How to Improve Your Public Speaking Skills

Public Speaking Skills

If you generally avoid situations where you need to speak in public then just sit down and think for a minute and consider that at some point in your life you will have to do some sort of public speaking..

It may be

  • a presentation you have to give at work,
  • a toast at a party,
  • a workshop at a conference,
  • or even the best man’s speech at a wedding.

Whatever the “public speaking gig”,  without arming yourself with the relevant public speaking skills, you are going to have to face it head-on.


The Fear of Public Speaking

First of all, if you do have a fear of public speaking, it might help you to know you are not alone.

According to the US National Statistics for Mental Health, 75% of women and 73% of men suffer from  an anxiety about speaking, and further, when asked to rank their biggest fears they rank public speaking as a bigger fear than death!

The fear of public speaking is called “Glossophobia” and it is something most of us dread

Another way of looking at public speaking is to consider that many people make a living out of public speaking.

Motivational speaking, after dinner speaking, running conferences that sort of thing

And there is a whole new world which could be open to you if you get really good at public speaking, not to mention the benefits that it would bring to your self-confidence and to your prospects at work and in your career

But there is no getting away from the fact that for many people the thought of having to speak in public can make them feel like a nervous wreck.

Part of the fear is that in order to deliver a successful speech, so many things need to come together

And different people will have different anxieties.

I tend to sweat a lot and my biggest fear is simply being up on stage and sweating uncontrollably

Some people will be more bothered about their delivery, and others will have fears related to self-esteem and self-confidence

The good news is that with a few simple tips – specifically geared towards improving your public speaking skills – you can learn how to overcome these fears and deliver your next speech with confidence.

So here we go with 18 (plus) Public Speaking Tips – nicely arranged across

  • Research
  • Preparation
  • Delivery
  • Review

Written with the purpose of helping you improve your public speaking skills

Why Should You Listen to Me?

Good question – glad you asked

First of all, I should stress that I am by no means a “public speaking expert”

I don’t go out there and deliver rousing speeches a la Anthony Robbins, or have my audience in stitches with my after-dinner repartee

In fact, I am just an ordinary person who has had to do a number of speeches and presentations over the years.

Nothing particularly out of the ordinary –  weddings, toasts, work presentations that sort of thing

I did suffer from my own public speaking anxiety – and I have picked up some tricks and tips along the way which have really helped, so that I can say (quite honestly now) that I am a competent public speaker.

I certainly don’t suffer from the same nerves now.

But the only reason I don’t suffer from those nerves is that I always make sure I prepare for any speech I am going to do

And that is the key.

Preparation.

Learning how to prepare for a speech (or presentation) has helped me develop my public speaking skills in both my business and my personal life,

And preparation can help you no matter how old you are and how much public speaking experience you have had.

Whether you are looking to pick up public speaking skills in high school or looking to improve your presentation skills at work

As I said above, I’m really just an ordinary person who set out to improve his public speaking skills

And I have (improved them)

And this is what I learned on the way.

Let’s get started


Preparation is Key

Heard the saying “fail to prepare, prepare to fail”?

I know it’s a little bit cliched but in the case of a speech it is appropriate

So number 1 tip (and sorry to repeat myself) but if you want to improve your public speaking skills then preparation is the absolute key…

True enough, some people can deliver speeches “off the cuff” and are often very good at it.

But if you are at all nervous or reticent about public speaking then if you do nothing else, prepare carefully

  • Imagine an Olympic athlete “just turning up on the day”
  • Or a professional footballer who has not trained that week.
  • Or an actress in a theatre who has not learned her lines

I think you get the picture.

But the point is the athlete, the footballer, the actress would not be able to perform without preparation, and you should adopt the same attitude.

Remember, a successful presentation or speech is the culmination of many hours of preparatory work.

And it’s not just researching the topic of the speech – there are many other things you need to think about before you even start writing your speech

So without further ado, here are some great preparation tips…

Starting off with “Research”


Do Your Research

This is actually divided into a few “sub-tips” (you really are getting value today)

Determine What Type of Speech You Need To Deliver

Does it need to inform, persuade, thank people, or should it be “after dinner style”(ie: hilarious)?

It’s not really appropriate to deliver a hilarious “best man’s” type speech at a funeral (for instance)

Unless you want to cause a major stir

Before you start, just sit down and map out what you want your speech to be, and you’ll have made a good start

Know Your Audience

Take a couple of minutes  to think about your audience

  • Will they be friendly or hostile?
  • People you know or strangers?
  • Will it be a big audience or small?
  • Do they need to be entertained or informed?
  • Are they likely to be drunk or sober?

Knowing your likely audience will allow you to pitch your speech at the right level.

How Long Have You Got?

It’s really important to find out how much time you have allocated for your speech or presentation

There is no use in preparing an hours worth of material for a 5-minute slot (and vice versa)

What’s the Location?

  • Find out when and where you are presenting and if you can visit the location beforehand.
  • Get a feel for the surroundings, how close the audience is likely to be, and what equipment (if any) you will have at your disposal.
  • If it’s somewhere you don’t know plan to arrive in good time and get reliable directions (my wife would always insist on a “dry run” a couple of days before if we were going to somewhere we didn’t know.  If this is practical then it is a good thing to do

Research Your Topic

Interesting isn’t it that we haven’t even mentioned the content of your speech or presentation yet, and we are down to Point Number 6.

And maybe it goes without saying that you need to research your content

But many people don’t

  • See what’s available on the internet
  • Talk to “experts”
  • Or family/friends
  • Read as much as you can about your topic
  • Go on a course

Some speeches have a framework you need to follow

A wedding speech (for instance) would normally include toasts and thankyou’s- maybe giving out gifts as well

Get on the internet, watch YouTube videos, talk to people but above all try and get a feel for

  • the structure of your speech
  • get some ideas for content
  • and get a feel for what your speech must  contain

Are You Likely to Have to Field Questions?

