Being a princess (or Duchess if you want to get technical) isn’t all tiaras and tea parties. It’s also a lot — and we mean a lot — of public speaking. When Meghan Markle went from activist-actress to full-fledged royal, she was ready to put her speaking style to good use for the foundations, projects, and charities that mean the most to her. In fact, she’s already given so many great speeches that we decided we could learn a thing or two from her about how to be a better speaker. Because even the best of the best get the jitters now and again. So take a deep breath, and remember to speak slowly; here are six public speaking tips that will turn you into a great public speaker worthy of the spotlight. Hey, if the crown fits…
Tip #1: You’re Never Fully Dressed Without a Smile
Smiling is contagious. No, seriously! If you want to be well-liked at your presentation, put on a happy face. Washington, D.C. public speaking coach Denise Graveline explains that smiling during a speaking engagement builds trust and shows confidence. It also makes you affable AF. Sure, being a royal means you need to learn how to smile in uncomfortable situations, but public speakers at a work presentation need to be liked, too. Check out how Markle’s smile sparkles through every one of her major public speaking events. Gravine says this conveys to audience members that, not only does she appreciate their presence, but that she’s eager to engage. Smiling during your presentation also has the added benefits of lowering your blood pressure and increasing endorphins, AKA the stuff that makes you happy and more relaxed. In fact, Graveline recommends speakers start to smile ten minutes before their talk just to get the good mood going.
Tip #2: Grab Them at Hello
Speech coach Gary Glenard says you have about a minute to build your credibility and grab your audience’s attention and it all starts with a warm welcome. Markle is consistent when it comes to greeting her esteemed guests at the beginning of her public speaking engagements. However, cautions Glenard, sometimes, a “person's delivery [can undermine] their effectiveness.” If, perhaps like a royal, you tend to give a lot of presentations on the same topic, be careful not to, as Glendard puts it, “phone it in.” Be authentic and genuine with your greeting. “The manner in which you start a pitch or presentation...will greatly influence whether you grab your audience's attention and get them listening,” says Glenard. Make like Markle and be enthusiastic as you say your pleasantries — take her speech at the Smart Works Launch in London. Saying a few personalized opening remarks will show (and tell) your audience members that you truly believe it’s an honor to speak to them.
Tip #3: Go Local
Show your audience members how much they matter to you by trying to match their colloquial speaking style at your next speaking engagement if the presentation topic permits. In this New Zealand UN Speech celebrating the 125th anniversary of New Zealand becoming the first country in the world to grant women the right to vote, Markle makes a point to speak the phrase “Hello, and welcome to you all,” in Māori, one of New Zealand’s official languages. Markle is shaky and humble in her Māori delivery, but the audience applauds her. Markle understands it can be scary to speak in an unfamiliar language, especially in front of an audience, but the risk is worth the reward when your effort is appreciated. And if you mess up? No big. Just use humor and stay in on the joke. Simply laugh and say, “I tried!” Your audience will still be happy you tried.
Tip #4: Eyes on the Prize
It can be a reflex to look down at your feet or at your presentation slides while you give a speech, but look up and make eye contact if you want to be an effective public speaker. It’s a great form of nonverbal communication. Markle isn’t afraid to take a glance at her adoring listeners as she speaks, and neither should you. Making eye contact with audience members lets them know you’re connecting to them one-on-one even if you’re in a room of over a hundred people. It allows you to create a rapport and show your listeners that they’re important to you. Plus, making eye contact is helpful for you as the speaker, too. You can tell immediately if your audience is hanging on you word for word, enthusiastic, or bored, so you can adjust on the fly.
Author of How to Deliver a TED Talk, Jeremy Donovan, recommends that you maintain eye contact with audience members for 3 to 5 seconds, noting that, “any longer and you make the other person feel uncomfortable. Any shorter and you look less than trustworthy.”
Tip #5: Don’t Be Afraid to Get Personal
Storytelling is used in every culture to help humans understand and convey emotions. You may think a speech needs to be sterile, perfect, and robotic, but the co-founder of VirualSpeech, Dom Barnard, says don’t be afraid to show people you’re human. During her first — and impromptu! — speech celebrating The Hubb Community Kitchen’s Together: Our Community Cookbook, Markle spoke from the heart, without notes, about how her ‘tremendous labor of love’ couldn’t have come at a better time. She had just moved to London and it was clear her first project as a royal had a major impact on her. She states off the cuff that she’s so proud of the book and honored by “the warmth and kindness” of the women from Hubb Kitchen. “This is more than a cookbook,” she says, “When you get to know the story of the recipe, you get to know the person behind it.” Public speaking tip: same goes for speeches.
Tip #6: Improvise As You Go
Sure, reading straight from a script is appropriate for a heavy political address or crisis situation, but for those "lighter" speaking gigs feel free to go off the record. Meghan does a beautiful job at improvising here and there during certain speeches, especially during the launch of her capsule fashion collection with non-profit Smart Works. She talks about the weather, she casually addresses specific people in the crowd, and goes off script just enough. It's ok to know the parts of your speech when you'll reference something that's not written down, and that's a good way to start to get comfortable with the idea. As you practice, you'll be more and more present during your public speaking events to be able to explore a thought in real time — out loud! — that is appropriate that may have just popped into your head. Again, practice makes perfect with this tip.