Presentation Tips

Public Speaking: How To Connect With An Audience Authentically

Stephanie Sparer
November 25, 2019
 min read
Public Speaking: How To Connect With An Audience AuthenticallyPublic Speaking: How To Connect With An Audience Authentically
Table of Contents

Truly great speeches all have one thing in common and it’s not that the speaker has perfect poise or a killer opening joke. Instead, a great speech starts with a public speaker who stays authentic and true to themselves. When someone is genuinely excited about a topic, audience members sense that and get excited, too. Except when is the last time you were totally ‘feeling yourself’ in front of a full audience? Most people aren't comfortable with a room full of eyes on them, so you're not alone. To that point, how do you get and hold an audience’s attention while ignoring your own public speaking jitters? Don’t worry, we’ve got you covered. Here are our favorite public speaking tips that allow you to be your authentic self while commanding and connecting with an audience.

Tell A Story & Make It Your Own

Storytelling has become a buzzword when it comes to marketing, and there’s a reason for that: really good storytelling is an integral part of our culture. Stories often stir up emotions within people, and according to Caroline Winnett and Andrew Pohlmann of The Nielsen Company, 90% of our purchasing decisions are influenced by emotions (raise your hand if you’ve ever bought a jacket that made you feel cool). Use your words and your audio-visuals to turn key points into a compelling story that pulls your audience in while turning listeners into loyal leads. People won’t remember all of your statistics, but they will remember a really good story and how you made them feel.

Look To Your Audience

The fear of public speaking is normal, but while you may be worried about mispronouncing a word or having a hair out of place, your audience isn’t. They’re human, too! As cliche as it sounds, don’t be afraid to be yourself. In fact, a flub might make you even more affable, so take a deep breath and speak to your audience like you’re having a big one-on-one conversation. One way to achieve this is by making eye contact with audience members as you speak. Anne Dickerson, owner of 15 Minutes Productions, says it’s easy to train yourself to make better eye contact. She recommends using only a few words per presentation slide so you’re forced to look towards your listeners and your listeners are enticed to, well, listen! Dickerson says, “When we cram every fact into our deck, it’s hard for people to listen to us speak because their natural reaction is to read the slide.”  Even if your presentation is a ( showstopper, keep your eyes on the audience, not the screen.

Be Aware

Do you know how often you bite your lip or use filler words such as ‘um’? Nervous habits can prohibit you from giving an authentic presentation because they put a spotlight on your uneasiness. Public speaking coach, Jezra Kaye, recommends that you “lead with the qualities that you believe will help you connect with your audience [and] stay grounded in your content.” Consider recording a few practice rounds of your presentation and keep an eye out for mannerisms you may not even realize you have. Darlene Price, president of Well Said, Inc., explains "One or more of these habits can distract the audience from your message and jeopardize your credibility." In other words, your nervous habit might draw attention to your obsessive hair twirling, not your main points. 

Rehearse Correctly

Over-rehearsing can come across as inauthentic and stiff, but Bill Rosenthal, chief executive of Communispond, recommends rehearsing your presentation exactly the way you’ll deliver it on stage (at least once), so you are prepared and relaxed. “You may surprise yourself to see how much better you come across with each rehearsal,” says Rosenthal. When you don’t rehearse at all you risk losing your audience members. Sure, anyone can sound confident, but if you can’t remember which slide is next or what key points you’re trying to make, you might get confused on stage and that could ultimately confuse your audience. Practice may not make perfect, but that’s okay! You just need to come across as cool, calm, collected, prepared, and above all, authentically you.

Remember To Communicate, Not Perform

Don’t force ‘authentic’ body language. Have you ever had someone take your picture and suddenly you have no idea what to do with your hands? The end result is an awkward photo with unfortunate T-rex arms. A presentation can be like a live version of that, with people watching every move you make. Speaking coach and author Nick Morgan calls nonverbal communication the “second conversation” and explains that taking the time to focus on your messaging and key points instead of a calculated hand gesture will help you engage authentically with your audience through natural, relaxed body language. Morgan explains, “A change in nonverbal behavior can affect the spoken message.” Remember, that means for better or for worse. 

Trust Yourself & Embrace It

The most important rule for authenticity? Stay true to yourself. If you trust yourself and you know what’s important to you, what you value, and what your strengths are, then you can bring that confidence to any message you’re presenting. Don’t worry about other people’s expectations and more importantly, drop your own. Miranda Morris, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist in Maryland recommends asking yourself if your own expectations are actually helpful, noting that big, over-the-top ambitions— like being flawless— aren’t as motivational as people think they are. In fact, they may even act as an obstacle and cause you to feel like a failure if (or when) you fall short. Want to avoid that feeling? (We do!) Morris advises, “Be flexible.” If you're still not convinced, we'll leave you with this quote from Brené Brown, “Imperfections are not inadequacies; they are reminders that we’re all in this together.”

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Stephanie Sparer

Stephanie Sparer

Stephanie Sparer is an Emmy award-winning writer who has contributed to Thought Catalog, Hello Giggles, and Heeb Magazine, amongst others. Despite being preoccupied with bows and a self-indulgent obsession with Woody Allen's early films, Stephanie had her first book, entitled "Maybe I Should Drink More," published by Thought Catalog Books in 2013. Sparer lives in Phoenix, Arizona.