By Leila Witkin, Author

“According to most studies, people’s number one fear is public speaking. Number two is death. Death is number two. Does that seem right? That means to the average person, if you have to go to a funeral, you're better off in the casket than doing the eulogy!”– Jerry Seinfeld

If what the American comedian says is true (and there are numerous polls to support his observation), millions of people would actually rather face death than speak in public. If you are one of those people, here are 10 top tips to help you excel at public speaking.

1. Be prepared, don’t wing it and practice beforehand

Preparation is crucial to success. Know your subject; be ready to leave out a lot of what you know. Organize your material: 3 to 5 main points. Strong logic combined with personal anecdotes grabs the audience’s attention. Time your speech and practice in front of a mirror or in front of someone you trust. Feedback is good. Be prepared to delete unnecessary portions. Short presentations are better than long ones. Bullet points are good and keep you on track. Memorization is not critical, preparation is. Maintain eye contact with your audience and always end on a strong note, one that connects with your listeners.

2. Dress appropriately: well dressed and well groomed. Look and feel your best.

Trainers may be fine when going for a jog, but dressing the part makes all the difference when speaking in front of an audience. Appropriate clothing for the type of audience and event goes a long way towards a confident presentation.

3. The venue

Check out your venue ahead of time. Locate toilets, electrical outlets, lighting controls, emergency exits, handicapped facilities, and set up protocols with venue staff for your event. If you’re part of a panel, try to find out from the other speakers what their topics will be so there’s no duplication. Make sure that whomever introduces you that you’ve written it out beforehand, so that what is said about you is correct. Be sure to thank the venue staff, the sponsors and team members. Be available and ready to answer questions after your presentation.

4. Body language is important. Master the art of the handshake

How we move may be more powerful than what we say. Eye contact with individuals is crucial. Talk as though you are speaking to one individual, not to the entire room. Remember: you are in a dialogue with your audience, even though you are the only one speaking. Are they paying attention or nodding off, fidgeting, yawning? Sometimes a short break is necessary. Your own body language is important as well. Repetitive gesturing, pacing, parallel hand motions are distracting. Practice standing still, using your voice, not gestures, to convey your message. Customs vary from culture on forms of greeting, from handshakes to bowing and so on. Know what works best for the culture and environment in which you are speaking. This goes a long way towards being accepted by the group, the company or the business.

5. Identify your target audience, establish a rapport with them & give them more than expected

Know your audience. Demographics are important. Why did they show up to hear you speak: necessity or entertainment? What is the audience expecting: instruction, advice, inspiration or even entertainment. Rapport starts when you’re introduced or when you enter a room, not at the podium. Remember to smile. Look at your audience and draw them in with your energy and confidence. Make no apologies and get to the point. Start with new and interesting information in the first 60-90 seconds.

6. Determine your message, stay on track & support your points with stories. Keep in mind audience’s perspective: What’s in it for me (WIFM)?

Topic (subject) and theme (your approach to that subject) are crucial to success. Tell your audience what will happen if they don’t have your product, understand the situation, change their beliefs or behaviour, or contribute to the cause. Create a sense of urgency or spirit of adventure. Focus your message on your target audience. Tailor your message to fit the situation. Never talk down, but bring your audience in. People remember stories more than abstract concepts.

7. Make friends with your ‘butterflies’

The “fight-or-flight” reaction deters many from public speaking. Stage fright can be overwhelming. Conquering your fears involves many different forms of therapies, from simple breathing exercises and good night’s rest to more complex approaches involving doctors and medications. Knowing yourself is first and foremost very important. A certain amount of nerves is a part of speaking in front of an audience.

8. Your speaking voice

There are several points to keep in mind about how to use your voice to give the best presentation: relaxed shoulders and arms, deep breathing to engage the muscles in the middle of your body, use vocal “warm-up” exercises for a well-tuned voice. Tone of voice and inflection can create a sense of urgency, anticipation, and emphasis when speaking to a group. Try these out on yourself and friends. Get used to using your voice in this way. Remember that a monotone will put your audience to sleep.

9. Technology, Handouts and Q & A

Technology is important, but using it effectively is critical. Don’t rely on just PowerPoint or slides. Whatever you use, practice with it first. Plan ahead for electrical shortages or problems at the venue and have a back-up plan. In using printed text on slides, be sure that it can be read from the back of the room. Come prepared with handouts to those who want them at the end of your presentation. Keep the Q & A period short, towards the end of your presentation, and always have the last words at your speech.

10. Be your best and most authentic self!

Truth, integrity and commitment are what an audience remembers about any speaker. If you believe in your cause or service, then your audience will as well. Speaking from inner truth gives you credibility.

Above all remember: “Less is more — so leave the audience wanting more from you”

This information is adapted from the newly released book “UnAfraid, UnFrazzled & UnFROGettable! — A Practical Guide to Overcoming Stage Fright and the Fear of Public Speaking” by Leila Witkin (Panoma Press, London, UK)