Picture yourself giving a speech in front of a large crowd. Do you feel confident, prepared, and excited? Or does the thought make you want to vomit?
Approximately 75% of Americans suffer from glossophobia – the fear of public speaking. But it’s essential for your career, education, and personal life. If you’re wondering how to improve public speaking skills, start here!
The Importance of Public Speaking Skills
First of all, what is public speaking? It refers to effective communication regardless of how many people are involved. There are three types of public speaking:
The first one affects your personal life. You’re likely an excellent party guest if you’re a master at entertaining public speaking. You connect with strangers, excel at storytelling, and have comedic chops.
Informative public speaking often happens in educational or workplace settings. You might have been a whiz at school presentations and the first student to volunteer for show-and-tell. Your colleagues at work may rely on you to present new projects at work.
Finally, persuasive public speaking is the art of selling. It might come in handy at work if you hold a sales position or at school in the form of debates. But it might be as simple as convincing your friends to go with your lunch pick!
Improving these public speaking skills can have a positive impact on your life. Let’s look at some of the benefits of effective communication skills.
There’s nothing worse than getting in front of a crowd and fumbling over your words. Your confidence takes a major hit, and you might even feel like a failure. Strong public speakers are confident and understand their self-worth and competency.
Develop Leadership Skills
Good leaders need strong communication skills. Otherwise, who’s going to listen to you? If you’re hoping to move into a management position or start your own company, public speaking and leadership go hand in hand.
Improve Social Life
Every group has the funny, outgoing friend who everyone adores and admires. Master public speaking skills, and that can be you! But beyond that, you’ll also feel more comfortable at social events and company functions.
Get a Career Upgrade
A recent survey showed that 9 out of 10 hiring managers want employees with excellent speaking skills. You don’t have to be an extrovert to win over your boss, but you should be able to communicate effectively. Strong public speaking skills can lead to a significant career boost!
Find a New Hobby
Believe it or not, some people engage in public speaking for fun! Debate clubs, TED talks, comedy performances, and improv theater are some potential hobbies that start with public speaking skills. If you’re stuck in a rut, you might want to upgrade your communication skills to find a new activity.
Four Factors of Public Speaking
Before diving into the tips and tricks, you should learn about the four factors of public speaking. These elements are vital and should be at the center of every single speech you give.
Understanding your audience is critical to set the tone of your speech. In preparation for your presentation, research some of the following:
- Their demographic (gender, age group, opinions)
- Their experience with the topic
- Their expectations
- Their purpose
Let’s imagine you’re giving an informative speech to a group of upper-level executives at work. They’re likely familiar with the product or service and expect to learn how your proposal will benefit the organization. Structure your speech so that it provides the full range of information while remaining persuasive.
Delivery comes down to how you speak. The speed, flow, and articulation of your sentences and words can affect your delivery. Keep these tips in mind:
- Speak at a natural pace
- Speak clearly and confidently
- Use natural speech patterns, like pausing after a question
- Take pauses to gauge the audience’s reaction
- Try to avoid “ahs” and “ums” as much as possible
And don’t be afraid of silence! Using pauses and moments of silence can add drama and authority to your presentation. Filler words, on the other hand, can make you seem anxious and unprepared.
Body language sets the tone for your speech before you even open your mouth. It includes a combination of gestures, expressions, and movements. Boost your confidence by:
- Assuming a confident stance
- Convey emotions with facial expressions
- Walk or move around if you start feeling nervous
- Keep your gestures natural
- Don’t distract your audience by swaying or shifting side to side
Studies show that using confident body language can actually reduce anxiety and cortisol! Try it for yourself: shoulders back, chin up, and chest out. Practice making it look natural before you hit that stage!
Nerves and shaky voices are a treacherous combination that gives away our anxiety. But diaphragmatic breathing is a powerful tool that anyone can use. It can ensure you maintain a clear, confident voice and avoid shortness of breath or shakiness.
To do this, you’ll need to practice breathing with your diaphragm. Place one hand on your stomach, relax, and let it expand as you take breaths. Make each inhale and exhale long and slow, counting to five every time.
How to Improve Public Speaking Skills
Understanding the four key elements of public speaking is a good start. But knowing a few helpful tips and tricks can help you banish the rest of your nerves.
Prepare in Advance
You wouldn’t take a critical test without studying, right? The same goes for public speaking. Preparing for your speech involves two components: content and logistics.
Analyze the message and how you want to convey it. Start by asking yourself what the point of the presentation is. Once you have a good handle on your central theme, it’s time to find statistics or facts to back it up.
