Everyday Public Speaking

Once upon a time, Rabin debated for the Singapore National Debate Team and Anglo-Chinese Junior College. Today, he can be found volunteering for Transient Workers’ Count Too (TWC2) or trying to psych himself up for university when he’s not gaming, flitting between innumerable books (and never finishing any), or browsing cat memes.

For those of us born with a quieter or naturally introverted temperament, the thought of standing up in front of even a small group of people – who might be bored, uninterested or outright hostile – can seem impossible. Even though I’ve been involved in public speaking and debate for 7 years now, I still consider myself an introvert. Thankfully, one of the greatest lessons life has taught me is that nature is no barrier to being an effective public speaker. And knowing how to speak with clarity and confidence has saved my guts more times than I can count, whether in Project Work presentations when an unexpected question was thrown up by examiners or during National Service when I had to present plans to superiors and issue instructions to subordinates. In the paragraphs below, I will briefly discuss some techniques you can use to improve your public speaking.

1. Believe you are right

Many people believe that the wrenching feeling in your stomach just before you start speaking to a group (sometimes called “butterflies in your stomach) will disappear with enough practice. Guess what? It doesn’t. The fear that your message will be ignored and that you will face ridicule never goes away, but it can be controlled. There are some ‘tricks’ to control this fear. For instance, some people look at the back of a large room to give the appearance of eye contact without actually making it. Others imagine their audience naked (though I find that this can get awkward). There are many techniques like this, so you can do some research and pick those that work.

More important than fear-control techniques is a shift in attitude. Many people tell themselves that if only they said some magical words or spoke with a flawless accent or said exactly the right thing, everyone would perk up and listen. It isn’t so. Confidence is half the message – someone who spouts nonsense but believes he or she is right is more likely to be listened to than someone who speaks sense but stutters continually. Once you understand that confidence is central and not peripheral to your goals, you will start making an effort to believe you are right and this will improve the confidence with which you speak.

2. Have a clear mission in mind

Besides believing you are right, knowing what you are about to say and having a clear idea who you’re speaking to will help boost your confidence as well as make your message clearer and more precise. In addition to the subject matter you are speaking on, here are three things you should figure out before any speech or presentation:

  • Audience – who is listening to your speech? Teachers or students? Professionals or amateurs? This will help you decide on what kind of language, register, tone and salutations are necessary.
  • Aim – is your aim to persuade your audience to buy a product? To inspire them? Or perhaps, to
    scold them? This will also determine the tone of voice and language you use.
  • Order – once you have decided on the subject matter, audience and aim, you should structure your presentation quickly (if even for a few seconds!) before delivering it. I always follow these simple rules:
    • Start by emphasizing your main arguments/points/pitch;
    • If you have many arguments or sub-issues in your speech, try and pick the strongest three, and place the weakest one in the middle (the so-called ‘sandwich principle’);
    • Use simple language, as well as analogies or examples to illustrate each argument if possible.

3. Know your strengths and weaknesses

Not everyone can speak as dashingly as Harvey Specter or as suavely as James Bond. However, there is no need to. While it is not true that you should ‘be yourself’ when it comes to public speaking (especially if your natural self is overly nervous and diffident), you should play on your natural strengths. For example, if you are naturally funny, bubbly and exuberant, then crack plenty of jokes and make your audience laugh. If you are naturally serious and grave, try speaking slowly, but with purpose and clarity. Even if you are naturally a soft-spoken person, you don’t have to speak extremely loudly – you simply have to be audible enough to everyone in the room. Every speaking style has its strengths and weaknesses, so don’t be afraid to experiment while still capitalizing on your uniqueness!

These tips are some of the most important pieces of advice that have shaped me as a public speaker. Hopefully, they’ll come in handy for you as well!



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