Public speaking is an essential skill for both academics and the working world. Whether you’re presenting at a conference, leading a team meeting, or addressing a classroom full of students, being comfortable in front of an audience is important. Here are some tips that can help you master public speaking.
1. Stand like a superhero.
Before you even begin, breathe deeply and slowly through your nose, filling your lungs with air, then exhale through your mouth with a sigh to empty your lungs as much as possible. Now stand up straight with your feet shoulder-width apart, hands clasped behind your back as if you were holding onto something for balance. Keeping yourself centered this way will prevent distracting fidgeting that could take away from the message of what you’re saying. For an added layer of confidence, think of how a superhero might stand: relaxed and confident in their abilities yet ready to spring into action at any moment. Your audience will respond more favorably to someone who appears calm and collected!
2. Speak like an everyday person.
One of the best ways to connect with your audience is to speak like a normal human being—not a technical textbook. Avoid using overly complicated words or jargon that only you and three other people in the world understand. Instead, use language that your grandmother would understand. The more common the language is, the easier it will be for your audience to grasp what you’re saying.
To make yourself even more relatable, find examples from everyday life and use them in your speech as illustrations of what you’re saying. For example, if you’re giving an informational talk about planning a dinner party, you might share the story of when you had one and forgot to get ice for drinks! It’s smarter than it sounds 😉
You can also use humor to connect with your audience. If there’s something funny about the topic at hand—something that all of us as humans can relate to—don’t be afraid to open up and tell a joke or two. Granted, not everyone thinks they’re funny (myself included), but sharing something funny during a public speaking engagement can really help relieve some tension and bring everyone together. Plus it will make everyone want to come back for more!
Above all else: relax! Being yourself will set both you and your audience at ease so that everyone has fun during your talk.
3. Time yourself.
While it’s important to not rush through your speech, you also don’t want to go on for too long.
How long is too long? It depends on the type of public speaking event you’re attending. If it’s a formal event like a wedding or funeral, plan on speaking for no more than five minutes. For something less formal like a birthday celebration or toast at work, keep it under 10 minutes.
Practice delivering your speech while holding a timer in your hand. You can set the timer to ring after five minutes if you’re going to be giving a short speech; set it for two hours if you’ll be giving longer ones (at which point, you should begin winding down and end soon).
You can also time yourself by watching an audience member and stopping as soon as he appears bored or distracted (see tip #4).
4. Use props and visuals.
Props and visuals are a wonderful way to bring in your audience. They lend a visual representation of what you’re talking about and make it less abstract for your listeners. If you’re talking about world travel, bring in a map, or if you’re talking about healthy eating, bring in some food samples.
Visuals can be very powerful–so powerful that they can actually distract both you and your audience so try not to rely on them too much. I love it when I hear someone speaking “off the cuff” but their speech is nearly flawless and engaging: it makes me think that maybe they are winging it! It is best to have some good visual props ready but do not rely on them so much that if something happened to them (they broke) then your speech would fall apart. Try to get yourself into the mindset of being able to give an effective speech no matter what happens with your props or visuals.
5. Connect with your audience.
If you’re like me, your knee-jerk reaction to the idea of public speaking is a healthy combination of “haha no” and an overwhelming urge to flee. Aside from overcoming that initial fear, one of the most important things you can do as a speaker is connect with your audience. This will make it easier for you to get in front of people and make your presentation or speech more engaging for them.
Here are some ways to connect with your audience:
- Make eye contact. This is particularly important if you’re addressing a large group; making eye contact with the people in the back row demonstrates that they’re just as important as folks in the front row. If this feels uncomfortable at first, try focusing on just one person at a time, but don’t zone out completely! Keep breathing and remember there are other humans in the room—you’ll be able to tell because they’ll generally be laughing or crying at whatever you say, depending on how funny or heartbreaking your story/presentation/lecture really is.
- Ask questions throughout your presentation. Your audience will feel more invested in what you have to say, especially if they feel like their input has some influence on what’s going on (and who doesn’t want that?). Also consider asking for feedback after giving a presentation—this will help refine future presentations and give confidence knowing that others found value in what you had to say (even if it was only about which font looks best).
