Student Speaker

6 Tips to Becoming a Scare-Proof Student Speaker

If you’re going to lead your organization effectively, you’ll have to learn to be a student speaker who is comfortable talking to large groups.  It’s true that nothing can strike fear into a person’s heart like speaking in public.  This is one reason why the leader who’s also an accomplished student speaker deserves some respect.  However, if you still consider yourself a leader-in-the-making, don’t let this scare you away!  Becoming a powerful student speaker is easier than you think.

The tips that follow start with the early stages of your career as a student speaker to the more advanced levels of public speaking.

1.  Take every chance you get

You’ll never learn to swim if you don’t take that first plunge.  On one hand, you should feel relieved that public speaking isn’t that different from anything else, because it’s just something that comes more easily with practice.  On the other hand, having to do all that practice can seem pretty frightening at first.  But you can begin psyching yourself out by volunteering to speak at every chance you get.  Do you have to sign up to give presentations in a class?  Try to take the very first slot.  Does your organization need somebody to go talk to another group about an issue or project?  Volunteer to go speak to them.  Maybe your workplace needs somebody to lead a training session about a new procedure.  If so, then see if you can do it.  Did you write a pretty good research paper for one of your classes?  Why not present it at a conference?

Isn’t this overkill?  Yes, of course it is.  Are we asking you to be a little hard on yourself? Absolutely.  That’s because forcing yourself into the situation over and over is the only way you can get over your fear of the situation.  Give it a try.  Pay attention to how you feel in those moments leading up to the time to speak.  You’ll see that with repeated exposure, you’ll feel less socially awkward and more comfortable each time.

2.  Avoid caffeine beforehand

It’s not a very good idea for an up-and-coming student speaker to make his jitters worse by downing a 31-ounce Trenta Latté from Starbucks right before a gig.  Coffee isn’t the only thing you should steer clear of when you’re practicing.  Don’t overdo any other fluids beforehand either, lest nature calls while you’re in the middle of speaking.

3.  Don’t forget the water

Water.  It’s the most easily forgotten trick to public speaking.  After all, if you’re nervous about your looming speaking engagement, how are you supposed to remember a bottle of water?  Yet the truth is nothing will make your life easier, your body more comfortable, and your voice as clear as a nice, refreshing bottle of water beside you.  It also keeps you from leaving your talk with your lips hopelessly chapped because your mouth was so desperate for moisture.

4.  Determine what kinds of notes work best for you

Once you’ve cured yourself of the fear of public speaking by following tip #1, you can begin figuring out under what conditions you speak best.  All public speakers have different methods and tricks, and part of the importance of practicing is identifying your style.  Are you the type of student speaker who needs every part of your speech written out in advance?  Or does a general outline of keywords work for you?  Usually you’ll fall somewhere in between.  Many speakers will write the entire lecture out word-for-word, but then hardly look at their notes when they’re speaking.  That’s because in writing it out, they’ve internalized much of what they want to say, and have organized their thought in a logical, presentable way.

This goes to show that the importance of note-taking isn’t as obvious as it seems.  In addition to being something to help through you’re talk, notes, like all intrapersonal communication, are a healthy practice for figuring out what you want to say.  But where note-taking fits into your technique as a student speaker is up to you to find out.  The more speaking opportunities you give yourself, the better you’ll be at settling into a routine.

And once you’ve got your routine down, you’re well on your way to being a student speaker extraordinaire.

5.  Slow down

There’s one thing we’ve put off until now.  Our discussion has covered some strategies for making yourself more comfortable at the podium, but it begs the question: how do you speak in public?

Start with this trick: slow it down.  To remind yourself in the middle of your talk, write it in capital letters at the top of each page of your notes–“SLOW DOWN.”  If you don’t rush through your talk, it’s easier to enunciate your words clearly, and when you have more time to think through your words, it’s less likely you’ll stumble through the “umm’s,” “ah’s,” “like’s,” and “y’know’s” that mark the distinction between the the beginner student speaker and the advanced public speaker.  Given how we’re accustomed to talking, it’s going to be very hard to scrub these fillers from your language.  Again, we refer to #1.  Practice will make you perfect.

6.  Get a grip on your nervous tics

Whether it’s scratching your chin or your neck, or leaning backward from the podium, rubbing your forehead or sticking your hands in your pockets, we all have nervous tics.  Eventually, every student speaker discovers that in front of an audience, our limbs begin behaving like they had a mind of their own.  You might even feel completely cool and comfortable in your element, but if your hands are going in every direction while you talk, it’s distracting to your audience.

If there’s a podium, rest your hands on the sides and try to keep them there.  Sometimes you’re not so lucky.  There’s no podium, no desk, no nothing, and instead you’re left to stand completely exposed to the elements.  In such cases, don’t stick your hands in your pockets, and don’t cross your arms either.  Instead, you can keep one hand at your side and gesture with your free hand.  You can fold your arms before you and gesture with one hand.  You can try clasping your hands together before you at chest level (but don’t nervously wring them) while gesturing with one or the other from time to time.  You can even hold your palms out at chest level as you talk, gesturing as you go along.  Most people who are used to public speaking report that talking with their hands makes them more comfortable, so gesture away.  It can even divert some of the audience’s attention by giving them something to look at.  The trick is keep yourself from stuffing your fists into your pockets as you talk.  It makes your tension visible to everybody else and can distract from the power in your words.

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