Best Tips to Improve Your Public Speaking Skills
According to a yearly poll done by Chapman University , public speaking is a major fear for one in five Americans. It’s more widespread than being afraid of mugging or of small enclosed spaces.
So what makes public speaking so terrifying?
Some find it very difficult to perform well under scrutiny. Public speakers have to hold the attention of a group of people at once. Then they have to persuade their audience to care about a topic and remember a few key points.
Even people who are generally self-assured and confident can falter under that kind of pressure. Some professionals find it difficult to advance in their fields because they’re bad at presenting their ideas in front of a crowd. Others give up on exciting new opportunities just because there is a possibility that public speaking may be in the future.
But fortunately, public speaking is a skill rather than natural ability. That means you can become more proficient at it over time even if you’re uneasy now. Many people who have a fear of public speaking eventually manage to get it under control and incorporate speeches into their professional life.
Here are some tips that can help you become a better public speaker:
- Think About Why Your Audience Is There
Public speakers have an important role to fill in many different social contexts, from conferences to weddings and beyond. In many cases, a good speech can achieve a lot more than text or other more passive forms of communication.
So what can you provide that your audience can’t get elsewhere? Are they here to get inspired or to gain new knowledge? Or is it both of those things at the same time?
Your audience wants something and you are in a position to deliver it. That puts the ball in your court. Keeping that in mind will make you less nervous and it will also make your speech sharper and more powerful.
- Keep Your Goal in Mind
Before you start working on your speech, it can be a good idea at the beginning to write down 3-5 questions you think your audience will have. Then think about the questions you hope they will ask after your speech is over.
Write down what you want your speech to achieve. Do you want to move people to action? Or make them understand something you care deeply about?
Preparing a speech is a lot of work, but it becomes easier once you have a specific goal you want to achieve. It will also give you motivation to keep practicing and improving. Instead of asking whether your speech is technically flawless when you rehearse it, you should ask whether it would convince your audience.
- Research the Best Ways to Relate to Your Audience
What’s the best way to make sure your audience will understand and retain new information? How can you present your point in a way that will feel relevant and interesting?
It’s always crucial to keep in mind who you are speaking to. If your audience has no experience with your topic, you’re in danger of losing their interest early on. Starting from the basics can be the best approach in almost every case.
Furthermore, if you take the time to include a speaking point that your audience already knows and cares about, your speech will be a lot more successful. After all, it is easier to retain new information if you connect it to something you already know .
- Research Your Own Skills as a Speaker
This part may feel awkward, but it’s a crucial step toward gaining confidence and flow.
Record yourself speaking. Then pay close attention to the way you express yourself. A few questions you should ask:
- Is the length and structure of your speech appropriate? Never allow yourself to run out of time. After all, a strong closing statement is the most important part of your speech.
- Do you speak too quickly? Practice making longer pauses between sentences. Your audience needs time to think things over.
- Is there a part of your speech where you lose momentum? Is it possible to cut it out?
- Do you use fillers such as “um” and “uh”? These make you sound unsure and confused. Replace them with pauses when you need to think things over. You can also practice occasionally choosing stronger filler phrases, such as “you see” or “in other words”.
- Are there any phrases you keep repeating out of habit? Some repetition is good, but only when it’s intentional. Cut out anything that could distract your audience.
- Is there too much jargon? Sometimes your phrasing will alienate your audience even though the terms feel familiar and ordinary to you. Consider asking a friend for an outsider’s opinion.
In addition to rewriting and practicing your speech, you might want to work on your body language before you speak in public. Watching TED Talks is one good way to learn the subtle physical cues that public speakers use with great success.
- Accept That Things Don’t Always Go As Planned
If you’re prone to worrying about every potential outcome, even weeks of practice won’t help you become less nervous. So take the time to think things through realistically.
Is your audience likely to disapprove of what you’re saying? Or do they merely want to hear your position? Is there really a chance that someone will interject and challenge your speech?
In the vast majority of cases, that’s highly unlikely. But if you do think that it’s a possibility, you should prepare a few solid counterarguments.
Ultimately, you need to trust your own expertise. That will carry you through any disagreements, sudden scheduling changes or technical failures.
A Final Word
It takes time and effort to overcome your fear of public speaking. Sadly, it isn’t as easy as flipping a switch. Some circumstances can make even the most experienced public speakers feel nervous all over again.
But the only real solution is exposure. Speak up as often as possible in public situations. When someone invites you to give a speech, think it over even if your first instinct is to decline.
One last thing you should do is give up on black-and-white thinking. You can come across as charming and professional even if you stumble a few times. And even if your speech isn’t a complete success, it could still inspire somebody in your audience.
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