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Public Speaking 101 (Or 911)

Public Speaking is an activity almost everyone has to do at some point (cue flashbacks to Afrikaans orals). While it may inspire fear in some, I’ve learnt to somewhat overcome my nerves enough to survive the ordeal. Here are a few things I try to remember when planning for a presentation:


1. People want to listen

Until you start speaking, your audience has no idea what you are about to say. This alone makes them interested in listening to you. Your audience will probably also understand how daunting public speaking can be and give you a bit of leeway if you have a shaky start. Try not to waffle or waste time, as this will definitely lose the audience’s attention. However this does not mean you should shy away from a full introduction of yourself or your topic, to prepare the audience for what they are about to hear.


2. Don’t overthink it

The best speeches aren’t over-practiced. As someone who has imaginary conversations in her head, this was a difficult step to accomplish. An effective way to plan your speech is to decide on your main points and organise them in a logical way. Now that you have the basic order, add some points or thoughts for each heading. Don’t write out full sentences – rather jot down key words or phrases that will remind you of what you’d like to say. It is important to understand and be familiar with your content, but you will struggle to remember your ideas word-for-word, so don’t try to parrot-learn them. A robotic recital won’t be well-received.

3. Present it as a conversation

When you present your speech, imagine that you are trying to explain your concept to people you know. Being stiff and reserved will bore your audience and being overly dramatic will come across as pretentious. Be natural and show your personality – people will appreciate your authenticity and feel more comfortable listening to you. If you treat your speech like a conversation (but not too casually) it will be more engaging. Over-rehearsed presentations can be boring for listeners if there is no passion or interest from the speaker.

4. Make eye-contact

This tip is possibly the scariest one for people who fear public speaking. Looking at an expectant audience can unnerve you as you try to remember your points. Remember: they are looking at you because they’re interested, and most people will be rooting for you because they understand how daunting it is to speak to a group. Imagine that the audience all wants you to succeed and that they’re sending you good luck. Making eye contact is important because it implies confidence (even if you’re faking it) which makes people pay attention. It’s perfectly fine to look down at your notes occasionally but try to look at the audience at least 80% of the time.


5. Present with purpose

One thing I find really awkward when listening to a presentation is when the speaker says “uhm…” frequently. Losing your place in your notes is okay (I recommend summarising your points instead of writing them out because it’s easier to read), but instead of verbalising your confusion, rather stay silent and calmly get back on track. “Uhm” always makes me think that the speaker has run out of things to say, or has lost confidence and is fumbling. Silence and concentration, however, clearly show that you are just looking over your next point. Try not to break the tempo of your speech by pausing too often, but take a second if you need it to remember what you need to say.

Do you have any tips to help others? Maybe you suffer from a fear of public speaking – how do you deal with the stress of it? Leave a comment or suggestion letting us know what you think!


Julia Naidoo is an English and Linguistics major at the University of Cape Town. She is the former co-Correspondent for the chapter as well as the former Senior Editor.
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