10 Tips to Improve Your Public Speaking
Whether you like it or not, public speaking and communication skills are essential in almost every profession. I’ve often found myself shying away from improving my public speaking skills, using the excuse that it’s “just not my thing.” But that doesn’t fly in the real world. As young professionals, it’s a great benefit to obtain and enhance our speaking skills for everything from presentations, meetings, pitches and even Zoom calls. Someone that can speak well is an asset to a company for far more than just their primary job skills.
So what does it take to start improving those skills ? Since I wrote my first book a few years ago, I started looking into best practices in an attempt to improve. As it turns out, small changes and lots of practice can take you a long way.
I’ll share with you the top tips I’ve learned doing my own research and speaking with multiple public speaking and communications experts on my podcast and more. These may seem simple, but running over such details before an event or meeting will get you centered and focused on what matters most to connect to your audience.
1. Be familiar with the setting. Visit the room, stage or area you will present. Visualize the event before it happens and imagine yourself giving the speech or presentation. Mentally move through all the possibilities.
2. Practice, practice, practice. This may be the most important point. Practice what you will say over and over. Be sure you speak it out loud. Sometimes things sound different when said aloud. You’ll probably find phrases or words to change. You can never practice too many times.
3. Know the audience. Take note of the age, gender and cultural details of your audience. When you can speak “their language” (to to speak), they are more apt to listen closely and actually hear what you are saying.
4. Start with something light. Rather than digging right into the serious points you have on deck, break the ice with a personal anecdote, appropriate observation or another way to showcase your personality and help the audience connect with you as a person.
5. Breathe deeply and remember the first minute is the hardest. If you know your messages well, once you get started, nerves will begin to dissipate. Once you break the ice with your light opener, it all gets easier from there.
6. Don’t rush. Talking too fast is a classic mistake, but it can be avoided with practice and timing yourself prior to presenting. It might feel like you are speaking way too slow, but you want to make sure your most important points are felt and heard.
7. Back up your message with statistics, relevant data and visuals. Adding unbiased data points and visual representations to alternatively define your main points offer depth to the basic points you are making. Having these additions always relieves some anxiety.
8. Gauge the audience in real-time. In other words, read the room! Be sure to look at the people in the audience and adapt your tone and substance to their assumed needs. Don’t get so deep in your head that you ignore the people you want to reach.
9. Be confident. You know what you are talking about so act like it. Answer questions to the best of your ability and speak as if you are the world’s expert on this topic. The more confident you are, the more trustworthy and helpful your audience will find you.
10. Anticipate the unexpected. Something could always go wrong — a slideshow not working, your notes missing a page, a weird question from the audience. Prepare your brain to adapt and fly. You might even make a list of possible issues so you have already thought about them before they happen.
It’s incredible how many people in professional and political life don’t implement some of these basic skills. We watch regularly as President Joe Biden appears completely unable to adapt to the audience in front of him. Vice-President Kamala Harris frequently seems as if she hasn’t prepared at all for tough questions. Thus, both of them present a poor message and a weak perception to the American people — and the world.
Don’t be a cringe-worthy speaker. In the professional world, it’s often said it’s “all about who you know.” Second to that, I’d say, is “it’s all about communication.” Solid speaking and communication skills can cover a multitude of wrongs. It’s worth it to invest in this skill, either through practice on your own or joining a group like Toastmasters to take it to the next level.