Updated: May 5
Public speaking is a great skill to learn and master as it builds credibility as a subject matter expert, enables us to influence people, and allows the sharing of knowledge and experiences with others. While some people develop strong public speaking skills and learn to enjoy the practice early in their career, the truth is that everyone starts their public speaking journey the same way: nervous, scared, and feeling insecure in their abilities. For some, it may be that they don’t like to be the center of attention or feel that what they are trying to say sounds better in their head than it does when spoken out loud. For others, it is simply the pressure of standing before an audience and remembering what they came to say. Whatever the reason that public speaking becomes a challenge, there is hope! Luckily, public speaking is a skill that anyone can learn, and be improved upon, with a few small changes and simple insights. As with any skill, consistent practice is key, whether it be in more formal environments like meetings, presentations at work, and conferences or in informal social settings, such as group gatherings or friendly outings. Our experts have some great advice to help you become a better public speaker and this article will explore these in more detail.
It’s Not All About You
This may seem a bit counterintuitive, given that the whole idea of public speaking revolves around an entire group of people solely focused on what you have to say. In reality, whether it’s a speech, a report, or a toast, it’s all about your audience. Relating to your audience is critical to success for several reasons. First of all, it will help you to engage them right at the onset - think about your tone, level of formality, and elements such as appropriate humor that you might be able to use with respect to the particular audience you are speaking to. Connecting with your listeners creates comradery that makes you appear more genuine. Intentionally focusing externally rather than perseverating on your feelings and fear can also help reduce the stress and anxiety associated with public speaking.
Prepare, Don’t Rehearse
Whenever possible, use an outline instead of a script. Many public speaking initiatives are interactive so building and using an outline will help you to have a natural conversation with your audience as opposed to delivering a stiff recitation. Reading from a script limits your ability to connect with your audience. However being prepared with an outline of your topic allows you to make eye contact and “read the room” in addition to giving you more time to consider and answer questions from audience participants. You can take cues from how the audience is reacting to your presentation to know if you should make slight adjustments to your style or tone to be more engaging. However, be careful not to react to every single comment or question and stay focused on what you’re talking about. Also, remember that pauses and genuine statements are essential to the flow of communication. This goes for everything from facial expressions to gestures. If you don’t use a lot of gestures, don’t force it - your audience can tell when you’re faking it. The same is true for facial expressions. Connect what you are saying with genuine emotion so that your audience will understand that you are authentic, enthusiastic, and passionate about your topic. This will in turn make them more interested in what you have to say.
Embrace the Process
We can all learn from our experiences and as a result, become more skilled at what we do. This is especially true with public speaking. Regardless of whether your engagement is a hit or a bust, you must be open to feedback and continue to practice the art of public speaking in order to succeed. It might be that you didn’t prepare as well as you could have, or perhaps the audience was required to attend and didn’t really want to be there, or maybe your delivery was just off. Whatever the case, many people make the mistake of letting a bad day blow their confidence. Public speaking is a skill like any other and continuing to practice and speak in front of audiences of varying size and composition will give you a broader scope of experience - every engagement counts! If you are fortunate enough to get feedback from the audience or organizers, take it constructively instead of personally. Remember that it isn’t a reflection on you, it is guidance regarding the aspects of your presentation that you can focus on in order to improve. Capitalize on that valuable information and use it to hone your skills in those areas.
It's clear that public speaking is a skill that only improves with practice. Luckily, strategies to increase your efficiency and effectiveness don’t have to be complicated. As previously stated, focusing on your audience, preparing rather than rehearsing, and embracing and learning from every speaking engagement are great ways to boost your confidence and enhance your abilities. With consistent practice and a commitment to growth, anyone can become a successful public speaker.