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Yesterday, a writer on Facebook said about public speaking, “I ramble, jumble my words, fiddle with stuff too much. It's all nerves.” Personally, those are all problems I’ve worked on and gone from being scared to death to actually enjoying public speaking.
How not to “fiddle with stuff.”
Plan something to do with your hands. E.g. Fold them in your lap, rest them on the podium, hold a remote to run your PowerPoint presentation, stick them in your pockets, hold your note cards, turn the pages on your notes. (I like using a binder with enlarged text notes—can’t drop it. I even include smiley pictures to remind myself to smile and when to make planned gestures. The pages are in those clear plastic pockets so they don’t stick together. I’ve also used an ereader that holds my notes.) Hold up props.
No more “I ramble.”
It starts with planning. Many speakers write out their entire talk. Some write an outline—a method I’ve used. I now often create a PowerPoint and include notes for the presenter view. Or sometimes I have notes separate from my slide presentation. Whichever method you use, the next step is practice, practice, practice!
The first time you read it aloud (say it aloud), stop at places where you stumble or find yourself rambling. Is the phrasing off? The sentence awkward? Or do you not have enough subpoints (reminders) to keep you on track? Do you need to break up the slide or combine a couple? Make adjustments and continue. When you’re done, go back and read it silently for flow. Make any more needed changes.
Before you read it/say it aloud the second time, think about where you’ll be presenting. Sitting in a circle of chairs? Sitting at a table? Standing at a podium? (I like having a place to set my notes and/or laptop.) Set yourself up as you’ll be.
Will you have to hold a microphone or lean forward to talk into one? Use any cylinder like object for your handheld practice mic. Maybe you can use a flexible light stand as your hands-free mic that you mustn’t walk away from.
If you’re planning to use props, make notes where you’ll use them and have them in order.
The second time. Take a deep breath, blow it out, start talking/reading. Slowly! The more nervous we are the more we rush. Take natural pauses. Make quick notes of areas to fix, but go on without making changes. When you reach the end, look at your notes and correct those problems.
Third time through use a timer to see how long your talk takes. Don’t stop to fix or note problems. If you stumble, mispronounce, correct yourself and keep talking. When you stop. Note how long it took. Look back at problem areas and see if you need to make changes. Sometimes I bold or italic or highlight words to help me with emphasis.
Take a break. Do something else. If your talk was too long or too short, let your subconscious work on the areas to tighten or lengthen.
When you feel refreshed, work on the length of your talk. I’m sure you’ll have ideas. I often plan some possible things to talk about—just in case I get done too soon.
Now practice again. I’ve even practiced in front of a bathroom mirror (ugh). Some people video themselves. My husband found by watching himself on video that he was rocking from leg to leg. In the actual presentation when he realized he was starting to rock, he turned it into a deliberate step.
Which reminds me . . . are you going to stand still or walk back and forth across a stage or front of a classroom? With a fixed mic, you must stand still. With a handheld, you can move if you like. Look at the left side of the audience. Address the center. Turn to the right side. What feels more natural to you as you speak to your imaginary audience?
Practice again and again and again. Even when I feel I have it down (not memorized), I’ll practice again the day before, read through it silently the day of. The talks where I didn’t practice enough show it.
What about “jumbling words?”
Accept it. Remember everyone does so and your audience isn’t going to throw things or yell at you because you do. They’ll just think you’re human.
Often we jumble because we are in too much of a rush and/or are too nervous. In either case, take a deep breath and slow down. And try one or more of these options:
Sometimes we even lose our place. A series of um, uh, is not helpful. Instead say something like, “Let me check my notes; I want to make sure I haven’t skipped anything.” A fifteen second pause can help you regain equilibrium as well as allow you to find out where you are in your talk.
Plan on “nerves.”
I’m always nervous before I speak. I try to think of it as nervous energy. A power surge. I also have plans to deal with it:
All of these techniques—planning, preparation, having ideas of what to do if you stumble or jumble your words, planning on nervousness—can take the terrible out of public speaking.
SM Ford writes inspirational fiction for adults, although teens may find the stories of interest, too. She also loves assisting other writers on their journeys.