This is one of the questions I most often get asked when discussing public speaking. To be honest, it's a valid question. I'd be willing to bet that most people have experienced the humiliation of trying to speak (whether in front of an audience or just with a friend) and the words don't come. Or maybe the words do come, but they're completely out of order, or out of context, or worse, you don't say what you mean to say.
Doing this in front of a friend can be embarrassing, but in front of an audience, it can feel opprobrious. However, this needn't be your public speaking experience. So how can you go into discussions, debates, toasts, and prepared speeches feeling confident?
The answer is two-fold: be prepared and practice.
The best way to feel confident when you're speaking is to know your material. Do your research, prepare your word choice, know your subject. If it applies, look up the opposing viewpoints and familiarize yourself with the other side; research statistics and facts; or practice debating with someone with whom you are close. If you're sharing a personal story, explore it from all different angels so you know you're sharing the version with the most impact.
A little about me: I have a peeving proclivity for procrastination. Many a times I have written a speech the night before I was supposed to give it. Doing this not only makes me more nervous when I'm giving my speech, but I deliver it with less confidence, humor, and ease. Although sometimes I've lucked out and given it in such a way the audience was none the wiser, this is not always the case. Once I even had an audience member (granted, he was also was a public speaker and a friend) come up after I gave a speech and said, "Did you write that last night or this morning?"
In every case, when I've chosen to put the effort into preparing my speech beforehand, I always feel more confident when I'm giving it and more fulfilled once it's over.
Not only does being prepared for your speech help you from saying the wrong thing (or freezing up and not saying anything at all), but so does practicing. The more you practice, the better the conversation or speech will go. You'll be able to work out kinks, sharpen your message, try out story variations, find contradictions, and all together polish your speech. One of the best ways to practice is take a video of yourself delivering the speech. This way you will be able to identify repetitive words, distracting body language, and if there are any areas in your speech that did not flow well.
I highly recommend memorizing the opening and conclusion to your speech. This not only minimizes nervousness, but it also gives your brain an anchor when it blanks on words. In addition, memorize a rough outline of the body of your speech so you know where you're going in your speech. If it is helpful, write your outline on a notecard so you have something to which you can refer.
Preparing for and practicing your speech will guarantee a greater degree of confidence and poise in your speech. If you're passionate about something, the fear of sounding stupid in front of an audience shouldn't stop you.
"By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail." ― Benjamin Franklin
"Practice puts brains in your muscles."
― Sam Snead
Word of the day:
Opprobrious: "the disgrace or the reproach incurred by conduct considered outrageously shameful; infamy"