3 Powerful Ways to Enhance Your Public Speaking Skills
When you think of public speaking, what comes to mind? If anxiety, sweating, and forgetfulness are the first words that appear, you’re not alone. Over the past few years, I have spoken to numerous family, friends, and colleagues about their thoughts on this activity. Almost all responses associated public speaking with anxiety or dread to some extent, which isn’t a surprise considering it’s a top fear for most people.
Is it possible for public speaking to have a better reputation? How can we change our opinions of the activity from fear and anxiety to excitement and empowerment?
I started questioning the relationship between people and public speaking because of my own experiences with it. Over the last 7 years, I have been actively pursuing public speaking opportunities: All four years of high school I competed in Forensics, which is Speech and Debate for those who don’t know. Additionally, since Freshman year of college, I have held various on-campus leadership positions that required me to facilitate and speak at workshops and events, for 20 to 100+ students.
My experiences, both positive and negative, have shaped me into the presenter I am today. Over the past several years, I have developed my own set of tips to help boost my confidence and continuously improve as an effective communicator and public speaker.
These tips, along with additional resources linked in this article, may help you feel more confident the next time you give a presentation, whether that be in a classroom, workshop or meeting!
The three key points I will discuss in this article are as follows:
Preparing your speech & the importance of hand gestures
Establishing your mindset & goals
Giving an engaging presentation by conversing with your audience
Now, let’s dive deeper into each section!
1. Preparing your speech & the importance of hand gestures
When it came to class presentation time growing up, teachers always gave advice such as, “Practice in front of a mirror”, “Know your material really well". This advice is a good place to start when it comes to learning about effective public speaking.
Knowing your material well is very important. Making an outline of your presentation is a great way to memorize the flow of your key points rather than memorizing an entire speech word for word. I personally practice a speech worded a few different ways, to make sure I fully understand the topic I am discussing. As long as I’m not steering away from the main idea and I’m mentioning key points, then I consider that a success.
I have also tried memorizing my speeches and presentations which has its pros and cons. A pro is that you know you didn’t miss any vital information if you nail every line. A con might be you forgetting some of the words and not knowing where to pick back up. Another downside of trying to memorize a whole speech is that you might be so heavily focused on your words, that you neglect how you're speaking, which can leave you with a monotone voice and an uninterested audience.
Some prefer memorization, and if it helps give you the confidence and enhances your speaking, then great. If you’re someone who worries about forgetting your words or you feel like you can’t control how you speak (volume, tone, inflection) when you memorize too much, then I suggest trying out the outline method.
Hand gestures are a great tool to help you remember key words, phrases or vital points. Hand gestures can really make an impact on your presentation, good or bad depending on how you use them. Too many gestures can be distracting and a lack of gestures can lead to a less engaging presentation. Click here to learn about different types of hand gestures and when to use them! Proper usage of gestures can help you maintain your audience's attention while at the same time, helping you pace yourself, remember important points, and ultimately appear very confident.
As for practicing in a mirror, it’s good advice to an extent. I personally practice in a mirror when thinking about my facial expressions and hand gestures as I speak. As for reducing nerves, practicing in front of people will better prepare you.
Public speaking, unsurprisingly, means you are speaking in front of the public; it means eye contact and feeling out your audience by reading their facial expressions. Even if you practice in front of an audience of one, that’s more effective than practicing in front of the mirror alone.
2. Establishing your mindset & goals
Before I go into a presentation or workshop, I have to mentally prepare myself. I think, what do I want to accomplish? What do I want my audience to take away from this? Asking yourself these questions helps you focus and prepare your speech with intention. Going into a meeting or presentation with the goal of teaching your audience or impressing them will help your natural confidence and passion shine through.
I mentioned earlier how a bland or monotone presentation can lose your audience fairly quickly. Having a goal going into your presentation can help you focus on your “stage presence”: how you're standing, your hand gestures, and your voice. Speaking with intention and purpose can help captivate your audience and help you stay alert rather than having your mind wander while you’re up there.
3. Giving an engaging presentation by conversing with your audience
My last tip is that you should speak to an audience as if you were having a conversation with a friend or colleague. There is a big difference between sounding like you are having a conversation with someone versus merely speaking at them. Now, this doesn’t mean being super informal, this means speaking naturally, taking pauses and having appropriate amounts of eye contact.
You shouldn't dart your eyes randomly around the room but instead, take time to look at your audience and take in their responses (usually in the form of facial expressions showing how attentive they are). Depending on how responsive the room is, you may want to tweak your speaking (e.g. speak louder, move around appropriately, etc.).
When you have conversations with colleagues or family, you speak with more emotion instinctively. When you deliver bad news, you have sadness in your voice. If you are sharing something important, you have a serious tone and if you are sharing uplifting information or something interesting, you speak with excitement.
If you speak to a crowd as if each of them were a friend you were conversing with, then you will present more naturally. If you are emotionally connected to what you are saying, then your audience will be too.
If public speaking is your #1 fear, it doesn’t have to be. I hope some of the tips I have applied to my life may help you.
Thank you for reading and feel free to reach out with any questions concerning the article specifically or public speaking!
*All words and tips are my own; I gathered them based off my own personal experiences
*The article linked above belongs to scienceofpeople.com and is not my own