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Whether it’s for a class presentation in school or a speech at a wedding, public speaking can be nerve-racking. You can overcome a fear of public speaking, though, with a few helpful tips and a lot of practice.
What Is Public Speaking?
Public speaking is the act of talking in front of a live audience with the intent to educate, persuade, or entertain your listeners. Public speaking is a broad category that includes formal public speeches in front of large audiences—like a keynote address at a conference—and more informal speeches in front of smaller audiences—like a toast at a dinner party. Effective verbal and nonverbal communication skills are necessary for a public speaker to successfully engage their audience.
5 Reasons to Master the Art of Public Speaking
Good public speaking skills can benefit both your personal and professional life, and they are worth developing in for a number of reasons:
- To boost your confidence: Overcoming fear of public speaking gives you poise and makes you less nervous in social situations.
- To facilitate career advancement: Whether they help you perform better in job interviews or ace a big presentation, effective public speaking skills are essential for anyone who wants to be in a leadership position in the workplace.
- To become a better communicator: Learning public speaking skills will make you reflect on and improve your overall communication skills. This helps you drop bad speaking habits and become a better communicator in your everyday life.
- To expand your social and professional networks: The more engaging and captivating you are when speaking, the more others will want to interact with you. The confidence you build by honing your public speaking skills also makes you more likely to approach and converse with potential new friends and business partners.
- To build your influence: Public speaking is an amazing tool for spreading your point of view. Whether your goal is to advocate for an important political cause or to simply tell a funny story to a group of friends, improving your public speaking skills makes it easier to influence the reaction of your audience.
10 Tips for Public Speaking
Public speaking doesn't come naturally to most people, but if it's something you struggle with, start small. First, gain speaking experience in low-pressure situations in front of small groups, and work your way up from there. The more you implement these public speaking tips, the more comfortable you’ll be at public speaking.
- Know your audience. Preparation equals confidence. Even those people who embrace the stage and look like they’re ad-libbing their way through a great speech have some predetermined talking points. The way you present those points, in large part, should be determined by your audience. Before outlining your speech, ask yourself what your audience members want to hear.
- Visualize success. It's natural to worry about failure before you speak in front of a crowd, but negative thoughts only increase your nerves. Instead, in the moments before you take the stage, visualize yourself knocking it out of the park, and imagine how amazing you'll feel once it’s over.
- Use a visual aid. In more formal speaking situations, public speakers often use visual aids to help give a more effective presentation. For example, highlighting your key points in a powerpoint slideshow is a great way to help your audience remember those points. Visual aids like charts, graphs, photos, and videos are also great ways to add additional context to information in your speech.
- Share personal anecdotes. Communicating effectively during a speaking engagement requires that you engage your audience. If you can insert yourself into your talking points, you’ll show that you mean what you’re saying.
- Know where to look. If you’re speaking to a very large crowd, look just over the crowd’s eye line. That will make it appear that you’re looking at everyone while giving you the personal comfort of not having to be constantly reminded of the crowd’s daunting size. In a smaller crowd, find that one person who’s making direct eye contact with you and hanging on to your every word. Speak to them. They’ll make you feel confident about your speech. The audience member who’s looking at their phone will only end up distracting you as well. Ignore them.
- Only write down the bullet points. It's tempting to write out your speech in full and read from a prepared script, but your words won’t sound genuine if you’re reading them verbatim from a piece of paper instead of addressing your audience directly. Even if you’re not reading from a piece of paper, you’ll still sound stiff if you’re delivering a memorized speech. This doesn’t mean you can’t write down anything. Using index cards with bullet points is an effective tool to help you remember your big ideas.
- Keep it simple. You don’t need to impress the audience with your sentence structure. You need to keep them engaged with short phrases and quick, snappy stories. Audiences always have limited attention spans, and your speech better cater to that. That said, your speech isn’t always going to be a hit. There’s not much you can do when that happens, so just keep talking like you’re killing it, and get through what you came there to say.
- Identify and eliminate your verbal tics. You may be prone to using filler words and phrases such as "you know," "um," and "like," so pay attention to your own speech patterns or watch a video of yourself speaking to make yourself aware of your unwanted verbal tendencies. Perfect diction and enunciation takes some serious practice, but it will be worth it when you take the stage to speak for an audience.
- Use positive body language. Good posture and a friendly smile work wonders to engage your audience. Also, rather than remaining stationary or hiding behind a podium, make sure to move when speaking. Walking around and using active hand gestures not only creates energy to hold your audience's attention, but it makes you appear more passionate about your topic.
- Practice. Nobody becomes an expert on their first try, so the more you practice public speaking, the easier it becomes. Whenever you're presented with an opportunity to speak in front of others, jump on it. While rehearsing alone isn’t as useful as practicing publicly, it still helps you become more comfortable and accustomed to your abilities.