Public speaking is arguably one of the most intimidating tasks to tackle in any job or industry. While some may love presenting in front of their peers, most dread the thought — be it a room of 10 people or 10,000.

As a performer, past theatre and music major and current PR Account Coordinator, I get it. Here are some tips from a former actress on how to tell your story confidently and with character.

Become a Confident “Character” 

From theatre majors like me to the highest-profile Broadway stars, no one is immune to public speaking jitters. I could sing, dance and act on stage in front of thousands and still not be as nervous as if I was presenting at my own company. That’s because it’s just me — no character, no costumes and no director.

What I’ve found incredibly helpful in this case is to create a different “me,” or a character who knows how to confidently speak in front of their peers. If you picture yourself in the role of someone who’s self-assured and assertive, your presentation will exemplify it.

Rehearse, Rehearse, Rehearse!

As we often hear, practice makes perfect. My usual pointers are to spend time rehearsing on your own at first. When you feel more confident, you should present in front of your friend, spouse, parent or anyone else whose opinion you trust and will give honest feedback. That way, you can get genuine reactions from a live audience and gather important feedback. Transitioning from rehearsing by myself to rehearsing in front of my roommates often threw me for a loop, but it was perfect practice for the real thing.

Know Your Script, but Always Improv

Think of your presentation notes as your script and understand the main points inside and out. Once you know your stuff, then it’s all about improv. An actor wouldn’t read from a sheet of paper during the whole play, so you shouldn’t during your presentation either. Keep your ‘script’ handy to fall back on as a reference, just like any performer would, but don’t strictly rely on it.

What I’ve also learned over many years of performing is that live theater is never, ever perfect. Something almost always goes wrong, or not in the way you may have intended. Rehearsing ensures you know your stuff — but don’t beat yourself up if things didn’t go exactly how you planned.

Diction & Projection Matter. No Mumbling!

One of the most important ways to appear confident is to speak clearly. My acting coaches used to tell me that diction and projection were everything. Try your best to not mumble or trail off at the end of a sentence and avoid filler words, such as “like” and “uhm.” If your audience can’t hear you clearly, nothing you say will matter. These are my top two tips to avoid mumbling:

  • Deep breaths are your best friend — they fuel and strengthen your voice, helping you slow down your words to further articulate them. You’d be surprised what a good breath before and during speaking can do for you when you feel nervous.
  • For articulation practice before you take the stage, a classic theatre exercise is repeating tongue twisters like “Unique New York, New York Unique,” or “Red Leather, Yellow Leather”

Eye Contact & Emotion Are Essential

You’re a storyteller. You’re an entertainer. You’re putting on a show. That said, speaking in monotone and only looking at your notes will immediately offset your entire “performance.” If you’re disengaged, no one will want to listen, because frankly, it will look like you don’t want them to either.

First and foremost, good body language and strong eye contact are key for involving your audience in the story and making them feel like they’re part of the art form. In fact, a study from UCLA found that only 7% of how a message is perceived comes from your words — but 57% comes from your nonverbal communication.

Additionally, it’s important to play into your audiences’ reactions and emotions. If they laugh or show shock at something you’ve said, don’t immediately fly by it and go onto the next thing — take time to react! You can smile, nod and give the audience the space they need to digest what you’ve just presented. Although you may be playing a character, you’re still you.

Remember, people love live theater because it’s live — there is a real human on stage connecting with the audience. If they wanted to show a video presentation, they would have. Public speaking gives you a unique opportunity to be a poet, an artist and a performer all in one. So, rather than dreading it, cherish your time as a storyteller among your peers.

Now that you’ve got some tips from the stage, go break a leg on your next performance!

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