How to become a confident speaker

30/01/2023

How to become a confident speaker in 2 easy steps, from someone that performs as their living.

As a professional Magician, speaker and event host based in Gloucestershire, performing in front of small or large groups of people is second nature to me. With over 15 years of performing experience, standing in front of crowds to give a talk or perform my close-up magic or stage magic no longer holds any major fear or anxiety…I feel comfortable and at ease 99% of the time. Sure, there are a few moments before my presentation when I might be a bit fidgety and want to get started; that adrenaline rush is natural, but I no longer feel nervous or have Stage Fright.

It is easy to forget, when you perform for a living, that for other people, standing in front of a group or on stage can be their WORST nightmare. Glossophobia is the fear of public speaking, and many do suffer from major anxiety giving a speech. Have you ever been asked at a meeting or group to introduce yourself, and you watch in horror as it eventually becomes your turn, and you are dreading it? People can be shy or have some social anxiety – the fear of being judged – making these types of ‘I’m in the spotlight’ situations incredibly difficult and stressful, particularly if you are not used to them. To be really honest, there isn’t one shortcut because becoming confident and overcoming fear is about doing something again and again until it no longer worries you.

However, looking back over my career so far, I have come up with two easy-to-implement tips that should help you to prepare for the next time YOU have the opportunity to present your material or talk in front of groups…. follow my tips, and it should be a lot easier to get your first speech or presentation done and out of the way with great success:

  1. REHEARSE, REALLY REHEARSE

Take a leaf out of the book of any actor or performer and REHEARSE what you are going to say and do. And when I say rehearse, I mean really, really rehearse. Rehearsing to a performer is NOT just reading through a script a couple of times before you walk on stage. Rehearsing is looking at every aspect of your speech/presentation….from the words to what you will be wearing, where you will be standing and your physical actions. An easy way to do this is to imagine when you are practising at home that YOU are the director of a play watching yourself in action….as the director, what ‘stage directions’ would you give yourself? Stand up straighter? Stop moving your hands so much? Are you looking down or looking at the audience? Talk slower? Quicker? What does your posture say about your content and delivery? How about your tone of voice? So being the director of your own speech can help you to tweak your presentation so that you are performing how you want to perform, confidently and strongly. You could even have your own dress rehearsal and wear what you will be wearing on the day – do you feel comfortable? Does anything need adjusting? If actors have a full dress rehearsal to see if anything needs changing, we can do the same. You could also get a couple of close friends to watch your speech and give you honest but kind feedback on where to improve, and what they liked and didn’t like. You could also video yourself and watch it back.

Lastly, on the topic of rehearsing, being well prepared can also include the time when you are actually on site….in the room or on the stage where you will be presenting. If you are a Best Man speaking at a wedding, get to the room early and check how the microphone works….does it need switching on? Or is it automatic? Do you need spare batteries for the microphone? Where can you stand so the whole wedding party can see you? If your speech is on stage…look at the environment….any steps to the stage? How many steps? Is there a clear path? Where will you enter the stage? Is there a podium on which to place your notes and lean on for a bit of physical and mental support, or will you simply have to stand? Will you have notes on cards? How are you going to hold them? If you are using a laptop make sure you check the leads and the set-up – in summary –  get to the environment EARLY and check everything works!

  • THE FIRST 30 SECONDS

First impressions count!

Over the years, I have performed to hundreds of people, small groups and large audiences. Outside of working as a professional magician, I’ve also given a eulogy at a funeral, spoken at many schools and colleges, given a best man’s speech and much more.

All of these experiences made me realise one thing:

The first 30 seconds are vital.

I believe it is very important to make sure that you create a strong positive impression right from the word go. Stand up or walk on as confidently as you can and make sure, even if you have notes, that you know EXACTLY what your opening line is going to be. Really think about the first line that you will say – make sure it has impact, grabs attention and creates intrigue so that people will sit up and listen. Don’t rush to speak; pause for a couple of seconds and look at a few people around the room.

Suggestions for your opening sequence would be

a) A GOOD joke ( e.g. at a wedding speech) or

b) Something serious to grab attention or

c) a short story from your life that you think the audience may relate to.

Let’s look at an opening sequence as an example. Imagine you are a photographer, and you are not used to public speaking and have searched for public speaking tips. You have been asked to present a short speech about your work at a business event. Why not have your camera in your hands as you stand up to speak – the camera will be a comforting prop for you as you hold your camera day in and day out, it will feel comfortable and familiar. It gives you something to hold, almost like a comfort blanket. The camera is part of you. You hold the camera up high for all to see and say confidently “Many people ask me what type of equipment I use to take photos?…and I always say …. my EYES……[pause for effect]…. my name is [insert name], and I’m here to share with you my passion for being a photographer and how you too can see the world in a different way like I have learned how to do…..”

A strong, powerful, intriguing start, I hope you’ll agree?!

So as you write your speech or presentation, choose your opening words and scripting very carefully. Really think about the first 30 seconds and spend time developing it into a strong opening sequence. Change it and rewrite it until you think you have a strong opening start. Magicians will often even ask each other ‘What’s your Opener?” or ‘What’s your opening trick?’. We know from experience that the opener needs to be short, amazing, and set the standard for the rest of the performance. Practise delivering the opening line in different tones and see which one suits the environment the best. At a wedding, it would be more likely you can start with a funny sequence that gets the whole audience laughing. It might be more appropriate at a business event to be a little more serious. Try and find out who your audience will be if you don’t know already.

Lastly, choose a subject to speak about that you feel passionate about, and have fun and enjoy it, I promise the buzz you will feel afterwards is worth it!

If you have any questions about public speaking or how to create a great presentation and would like a little advice or help, feel free to email me at info@gloucestershiremagician.co.uk or follow me on Instagram and you can message me there: www.instagram.com/glosmagician

best wishes

Richard Parsons
Member of The Magic Circle

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