Improve Your Public Speaking Skills

The fear of public speaking — medically dubbed “glossophobia” — leaves as many as 73% of us with sweaty palms, brain freeze, and shortness of breath when taking the podium.

But if your public speaking skills are mediocre when you’re looking to zero in on your inner Winston Churchill, there’s still room for improvement. 

Upcoming job interview?

Capstone project on the horizon?

Maid-of-honor speech in a month?

Check out these seven tips for improving your public speaking skills!

Practice, Practice, Practice [Exit Your Comfort Zone!]

Talking, in the most general sense, isn’t your problem. Speaking in front of dozens (or hundreds) of people you don’t know about topics that may not be your favorite is your problem.

The trick is exiting the confines of your social circle.

Strike up conversations wherever you go, whether that’s at the dog park, on the train, or while waiting in line at the pharmacy. Join an on-campus debate club, play intramural sports, or volunteer in your community.

Record and Listen (or Watch) Yourself Speaking

The only way to improve your public speaking skills (besides practice) is to learn where your weaknesses lie. 

Prop your iPhone onto your dresser far enough back where there’s a head-to-toe view. Record a video of yourself delivering your speech, and then watch it back.

Analyze the clip for:

  • Speaking speed: A conversational 150-170 words per minute is ideal. Find your word count on Google Docs and divide it by 150 to discover how long your speech should take from start to finish.
  • Eye contact: Pretend that there’s an audience in your dorm room or bedroom. Look at some areas of the room for three to five seconds. Any longer can be awkward. Then dart your eyes to another location.
  • Body posture and facial cues: Ensure you’re pulling your shoulders back and not slouching, smile, and keep your arms at your sides.
  • Tone and inflections: An audience will drown you out if you’re monotone. Learn to stress certain words, end some questions with a higher pitch, and repeat some sentences slower than others.

Next time you practice and record yourself, you’ll know where to improve.

Learn More About Your Audience

Let’s say you must deliver an inspirational speech to an audience of 300; what would you write about?

Hopefully, you don’t have an answer! After all, what is inspirational to a room of eleven-year-olds is far different than an auditorium filled with industry-leading tech experts. 

The whats and hows of your speech depend solely on your audience. 

Before you put pen to paper, learn about the crowds:

  • Age
  • Gender
  • Religion
  • Topic expertise
  • Personality
  • Educational level

Learning all this might seem tedious. But when you can find common ground, use the correct terminology, and dress to impress, you’re more likely to engage those strangers from afar.

Plan Your Speeches [Don’t Leave Out the Details]

Improving your public speaking skills is a two-fold journey: honing your confidence in front of a crowd and penning an unforgettable speech. Without well-planned content, your social skills don’t matter.

All amazing speeches begin with an outline where you’ll plan out a logical flow. Start every presentation with something that’ll shock (or even mildly disturb) the audience, like a startling statistic or heart-wrenching anecdote.

This will draw them in during the first 30 seconds.

As you’re filling in your outline, infuse reputable data and resources far beyond Wikipedia, the class textbook, or basic news stories. Watch documentaries, read scientific studies, the whole nine yards.

Remember that 65% of all people are visual learners. So never overlook the importance of photos, videos, or graphs to support what you’re saying!

Focus on the Whys and Hows

The difference between a “good” and “great” public speaker lies in the presentation’s depth. You learned about the Five W’s (and One H) back in elementary school. Now, at 20-something, it’s time to use them to your advantage finally.

When you’re writing a speech, focus on two: why and how.

If you reveal a shocking statistic, let it sink in and allow the audience to stew over it for a moment. Then, either explain what it means in a more in-depth context or provide more background information.

For example, if you say “the stock market crashed in 2007 to 2008,” don’t brush past the topic. Mention what caused it or how it impacted other markets. 

Not only will it satisfy an audience’s curiosity early on, but it’ll keep the crowd in the loop. Otherwise, they’ll ask for those same answers at the end.

Don’t Deny Your Nerves!

Even world-renowned public figures struggle with nerves and anxiety before daunting presentations. But the more you picture the worst-case-scenario (like stumbling over your words), the heavier your stress will be before your speech.

Remind yourself that perfection isn’t the goal; progress is!

Moments of silence are fine and offer natural pauses. Technology isn’t always your best ally, and lagging WiFi or buffering videos won’t make or break your presentation. If you spit out the wrong word, correct it and slow down!

Those dozens or hundreds of audience members took their seats willingly. For the most part, they want to learn more and want you to do well.

Turning your presentation into a conversation by asking questions can help soothe your nerves and the pressure. “Raise your hand if …” or asking audience members to share relevant stories can do wonders for the jitters.

Watch the Public Speaking Pros At Work

Nothing will intrigue a crowd more than being unabashedly yourself. After all, a robotic, long-winded, straight-from-the-slides presentation will put even the most interested audience members to sleep.

So now that you know what to say, learn how to say it!

Begin by watching TED Talks, a platform putting the world’s leading philosophical, business, science, and health voices on the main stage. 

As you’re watching, look for their:

  • Tone
  • How they carry themselves
  • Facial expressions and hand movements
  • Pauses

These 20-minute YouTube clips are just the beginning. If you’re still mastering your public speaking skills, study famed speeches from the greats: Tony Robbins, Martin Luther King Jr., Winston Churchill, and more.

Conclusion

Public speaking may never be your most substantial skill set if you’re a natural-born introvert. But it also doesn’t have to leave you sick to your stomach or panicking uncontrollably leading up to the big day.

We’ll leave you with two words of advice:

  1. Practice. Some people can captivate a crowd with an oddly engaging story about buying bananas at the store. The rest of us are still building confidence and perfecting our mannerisms and tone. So be sure to practice.
  2. Lower the bar. If you judge your skill by the awkward pauses, technological mishaps, or lack of thundering applause, you’ll defeat your ego. Lower the bar and strive to be better than last time.

Go out there with the mindset of, “This is going to be my best speech yet!”

Adam Marshall is a freelance writer who specializes in all things apartment organization, real estate, and college advice. He currently works with Grove at Ames to help them with their online marketing.

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