience that you're nervous, it's probably frustrating for them to listen to and watch, you're not taking the time to connect with them and it's likely that you're making mistakes. Try speaking at a speed that feels uncomfortably slow because it's likely that's the correct speed.

Connect with audience from the start

The first five minutes are vital for engaging the audience and getting them to listen to you. Consider telling a story about a mistake you made or maybe life wasn't going well for you in the past - if relevant to your presentation's aim.

People will relate to this as we have all experienced mistakes and failures. The more the audience relates to you, the more likely they will remain engaged which will increase your confidence.

Read our article on How to start a presentation effectively for more ideas.

Friendly faces

Find a member of the audience that is: engaged, nodding or smiling in each section of the room. When you find yourself becoming uncomfortable you can move your eyes to the friendly face in that section.

Identify and challenge your excuses

Write down the thoughts you have when you avoid speaking in a meeting or when you reject delivering a presentation. These thoughts will identify what you're specifically afraid of, such as, worrying the audience will judge you as incompetent.

This negative inner dialogue reduces your confidence and makes you think you can't speak in public. Challenge these thoughts by looking at evidence of your successful communication and recognise how unrealistic the thoughts can be.

Focus on your message

When you're presenting focus on what you're saying and why this message needs to be delivered to the audience. This will keep you connected with your speech and will prevent you from being distracted by, for example, an audience member falling asleep or your evaluation of how the presentation is going. Instead you'll be connecting to the listeners who finding your presentation valuable.

Confident public speaker

Create a stage persona

It can be tempting to imitate favoured public speakers but it's better to work out what your characteristics as a speaker are and then amplify these. To develop a confident stage persona ask yourself:

  1. What are my best characteristics as a speaker? E.g. Am I empathetic? Humorous? etc.
  2. What are my features as a speaker? E.g. Do I gesticulate a lot? Am I energetic? Do I stick to the script or do I improvise? etc.

Humour

More experienced and confident public speakers use humour in their presentations. The audience will be incredibly engaged if you make them laugh and it lightens the mood which will make you feel more comfortable. But caution must be exercised when using humour because a joke can be misinterpreted and even offend the audience.

Only use jokes if you're confident with this technique and it's suitable for the situation. Making fun of yourself is usually a safe way of using humour and it cultivates trust because it's more relatable to the audience.

Be prepared for mistakes

Mistakes happen all the time but reacting awkwardly can make the audience feel uncomfortable. It's better to laugh at yourself so consider preparing one-liners to fall back on if you do make a mistake. Having this back-up can make you feel more secure.

Recognise the positives afterwards

After delivering a presentation it's typical of some people to only focus on the negatives of the presentation. By doing this you're ignoring the positives even though there were probably more of these compared to the amount of negatives. Acknowledge these positives and write them down so you can remind yourself in the future and challenge your negative predictions.



It's important to accept that you're probably going to be nervous when you present but most people experience this feeling and it doesn't ruin presentations. Have confidence in what you're saying and convert your nerves into something helpful.

You won't develop your confidence if you don't push yourself and if you avoid uncomfortable situations.