• Fear of public speaking is a common anxiety that holds people back in work and life

  • Matt Abrahams offers his tips for connecting with your audience and getting your message heard

When it comes to public speaking, there are two overarching fears that plague even the most seasoned presenters: forgetting what you intend to say and the fear that your audience won't remember what you've said. 

While these concerns are undoubtedly interconnected, they can be mitigated with focused attention and strategic preparation. Let's delve into how you can master the art of public speaking and deliver presentations that leave a lasting impact.

Presentation hygiene: Laying the groundwork

Firstly, let's talk about what I call "presentation hygiene." This entails preparing both mentally and physically for your talk. Get a good night's sleep, eat nutritious food, and engage in some form of physical activity to release those endorphins. 

Mental preparation involves visualisation techniques and positive self-talk. Picture yourself successfully delivering your speech, and affirm that you are well-prepared and capable. This sets a positive tone for your performance and can significantly reduce anxiety.

The importance of structure

Next, structuring your presentation in a logical and coherent manner is crucial for both you and your audience. For the speaker, a well-structured talk aids in memory retention. For the audience, it makes the presentation easier to follow and remember. 

Consider employing the Rule of Three — a communication principle suggesting that information grouped in threes is more easily retained. Divide your speech into three main sections, and within those, have three sub-points. This creates a digestible structure that's easy to remember for both you and your listeners.

Use memorable techniques

To make your presentation memorable, utilise storytelling, metaphors, and analogies. People relate to stories and analogies because they provide context, and our brains are wired to remember them. Start with a personal anecdote or a fascinating statistic to grab your audience's attention. From there, weave stories throughout your presentation to illustrate your points and keep your audience engaged.

Active engagement: Don't just speak, interact

Don't forget that public speaking is not a monologue; it's a dialogue. Involve your audience by asking questions, conducting polls, or encouraging group discussions. When people feel they are a part of the presentation, they are more likely to pay attention and remember the content. 

This active engagement also helps you, the presenter, by providing real-time feedback and possibly easing some of your anxieties about how your message is being received.

Rehearse, rehearse, rehearse

I can't stress this enough: practice makes perfect. Rehearse your presentation multiple times, in front of a mirror, recording yourself, or with a trusted friend or family member. This not only helps you become more familiar with your content but also allows you to identify areas where you may need to adjust your pacing, tone, or emphasis. 

The more comfortable you are with your material, the more confidently you will deliver it, making it memorable for your audience.

The final mile: Effective closure

Lastly, end your presentation with a compelling conclusion. Summarise your main points and reiterate why they are essential. End with a call to action or an inspiring quote to leave a lasting impression.

To conquer the fears of forgetting your lines and worrying that your audience will not remember your message, you must be intentional in your preparation and delivery. Adopt good presentation hygiene, structure your speech thoughtfully, engage your audience actively, rehearse rigorously, and conclude effectively.

So the next time you take the stage, remember: mastering public speaking is not just about getting through your slides or ticking off the points on your agenda. It's about connecting with your audience in a meaningful way and delivering a message that resonates long after you've left the podium.

Matt Abrahams is a lecturer at Stanford Graduate School of Business, the author of Think Faster, Talk Smarter: How to Speak Successfully When You’re Put on the Spot  

Further reading

Get your voice heard, no matter how anxious you feel

Can hypnotherapy cure performance anxiety?

How to identify your values and what you need from your career

3 strategies if avoidance is your coping mechanism for anxiety

How unconscious forces drive our behaviour at work