Cue cards are a helpful tool for memorizing your key points, but don’t rely on them entirely. Then move on to brainstorming potential questions from your audience. The last thing you want is to go blank when someone poses a question you’re not prepared for!
Logistics are an essential factor that people often forget. Being prepared for these things can relieve a majority of the nerves that come with public speaking. Get comfortable with your location and test all tech tools before you present.
Take Notes From a Professional
Sometimes it takes a great leader to inspire another. Watching excellent public speakers can help you pick up a few tricks for your own lecture. Many non-native English speakers even watch speeches by great orators while learning the language!
But the most promising way to study a great speaker is in person. Find the best leadership keynote speaker in your area and attend one of their presentations. They can help you learn to be more confident and offer strategies for success.
Practice, Practice, Practice
Practice makes perfect, but your practice technique is also important. Some people practice by reading cue cards in their heads before the big day. But when they get on stage, their voice wavers, and they stumble over their words.
Practice only helps if you can analyze and change what’s not working. Try practicing your speech in front of a mirror to keep an eye on your body language and facial expressions. Better yet, record yourself!
Watch the video back and look for things to tweak and perfect. Then practice again. This cycle will eventually lead to a smooth, confident delivery!
Change Your Mindset
If you go into it thinking the worst, the worst will happen. This self-fulfilling prophecy is the downfall of many public speakers. A healthy dose of anxiety can actually push us to succeed, but negative thoughts don’t help.
If you lose your train of thought while public speaking, you’ll probably hyperfocus on this issue. Instead of fearing it or expecting it to happen, find a way to fight it. Keep cue cards handy to jog your memory, or use mnemonics to help you keep track.
Connect With Your Audience
Your audience is human, just like you, so use it to your advantage! Connecting with your audience can be a major confidence boost, but it can also help them trust you more. Use a joke or a personal story to relay the message if it’s not a formal setting.
Or simply involve the audience in some way. It takes the pressure off you when you’re starting to get nervous and keeps people engaged. Ask questions, use audience members as examples, and maintain eye contact.
A chaotic, unstructured jumble of sentences won’t keep people interested. Storytelling is the art of weaving information into a cohesive, natural plot. It often involves personal examples and life stories to illustrate the point.
Let’s say you work at an appliance store and you’re trying to sell a washing machine. A short, funny story of how your ancient washing machine once exploded with bubbles can make your customer feel relaxed and connected to you. You can then lead into the importance of having a modern, high-quality appliance that won’t flood their home!
Look the Part
Clothing is often an afterthought when it comes to public speaking. But it can be a critical factor in how people perceive you and how you feel. Fashion psychology shows that the right clothing choices can:
- Boost abstract thinking
- Encourage decision making
- Help you feel powerful
- Improve your mood
- Increase focus and motivation
It can even help you negotiate a deal! Studies show that people who were well-dressed and polished had better negotiation outcomes. So how can you use clothing to your advantage?
Base your outfit on the purpose of your speech and your audience. A tailored, three-piece suit probably isn’t ideal if you’re doing a poetry reading. But it’s perfect for formal situations like business presentations and negotiations.
You should also dress for comfort, but that doesn’t mean sweats are okay. Wear an outfit that always boosts your confidence and makes you feel powerful. If you try to change your signature look on the day of your speech, you might feel out of place.
An audience is really good at spotting frauds. And you want the audience to trust you, regardless of the type of public speaking you’re doing. Being genuine and allowing your personality to shine through is what builds that connection.
Don’t be afraid to crack a joke if that’s your natural personality. At the same time, don’t force humor if you’re known to be a more serious person. Acting as someone else can often come off as stiff, fake, and uncomfortable.
Use Feedback to Improve
Finally! You’ve finished your speech, and you’re happy with how it went. But you’re not done yet!
One of the most important aspects of strong public speaking skills is self-improvement. Get feedback from your audience and use it for your next presentation. Audience feedback can be raw and honest, but don’t let it get you down.
An easy and anonymous way to do this is by distributing a quick survey at the end of your speech. You can even email it to the audience for ease of use. Ask questions like:
- Did you enjoy the lecture?
- Did the presentation meet your expectations?
- How could this presentation be improved next time?
- Was there any vital information missing?
You can tailor your questions to the type of public speaking you’re doing to get productive answers. But it can be as simple as asking your audience if they have any feedback for you while finishing the closing remarks!
How to Improve Public Speaking Skills
Public speaking is one of the most common phobias, but it’s also an essential element of daily life. If you’ve always wondered how to improve public speaking skills, you now have the tools. All that you need to for forth is practice and experience.
Did you find this public speaking guide helpful? Check out some of our other articles to learn more!