Number. 16 © CDTL 2003
Public Speaking
Mr Mathew Linus
Lecturer, NUS Business School

What are the problems in public speaking, and how do you overcome them?

In public speaking, you speak to an audience. Unlike a presentation with slides or visual aids, a public speaker uses only voice, body language, and at most, a piece of paper for help. This is what makes it so challenging.

Let’s examine some common problems and how you can manage them:

  • Lack of confidence, mainly because you are weak on the subject matter. Remember, the audience would like to learn from you and think about what you’ve said. Read up if you are unsure. Rehearse difficult portions.
  • Nervousness, such as stage fright—a result of being overly self-conscious that you are not as good as the audience, or that they will laugh at you or your mistakes. No! Your audience will be accommodating of your mistakes if you are trying your best
  • Insensitivity or disrespect. Don’t offend your audience by making rude remarks or distasteful jokes.
  • Not public speaking. Speak! Do not read or memorise and rote-speak. You will appear to be artificial and bore your audience.
  • Fear of the audience, or being intimidated by the sea of faces looking at you. Remember, they are there to listen to you; they look at you because they are interested. Be encouraged by the friendly faces, and glance at them for confidence.

A safe and simple strategy to come off unscathed, especially in your first speech, is to address these four areas:

  1. Time phases. In the pre-speech phase, prepare well by understanding who your audience members will be, their numbers and educational level. During the speech, create interest by using active and concise language. Speak at an appropriate pace, volume and language. Keep to the time. In the post-speech phase, getting feedback helps you improve.
  2. Organisation of speech. Work on your introduction. Choose a concise statement, a quote, an anecdote or a question. Then move from point to point in oral paragraphs, separated by noticeable pauses. Conclude with a summary, capturing the essence or thrust of what you’ve delivered.
  3. Style(s). Decide on the best combination of seriousness and humour. Modulate your voice for emphasis. Use your body language effectively to suit your personality. Punctuate and emphasise using both voice and body language appropriately. Avoid distracting mannerisms such as fillers (e.g. “er”, “hmm”), repetitive actions and unconscious habits. Engage individuals across the audience through eye contact.
  4. Question & Answer. Another fear is the Q & A because of its unpredictability. You can manage this well if you know your content. Some questions seek your advice or opinion outside your actual experience or area of knowledge. If there are different approaches, mention them and say what you would do and why. If a participant disagrees with you, acknowledge the point and explain why you have your stand without arguing.

Finally, as your audience only listens to your speech, it is important to be clear and accurate. Aim to leave a vivid impression and a lasting one.

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