Speaking with confidence: know your material

When you’re delivering a speech, particularly if it’s to hundreds or even thousands of people, you have to assume that there’s someone out there who knows just as much about your topic as you do . . . and there may be someone who knows a little more.  So it’s absolutely mandatory to know your material cold because you want to be speaking with confidence.

Know your topic thoroughly

It’s normal to feel some nervous energy just before speaking to a group.  A little discomfort with speaking can even help you to deliver a more powerful presentation.  But you certainly don’t want the stress of knowing that you don’t know your topic thoroughly. Solid preparation is a must for speaking with confidence.

Ask Sarah Palin

One of the big issues U.S. vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin faced in the 2008 election was that she didn’t know the issues well enough.  She was parachuted into the position with no background in Washington politics.  She was given a crash course and expected to fake it from there.  And she was eaten alive.  Whether you supported or opposed her political positions, the bottom line was that she was not well enough prepared and it cost her dearly simply because she wasn’t speaking with confidence.

Avoid a similar fate

So how can you avoid a similar fate and how can you feel confident speaking to a group?  Here are a few tips to help you:

  • Speak only on topics about which you truly have expertise

  • Relax!  It’s the most powerful component of speaking with confidence

  • If your topic is outside your primary area of expertise don’t be afraid to share that with your audience but once you’ve dealt with it let it go and avoid referring back to it throughout your presentation

  • Know your audience.  Ask the event organizer how many people will be attending, what their backgrounds are, whether there are likely to be experts in the field in which you’re speaking

  • If possible, speak with audience members as they arrive.  This will not only help you to gauge their knowledge level but also identify specific areas of interest you may want to address when you’re speaking to the group.  It will also begin to establish relationships that will help both of you to relax.

  • Open yourself to discussion or disagreement; you can do this by saying something like: “I don’t pretend to have all the answers and I invite your opinions.”

  • If there is an audience member who is also an expert in your area, engage that person and invite him or her to share personal perspectives or experiences
What do you think?

Have you used any of these approaches? Do you have others? If so, I’d like to hear about them.

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About Thomas Moss

Thomas Moss is a speaker, writer and coach who provides business communications services, primarily in the Greater Toronto Area, including Oshawa, Whitby, Ajax, Pickering, Markham, Richmond Hill, Newmarket, Vaughan, Brampton and Mississauga. Service is also available outside of the GTA.

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