Public speaking is never easy – no one can claim he or she always feels comfortable in front of any audience. It is a skill, however, and like any skill it has to be honed, especially if your speech is interpreted into other languages.
Here are a few tips from a professional speaker.
1) Remember that stage fright is a physiological reaction, there is not much you can really do to get rid of it. It will simply go away naturally sooner or later a few minutes into your speech.
It is, essentially, a “fight or flight” response: your sympathetic nervous system is preparing you for the former or the latter. Only, you cannot really run – staying and delivering your speech is the only option.
Therefore, psychological and mental readiness becomes paramount, you need to bring yourself into a certain state of mind.
Fear can become a great driving force if you use it creatively, it mobilizes your resources, so instead of fearing fear, try to use its energy to give your speech vitality and drive without excessive aggression.
At the same time remaining calm and collected is another great challenge. Correct breathing can help: a few minutes before your speech start deep diaphragmatic breathing – it helps you calm down and project your words into the room. Imagine that your words reach the farthest corners of the room.
Shallow breathing usually deteriorates voice quality and creates an unfavorable impression.
2) Connect with your audience. Visualize your audience as friendly and willing to learn what you want to say.
Eye contact is very important: look at people and scan the audience by glancing at different people at different distances from the podium.
It is strongly preferred that you do not use a script.
You may make a list of the main points you want to convey and improvise. It will make your presentation more human and help you establish rapport with your audience.
Moreover, if your speech is interpreted simultaneously or consecutively by conference interpreters, it will be easier for the interpreters to work with your words and recreate your speech in a different language.
Feel and use pauses and rhythm. Do not rush: take your time, make rhetorical pauses after important statements so they can “sink in.” Counting usually helps: after you said something important you want people to remember, quickly count to 5 in your head. It will also give you time to think about what you want to say next: too many speakers rush too much through their presentations.
150 -160 words per minute is the best rate of delivery in English, too many speakers start speaking too fast especially if time is running out! There is free metronome software you can download and use to practice.
Remember that your goal is not to say what you want to say – it is to maximize what people remember from your speech.
If you thought you would have 30 minutes and you only have 15 minutes it is best to digest instead of saying all at a faster rate.
Your simultaneous interpreters may handle your fast rate but only to a certain degree above which they have to digest too – you really do not want your message to be lost in translation simply because you are too fast.
Even if your audience is listening to you in your native language, there is a physiological comfort zone for information processing.
3) Remember that your audience is most likely international: not everyone has English as a native tongue. It does not mean at all that you have to downgrade your language to a third grade level, however, but certain things are better avoided.
For example, it is great to open your presentation with a joke or a funny story, but if it too arcane or if only people in a particular country or region will understand it, it is better to look for a different joke.
Of course, using professional conference simultaneous or consecutive interpreters helps: you will be freer to express yourself and it is the interpreters’ job to convey your words in the languages of the delegates, but cricket and football references do get lost in translation!
4) Learn to use microphones. Microphones are your best friends and worst enemies at the same time. Microphone etiquette and discipline is what all speakers must learn very early on.
If there is one thing you must remember it is: never ever tap a live microphone to make sure it works!
We can only refer you here to another post in the InterStar Translations Blog you can read on the topic of microphone use: Tips on Using Microphones by Conference Speakers
5) Show your personality and create ambience, do not just deliver words. Think of your speech not as of a chore and obligation but a form of play, when you are immensely enjoying it and want to convey this sense of enjoyment to your audience.
Like the sound of your own voice, it is not narcissistic, your voice is a part of you and who you are.
Use body language appropriately: hand gestures can subtly but powerfully emphasize important ideas.
Spend a lot of time preparing: the better prepared you are, the more confident you are and the more the audience is enjoying the experience.
All these skills do not come in one day – they take months and years to develop. But personal growth is never quick and easy, and the reward is a polished, friendly, eloquent public speaker with a sense of humor who can establish rapport and get the message across.
If you want more detailed advice on how to speak at international conferences or chair them, check out our other more detailed post: Guidelines for Organizers, Participants and Chairs of Bilingual and Multilingual Meetings