- Use humor! Jokes can help keep both sides engaged and even lighten up any tense topics or tough questions from audience members. And by tough questions we mean “Why did I choose this class again?” rather than anything technical—your audience probably won’t have any insight into why helicopters hover overhead all night long during finals week (or maybe they will? Who knows).
- Speak loudly enough so everyone can hear you but softly enough so listeners have to lean forward to hear what you’re saying (unless
6. Smile to relax your facial muscles and reduce stress — it also creates positive energy in the room, which helps you connect with your audience.
Smiling is a great way to connect with people. It also helps you relax and reduce stress by loosening the tension in your facial muscles. In addition, smiling can help you connect with your audience because it creates positive energy in the room!
7. Record yourself to know what you look and sound like to the audience so you can adjust as needed for next time, or use it as a training tool for someone else (with their permission).
- Record yourself and/or playback a recording to see how you look and sound.
This can be helpful for a few different reasons:
- You can watch the video and hear the audio of your presentation as your audience did, and you may notice things you want to adjust or change as needed for next time.
- If someone else was in the audience, ask them if they would mind if you recorded their reactions (with their permission). This can be equally valuable. For example: Were they engaged? Was there anything that didn’t make sense? Did something confuse them?
- If another person is giving presentations with what you’ve created, this video can be used as a training tool for them.
8. Practice your timing — make sure you begin early enough that you end at the appropriate time and don’t run over!
Knowing how long it takes to deliver your speech is important for a couple of reasons. It helps you balance out the content of your speech, by allowing you to figure out how much detail you can go into while still finishing within the designated time frame. It also gives you an idea of how long it may take to answer questions—and if there is any additional time left over, you’ll want to be able to think of ways to fill that in!
In order to practice your timing, set aside a chunk of time where you can speak through your entire presentation without being interrupted or rushed. Use a timer, stopwatch or clock (or look at ________, if you don’t have one handy) as you talk so that you can see if there are any parts where your language or delivery is slowing down the pace. If there are extraneous elements that could be cut out in order to stay within the time allotted for speaking and/or answering questions, note them down for later consideration.
If possible, practice with someone else who can help hold up signs signaling when certain milestones have been reached (beginning/middle/etc.) so that it feels more like the experience will on the day itself!
9. Use pauses to your advantage — they can be powerful and will help keep your nerves in check!
- Use pauses to your advantage — they can be powerful and will help keep your nerves in check!
Now pause again.
And once more…
Congratulations! You’re a professional public speaker now (Not really, but this is where I’d insert a joke if I were one). Pauses are an important way to add emphasis to points you want to make, and they do wonders for your nerves. When you pause for just a few seconds before answering a question or making an important point, it shows that you’re not speaking off the cuff. It also makes the audience wait with anticipation for what you’ll say next, so there’s more pressure on yourself to deliver something powerful when you do speak again. Pauses can be used as fillers while you think about what you want to say or how best to phrase something; this tactic can also lend credibility by showing the audience that you are considering all sides of an issue before speaking out about it.
Using pauses strategically in conversation is not only polite — it’s funny too! As anyone who has ever watched “Arrested Development” knows, pausing after saying something should induce laughter can turn even the driest of lines into comedy gold (e.g., “I don’t understand the question … and I won’t respond to it”).
The techniques listed here will help you deliver an engaging speech that people will remember, even if they forget everything else!
You can be a better public speaker, and the techniques listed here will help you deliver an engaging speech that people will remember, even if they forget everything else!
It is important to be confident in your approach when making a public speech. In order to improve your public speaking skills, you should research industry leaders who are known for their effective speaking techniques. The techniques listed here have been proven to be successful in improving and advancing the public speaking skills of speakers across the globe.
Some examples of techniques that can help improve your public speaking skills include:
At the end of the day, public speaking skills are about more than just wishing you were a better speaker. It’s about being able to develop those skills over time, and dedicating focused time towards including more effective practices into your routine. It’s about making time for improvement, rather than glossing over it. Most importantly, it’s about knowing that there is something you can do to make yourself a better speaker—and then taking action on that knowledge.