By Dr. Jarrod Sadulski
Faculty Member, Criminal Justice, American Public University
Most people engage in some form of public speaking in their professional careers. You might have to provide a presentation for work, participate in a job interview in front of a panel of managers, report on a class project in front of an audience or hold meetings with subordinates. A successful presentation or public speaking event, however, depends on the preparedness and comfort level of the speaker.
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The problem is that most people fear public speaking, which creates unnecessary panic when it is time to step in front of an audience. According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), around 73% of people experience public speaking anxiety. The fear of public speaking is even greater than spiders, heights and even death.
As a researcher and professor, public speaking has become an important part of my career. I have engaged in public speaking events in the United States, Europe and Central America.
Speaking to international audiences has been an especially good experience. In addition to needing to learn how to speak in front of a large group of people, I had to develop public speaking skills that account for different cultures, customs and courtesies.
For example, it is important to avoid stating anything that may be offensive due to differing social norms among cultures. Also, it is important to only use analogies that can be understood across different cultures.
During Public Speaking, Imagine Having a One-on-One Discussion with the Audience
In regard to public speaking skills, one of the most helpful concepts for me is to visualize having a one-on-one discussion with the audience while I’m on stage. There may be 200 people there, but I approach the speech as if I’m having a one-on-one discussion with the entire audience.
We have one-on-one discussions with others every day. Approaching public speaking as a one-on-one discussion between you and the audience is a way to reduce the stress of public speaking.
Tell an Engaging Story that Interests the Audience
In nearly every public speaking engagement that I participate in, I begin by telling a story that connects me to the topic. For example, if I am speaking on human trafficking, I may begin by sharing an experience I had in law enforcement that involves human trafficking interdiction.
Then, I connect the audience to the topic. For example, I may display a map of an area or state to reveal the magnitude of human trafficking that occurs in the audience’s home area.
Monitor the Passing of Time during Public Speaking
Another important strategy is to closely monitor my time throughout the speech. To do this task, it is important to monitor how many words per minute are spoken. I try to speak around 130 words per minute. If I am nervous, I find myself speaking too quickly.
There are a couple of strategies that assist me. First, when I’m preparing a speech, it is helpful to use a speech calculator. It helps me determine how many words should be included in a specific speech based on my allotted time.
Second, if I’m using a transcript, I use the left margin to identify where I should be at in regard to time while I’m going through the speech. This can help me realize when I need to slow down while on stage.
Recording Your Speech on Video Helps You Remove Distractions
Practicing the speech while video recording yourself is also very helpful. This technique helps you identify any nervous reactions or unintentional body language that you make, such as saying “umm” too often or making distracting hand movements.
Add Pauses to Allow the Audience to Reflect on What Was Said
When I provide a speech, I incorporate three- to five-second pauses following my main points or a story. This provides the audience with the time to reflect on what has been said and to take notes.
Ensure a Public Speech Is Well Organized
When preparing a speech, I select three main themes, objectives or topics to cover. At both the beginning and end of a speech, I share with the audience these objectives, which serve as benchmarks. This tactic keeps the audience engaged; they are able to determine the progress I have made in the speech when they hear me touch upon the different benchmarks.
Visualize a Successful Speech
When I’m preparing to step on stage, another strategy that I have found to be effective is to visualize the successful outcome of the speech. This visualization reduces any stress and builds my confidence.
Public speaking is a skill that takes practice, but overcoming the stress of public speaking can occur through preparation. For people who wish to strengthen their public speaking skills, I recommend that they volunteer to speak for free at community events to gain experience. In addition, I suggest exploring Toastmasters International to assist with strengthening public speaking.
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About the Author
Dr. Jarrod Sadulski will be speaking at the International Human Trafficking & Social Justice Conference at the University of Toledo on the topic of human trafficking in September 2019 and will be sharing some of his research on human trafficking in Central America. Dr. Sadulski will also be speaking at the Southern Criminal Justice Association’s Annual Conference in Nashville, Tennessee, in September of 2019 and will be traveling to Central and South America to further his research in the fall.
In addition to domestic speaking engagements, Dr. Sadulski has spoken in Europe and Central America on topics associated with human trafficking, narcotics trafficking, and police responses to domestic terrorism. Dr. Sadulski has over twenty years of experience in the field of homeland security and law enforcement. He has been a faculty member with American Public University since 2011.