In part one of this series, Mastering the Basics of Communication, I shared strategies to improve how you communicate. In part two, I examined how to apply these techniques as you interact with colleagues and supervisors in the workplace. For the third and final part of this series, I’m providing you with public speaking tips that will help reduce your anxiety, dispel myths, and improve your performance.
Here Are My 10 Tips for Public Speaking:
1. NERVOUSNESS IS NORMAL. PRACTICE AND PREPARE!
All people feel some physiological reactions like pounding hearts and trembling hands. Do not associate these feelings with the sense that you will perform poorly or make a fool of yourself. Some nerves are good. The adrenaline rush that makes you sweat also makes you more alert and ready to give your best performance.
The best way to overcome anxiety is to prepare, prepare, and prepare some more. Take the time to go over your notes several times. Once you have become comfortable with the material, practice—a lot. Videotape yourself, or get a friend to critique your performance.
2. KNOW YOUR AUDIENCE. YOUR SPEECH IS ABOUT THEM, NOT YOU.
Before you begin to craft your message, consider who the message is intended for. Learn as much about your listeners as you can. This will help you determine your choice of words, level of information, organization pattern, and motivational statement.
3. ORGANIZE YOUR MATERIAL IN THE MOST EFFECTIVE MANNER TO ATTAIN YOUR PURPOSE.
Create the framework for your speech. Write down the topic, general purpose, specific purpose, central idea, and main points. Make sure to grab the audience’s attention in the first 30 seconds.
4. WATCH FOR FEEDBACK AND ADAPT TO IT.
Keep the focus on the audience. Gauge their reactions, adjust your message, and stay flexible. Delivering a canned speech will guarantee that you lose the attention of or confuse even the most devoted listeners.
5. LET YOUR PERSONALITY COME THROUGH.
Be yourself, don’t become a talking head—in any type of communication. You will establish better credibility if your personality shines through, and your audience will trust what you have to say if they can see you as a real person.
6. USE HUMOR, TELL STORIES, AND USE EFFECTIVE LANGUAGE.
Inject a funny anecdote in your presentation, and you will certainly grab your audience’s attention. Audiences generally like a personal touch in a speech. A story can provide that.
7. DON’T READ UNLESS YOU HAVE TO. WORK FROM AN OUTLINE.
Reading from a script or slide fractures the interpersonal connection. By maintaining eye contact with the audience, you keep the focus on yourself and your message. A brief outline can serve to jog your memory and keep you on task.
8. USE YOUR VOICE AND HANDS EFFECTIVELY. OMIT NERVOUS GESTURES.
Nonverbal communication carries most of the message. Good delivery does not call attention to itself, but instead conveys the speaker’s ideas clearly and without distraction.
9. GRAB ATTENTION AT THE BEGINNING, AND CLOSE WITH A DYNAMIC END.
Do you enjoy hearing a speech start with “Today I’m going to talk to you about X”? Most people don’t. Instead, use a startling statistic, an interesting anecdote, or concise quotation. Conclude your speech with a summary and a strong statement that your audience is sure to remember.
10. USE AUDIOVISUAL AIDS WISELY.
Too many can break the direct connection to the audience, so use them sparingly. They should enhance or clarify your content, or capture and maintain your audience’s attention.
Practice Does Not Make Perfect
Good communication is never perfect, and nobody expects you to be perfect. However, putting in the requisite time to prepare will help you deliver a better speech. You may not be able to shake your nerves entirely, but you can learn to minimize them.
Even if you don’t make regular presentations in front of a group, public speaking is a useful skill to have from making a speech at a friend’s wedding to inspiring a group of volunteers at a charity event. Developing your public speaking skills can increase your confidence and help you overcome speech-related anxiety you may have.
Even those who live with social anxiety disorder (SAD) can become confident speakers with traditional anxiety treatment and by working on public speaking skill development.
Your voice is the most important tool you will use as a public speaker. One simple way to improve your voice is by learning to breathe fully and deeply from your diaphragm.
Diaphragmatic breathing, or belly breathing, is essential for accessing your most powerful voice. It is the technique professional singers use to make their voices sound fabulous. It enables them to hold notes long after most people would be out of breath.
Practicing diaphragmatic breathing also reduces feelings of breathlessness caused by speech anxiety. This type of breathing will allow you to better control the following aspects of your voice:
- Tone (quality)
- Pitch (high or low)
Before your speech, place one hand on your abdomen, and breathe into your hand. Count to 10 as you inhale and fill your stomach, then count to 10 again as you exhale. Remember to breathe from your diaphragm as you deliver your speech.
Simply put, body language is your body’s way of communicating without using words. It’s the combination of facial expressions, gestures, and movements that convey what’s going on in your mind. Practice strong, confident body language to fuel your presentation:
- Stand up straight. If you’re physically capable of standing up straight, then make sure you stand tall and straight during your presentation.
- Assume the [power] position. If you’re feeling stressed before your presentation, take a moment to stand in a powerful position. Doing this for just a few minutes will raise your testosterone and increase your self-confidence while reducing stress, anxiety, and cortisol.1 One of the most popular power poses is the “superhero” pose: Put your hands on your hips, keep your chin up, and your chest out.
- Be facially expressive. Your facial expressions should match the message you are delivering. If you’re giving an upbeat speech, try to have a relaxed and joyful look on your face.
- Plant your feet. Shifting your weight from side to side can lull your audience into a semi-hypnotic state (also known as sleep). Stand tall and firm.
If you feel that your stage presence is lacking, view clips of speakers you admire. Aim to imitate parts of their style that you feel could work for you. Then, “fake it until you make it.” In other words, act confident until you feel confident.
When it comes to public speaking, delivery is everything. Even if you have a great voice and good body language, your message will get lost if the audience can’t easily follow what you say. Below are some tips for developing good delivery skills:
- Speak slowly, but not too slowly. Talk too fast and your audience will have a hard time understanding you. Talk too slowly and you risk putting them to sleep. When it comes to public speaking, talking at a conversational pace is your safest bet.
- Pause between ideas. Great public speakers often pause for two to three seconds or even longer. A well-placed pause gives the audience time to digest what you are saying. It also makes you sound more confident and in control.
- Avoid filler words. Words such as “um,” “ah,” “you know,” and “like” diminish your credibility and distract from your message. Instead, replace these filler words with pauses.
- Carefully articulate and pronounce your words. A mumbling public speaker is hard to understand.
Good public speakers are in tune with their audience. Public speaking is more than standing in front of a group and talking; you also need to engage your audience.
- Acknowledge your audience as soon as you take the stage. This helps to make you seem more like a “real” person and keeps a conversational tone.
- Grab their attention immediately. When you speak, you have about 60 seconds to capture your audience’s attention and captivate them before they tune out. Use this time to ask a rhetorical thought-provoking question, tell a captivating story, or share a shocking statistic—anything that will keep them intrigued.
- Find a friendly face. There’s bound to be friendly people in the audience. Find those people and pretend that you’re speaking to only them.
- Make eye contact. Regardless of how big your audience is, try to make eye contact with as many people as possible. It will make them feel like you are speaking directly to them.
A Word From Verywell
Fear of public speaking is a common experience, and developing new public speaking skills can help you face your fear confidently. If you have extreme anxiety while speaking in public, however, it is important to seek help from your doctor or a trained mental health professional.
While improving your public speaking skills is helpful, for people with social anxiety, those efforts should be grounded in a solid framework for overcoming your anxiety.