A couple of years ago, I decided to do something about my fear of public speaking. Like any fear, it was self-limiting and a constant burden.
I joined a Toastmasters club, read up best practices and found interesting research from psychology, sociology and business.
Armed with this experience and knowledge, I hacked my speaking skills and got better fast.
Speaking in public is a challenge. But it can be overcome—and even become something you enjoy—by following speaking tricks I’ll share with you.
I have them listed by “tricks for you” and “for them.”
“Speaking tricks for you” are hacks that will make you more confident, relaxed, and at ease.
“Speaking tricks for them” are hacks that will make you more effective and entertaining.
Find your model
I can’t speak like Tony Robbins or Martin Luther King. Their speaking styles differ from mine. When I try to become a better speaker, I don’t see them as models. Instead, I look for great speakers who are like me. People like Malcom Gladwell and Alain de Botton are perfect models for me. They are pensive and light-hearted, like me. Look for speakers who are like you and learn from them.
Meet the strangers
Before I speak, I always try to meet as many people in my audience as I can. Doing this, I’ve turned a bunch of strangers into familiar faces. I am also able to find the “friendly face.” someone who is naturally supportive and enthusiastic. He or she is the person you go back to whenever you speak and feel nervous or need a morale boost. There’s always at least one in every audience—another reason to meet your audience!
Think of photos of the aftermath of a disaster. You’ll see people embracing. When we go through a challenging situation, we crave human touch, and standing in front of a crowd to say a few words is challenging. If you feel overwhelmed or scared, use this trick: gently rub your thumb and ring finger together. You can also clasp your hands every now and then. It’s a subtle but effective way to make yourself feel safer.
Your audience listens to every word you say (we hope!). This is when you need your wits. Research shows that when our bodies are on the move, our brains get more oxygen, which increases mental sharpness. (another reason to add physical activity to your day). Move around during your speech. Walk from one end of the stage to the other. Use body language to deliver your message. Ditch the podium to expand your space. Whatever you can do to get oxygen flowing to your noggin.
Keep it simple
You may be telling people a guaranteed way to make one million dollars, but if that message is too elaborate, you’ll lose them to Angry Birds. Use the rule of three when you build your speeches. All speeches must have no more than three messages for your audience to absorb. Build your speech around those three messages.
Say it again and again and again
The Big Lie is a sociological phenomenon that describes how anything, even a lie, can become true in your head by repetition. Business leaders say they need to deliver a message at least seven times for it to be well known. This tells you that anything important must be repeated as much as possible. Deliver your message in different ways so that it sticks.
Tell me a story
We love stories. Storytelling is as old as writing and drawing. Mythology and religion have thrived because they use stories to convey truths and beliefs. Most great speakers are also superb storytellers. And telling a story is not hard. It’s quite easy. Just follow this method: Talk about the past, then about the present, and finally about the future. It sounds simplistic, but this is how all good stories are built.
Time is subjective
Tempo is how fast you speak. It’s crucial for delivering your message clearly. One day I rehearsed a speech for my fiancée. At one point I cringed at an extra long pause I took. When I asked her for feedback she didn’t even mention the long pause. She said there was no such pause in the speech, and that I should slow down. I was going too fast. When you speak, time feels a lot faster because of your heightened awareness. Consider that, and speak slower.
Human attention is short. Attention span been quantified by John Medina, a cognitive scientist and writer of Brain Rules. After 10 minutes, your audience’s attention starts to drop. After all, their role in a meeting or a classroom is passive. To prevent their attention from flagging, add something intriguing to your speech now and then: A stunning visual, a controversial question, a funny story. Defy your audience’s expectations, and you’ll keep their attention throughout.
A version of this article first appeared on LifeHack.org.