Public speaking for business

Five tips for speaking under pressure

Being able to speak articulately in stressful situations is important for anybody determined to succeed. Whether being challenged, delivering a pitch of high consequence or speaking in front of a crowd, your ability largely comes down to how well prepared you are: With enough prep, anyone can be brilliant. Learn your facts and figures, prominent people’s names and the background of the issue you’re covering. Knowing your stuff will keep you from stumbling.

However, besides cramming the night before, there are a further few tricks you can learn to make yourself a better speaker.

Project confidence
This is about more than saying your mantras in front of the mirror every morning. Make eye contact with the people you’re speaking to. Speak in a loud, strong voice and keep your body language positive – don’t fold your arms, slouch or hunch your shoulders and keep your chin pointed forward, not down.

Repeat what’s just been said to you
One of the hardest things you might encounter in a high-pressure situation is answering a direct question, especially if the answer needs to be put in a delicate way. Repeating the question or the last thing said to you will not only show you are really listening, but also give you a few more precious moments to think.

Ask for clarification
Rather than just charging off in the wrong direction, asking for clarification can give you better direction for your response – and time to better formulate it. Just be sure that you ask in a way that can’t be misinterpreted as confrontational. Perhaps “Could you explain what you mean by…?” rather than just “What do you mean?”

Organise your thoughts better
When someone is speaking to you be aware of what you don’t understand, what you could ask to move the discussion forward, whether you have an insight that might be worth sharing. That way when it comes to your turn to speak, you will already know what to say.

Summarise and stop, or just stop
There are two different instances here. Firstly, after a lengthy response, it is important to quickly summarise your point and then stop speaking. This can help people remember the main gist of what you’re saying. Secondly, it’s a good (but sometimes difficult to master) skill to stop speaking and let people digest what you have said and formulate their own responses. In a few moments silence once you’ve stopped, it can be very tempting to start speaking again just to fill the silence. Don’t. You will just ramble and no one else will get a say.

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