Even the best public speaker in the world struggles to find their voice. The difference between an average speaker and a good one is practice. They try different approaches, analyze their performances and make adjustments when needed. A great public speaker finds a method that works for them and then sticks with it. It may be helpful to have some tools to help you identify areas that could use improvement in your speaking ability. These tools will allow you to visualize your skills and determine what needs work.
Learn from others’ mistakes.
Watch and learn from other people’s presentations. It’s one thing to read a book or blog post about public speaking, but it’s a whole other thing to watch other people present. Note what they do right and what they do wrong.
Learn from others’ mistakes. The next time you listen to a bad presentation, don’t just walk away shaking your head. Ask yourself “Why was this presentation bad?” Also ask yourself if there were any redeeming qualities of the presentation and ways you can bring those qualities into your own talks.
Record yourself for review.
Recording yourself is a great way to pinpoint the most important areas to improve on, especially if you can’t find someone else to critique your performance. The best method is to use a video camera, but if you don’t have access to one (or simply don’t feel like scrounging around for it), you can also record yourself on your phone or with a webcam. Wherever your recording device, make sure you’re far enough away that you can take in the entire picture of how you look and sound.
Afterward, review the video with an eye for the following:
- Does my posture show confidence? Am I slouching? Is my head down?
- How do I look during transitions between points in my speech?
- What does my facial expression tell people about me as a speaker? Do I look friendly or angry? Bored or excited?
- Am I speaking too quickly or slowly? Do I exhibit any verbal tics (using “ums” or “likes” all the time)?
Make eye contact with audience members.
Making eye contact with audience members is a great way to make a speech feel more personal. As you practice, try making eye contact with people placed all around the room, from the front row to the back. If you can successfully connect with individuals in every area, it will allow your message to reach a wider audience and help you feel more confident during the actual performance.
If you’re not used to speaking publicly, however, this may be easier said than done. It’s natural for nervous speakers to focus on their script or stare into space while they read through it. If this rings true (or close to it), then start off by focusing your efforts on connecting with those who are closest to you while performing your speech. As you practice and become more comfortable presenting in front of an audience, gradually increase your range until eventually, you’re making eye contact everywhere in the room.
Remember: You know what it’s like when someone reads from their notes but doesn’t look up at all? It’s incredibly boring! When giving any presentation—whether it’s an important work presentation or just chatting about your day at lunch—make sure that you maintain some level of eye contact with others around you so that they stay engaged and interested in what you have to say!
Learn to love the sound of your own voice.
The only way to become a good public speaker is to practice. The first step is getting comfortable with your own voice so that you can speak with confidence and authority. Here’s what you need to do:
- Record yourself reading out loud in advance of a presentation. This will help you identify which words or phrases you have trouble pronouncing, and allow you to practice them until they are second nature.
- Get comfortable listening to the sound of your own voice on playback (so others will be more comfortable hearing it).
- Try this exercise: record yourself reading something funny, like an excerpt from a book or an article, then play it back for friends or family and ask them if they’d listen to more of your storyteller’s voice if it was featured on Audible or another digital audio platform.
- Do the same for friends who speak publicly often: record them reading aloud and ask if they’ve ever considered starting their own podcast based on their speaking style!
When in doubt, smile.
A frown can make you appear nervous, which will make your audience feel uneasy. Smiling makes you appear confident and approachable. It may feel awkward at first but, as the old saying goes: practice makes perfect. If you need to work on your smile, spend time in front of a mirror practicing different types of smiles. Make sure to keep your teeth covered if you have uneven or crooked teeth.
Try smiling during your next presentation and see if it helps reduce your anxiety levels or helps gain favor from the audience.
Use relevant humor.
- Humor can be a powerful tool that helps you connect with your audience. However, it is also a double-edged sword, and can quickly turn on you if used incorrectly.
- To avoid this, do not use humor that makes fun of yourself or others. It could make the audience feel uncomfortable and awkward. In addition, keep in mind that humor is not meant to cover up a lack of knowledge or preparation in your speech. If it does, then your audience will see right through any attempt to use humor as an escape route.
Choose a clear thesis statement or key point — and stick to it.
Think of your thesis as the mission statement for your presentation. It’s what you want to say, and it should be one sentence long. Thesis statements are often clear and concise, so you should try to make yours that way too. Your thesis should also be specific and arguable—that is, something that you think is true and can defend with evidence. You don’t have to be speaking about something controversial for it to meet this criteria: even a simple declarative statement like “the sky is blue” could be challenged by someone who doesn’t believe the sky is blue (or who simply wants to argue with you!). As long as there are two sides people could take on an issue, it has the makings of a strong thesis.
You will be nervous. It’s perfectly normal to feel nervous when you’re standing in front of an audience, but it’s important to keep your nerves under control so that they don’t get in the way of delivering a great speech. A good trick is to make sure you breathe slowly and deeply throughout your presentation. When we are nervous, our breathing becomes shallow and quickens. This not only makes us feel even more tense, but it also makes it harder for us to speak slowly and calmly, which can cause us to panic. Instead, try taking deep breaths with your nose and exhaling through your mouth before you go on stage each time—it should help slow down your heart rate and calm you down.
Reduce filler words like ‘um’ by pausing between sentences and thoughts.
Reducing filler words is an important part of speaking with confidence. It’s not, however, the only way to fill the gap in your speech to avoid using them. If you pause for too long, you risk losing your audience’s interest entirely, so try using some other techniques. Hand gestures and engaging body language can keep your audience entertained while reducing mental pressure for yourself.
Remember to pause in the middle of a sentence rather than at the end—if you stop right before saying something important, it could leave a lasting impression on your audience that distracts from key points or comes across as uncertain.
Use your hands to help emphasize key points.
When we speak, our hands can say a lot more than our words. For example, if we try to express the idea that “this speech is boring,” and we make sweeping gestures with both arms, crossing them below the level of our waist (a low position), how do you think this will be perceived? In this case, since our movements are excessive and out of place for the content of our message, it appears as though we are trying too hard to sell something that isn’t true. On the other hand, if I were to say “I’m having an amazing time speaking in front of all of you,” but my hands remained by my sides or crossed at my chest (high positions), my gestures would reveal that I don’t really believe what I am saying.
The key is to use your hands naturally when speaking: don’t overdo it, don’t underdo it. Gestures should only be used when they have a purpose; otherwise they will distract your audience from hearing what you have to say.
You can become a better public speaker even if you’re not used to speaking in front of other people.
Public speaking can be a daunting task if you’re not used to it. But don’t worry, anyone can become better at it with practice. Here are some tips that’ll surely help you improve your public speaking skills:
- Get comfortable with your voice
- Be confident in yourself and your topic
- Practice, practice, practice! Rehearse out loud until you feel comfortable giving your speech or presentation in front of others
- Don’t say “um” or pace back and forth during the presentation – it’ll make you look nervous and may distract the audience from the message you’re trying to deliver
- Get the audience’s attention at the beginning by telling an interesting story, asking a question, or relating an experience to them
There are many resources and pieces of advice out there on how to improve your public speaking skills. By doing your research before you speak, thinking about the audience, planning your speech well in advance, practicing and being confident, you can easily improve your public speaking skills. Make sure to practice each time you speak in public so that you are more comfortable towards the end. It also doesn’t hurt to have some notes for added support!