And will you take questions as you go through or at the end?

Will it be interactive or just you presenting?

By this point you should have a reasonable feel for

  • what type of speech you are going to deliver
  • where and who your audience will be,
  • and an idea of the surroundings you will presenting in

Hopefully you will  already be more confident in your public speaking skills

Now onto the speech itself (drumroll please)


Prepare Your Speech

Now we get into the speech or presentation itself.

At this point you should know what type of speech you are giving, roughly who the audience will be, and the time that is available to you.

Now you need to think about the speech itself

We’ll start off with the construction of the speech and then move on (finally) to the delivery

Here are my tops tips for preparing your speech or presentation:

Construct Your Speech

Now you can start thinking about how your speech is going to be constructed

Break down the speech into the major points you want to make – you want to aim for around 3-5 key points.

This will help you structure your speech and keep it on track

Once you have your key points defined, build your content around them with the aim of finishing on your key point.

This should keep the speech focused

Get Content Input From Others

But make sure you understand the content yourself.

Try not to get too technical.

If you don’t understand what you are presenting it is doubtful that your audience will…

This should keep the speech focused

Choose Your Medium

There’s not really a “right or wrong” for which medium you use, but you do need to think about what is appropriate

  • If you need to use powerpoint do so.
      • Aim for 2-3 slides per key point and a summary slide at the end to re-iterate the points you have made
      • Don’t put too much on each slide – 4 or 5 bullet points are usually enough
      • Make sure you have the technology available to use powerpoint
        • A laptop
        • A projector of some sort
        • Somewhere to project the image onto
  • Use Cue Cards.
    • If you are using cue cards write them clearly
    • Make sure you have them in order and to hand
    • Practice before the big day to make sure that the order of things flows…

Rehearse… Rehearse …. Rehearse

Once you have rehearsed and constructed your speech, now is the time to practice, practice, practice

  • Rehearse it to yourself
    • in front of the mirror, in an empty office, go over it in your mind.
    • Do rewrites if you have to but make sure you know the content of your material even if you do not learn it line by line
  • Rehearse it in front of others –
    • depending on the situation, rehearse in front of business colleagues or friends and family to hone to perfection.
    • Take questions, take criticism, be prepared to re-write if necessary.
    • The key is to not only hone your content, but also practice your delivery.

Deliver It …..

How to deliver a presentation or speech, and the personal skills around it could form a full book  (with accompanying video narrative)

However, at this point you should have prepared well and be well-rehearsed so you are 90% along the road to delivering a great speech even before you step up before your audience.

Remember, preparation is still the key and there are things you can do even thirty minutes before a presentation which will make sure you deliver it as you want to.

Here are my top tips for delivering a first-class speech

Make Sure You Have Your Presentation to Hand

If you are presenting from a laptop make sure you have a copy of the presentation not only on your laptop, but if there are others presenting, on one of their laptops as well.

Have a copy on a USB stick and make sure you can find your presentation easily on your desktop.

If you can, have a printed copy of your slides so in the event of total equipment failure you still have something to talk around.

Dress Appropriately

Make sure you dress appropriately for the occasion

Business attire for a business presentation.

If you need to have a change of shirt with you in case of mishaps then have one available

Deal With Sweating

Excessive sweating can be an affliction that affects us all, especially if you are nervous or flustered

I suffer from it regularly, but it helps to make sure you arrive in good time – if you can be in the room 15 minutes early.

Wear plenty of deodorant and if you really think it is going to be a problem you could consider wearing a jacket.  It may actually make you hotter, but the underarm sweat will not show.

Arrive Early

Aim to arrive about 15 minutes early which will help you relax a little and also gauge your audience (and their mood!)

Try and Relax

easy to say, not so easy to do, but if you arrive in good time and have confidence in your preparation, and have rehearsed, then you should be as relaxed as you are going to be .. you can actually get away with quite a lot if you are relaxed about things

Be Passionate and Enthusiastic

Aim to deliver your speech or presentation with passion, enthusiasm, inject a little humor if you can and it is appropriate (though don’t overdo it – it can be a fine line to tread).

Aim to Speak Clearly and Concisely

Making sure that the people in the back of the room can hear you as well as those in the front.

Slow down if you are nervous

Recognize Your Annoying Habits

Do you recognize any of the following annoying distractions some speakers might have?

  • clicking pens,
  • jangling coins in your pocket (remove them beforehand),
  • moving from foot to foot,
  • clapping your hands
  • ums and aahs and errs ….

Get some feedback from your rehearsals and do your best to eliminate everything annoying or distracting that you can…

 


Public Speaking Skills …To Conclude

There you have it, pretty much all I know about public speaking skills and (hopefully) useful information to be filed away if ever you need it

I hope you now understand a little better about the importance of public speaking skills, and that the ability to develop such skills will help you in all aspects of your life.. who knows you may really take to it and take it up professionally – there are no shortage of public speaking jobs out there!

If you need further guidance go and seek out some public speaking classes or public speaking skills training, in your area.

There are also lots of organizations around such as toastmasters (in the US) or the Association of Public Speakers (in the UK) which will really help you ….

Remember, the key to successful public speaking is preparation.

It’s also about going out and “doing it” – and not shying away from speaking in public

By being prepared you should be able to improve your public speaking skills and deliver really effective speeches.

Good luck with your next engagement – whatever it is!

And if you need any more public speaking tips, check out this article

 

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