For many students and working professionals, there comes a time when they are forced to make a presentation, speak in a group, or address a large public gathering. People who are not predisposed to speaking in front of audiences will break into a cold sweat and freeze with anxiety and nervousness at the sheer thought of having to do so. Public speaking does not come naturally and sometimes requires training and practice, through which any focused individual can master the art of speech delivery. “Delivering well” to a public audience involves what you want to express in a way that your audience understands. It implies that you are relaxed and empathic and know what you are talking about. So, what can you do to improve your public speaking skills and the art of speech delivery?
Without the need for professionals to help you, here are seven tips you can use by yourself to improve your public speaking abilities.
1. Observe & Learn
The very first step to improve your public speaking skills is to watch other well-known orators and public speakers and listen to their speeches attentively, even if the topic is not to your liking. Make observations and pay attention to the speaker’s tone, pitch, flow, pace, and pauses. Also, note how they emphasize certain words or points and how they convey the key takeaways of their speech. Study their body language and what they do when they have to stand in front of a podium or lectern, have an empty stage, and when they have to hold a microphone in one hand or have both their hands free to use.
To get you started, watch some of the TED Talks videos or listen to and watch some of the best public speakers globally on Toastmaster’s International.
2. Draft Sensibly
Understand the topic and research it thoroughly to avoid making vague generalizations. It is always a good idea to prepare a rough outline of your speech and key points and highlights before getting down to writing the first draft. Be careful to always keep to context and ensure a flow to the speech, where one paragraph connects to the next one seamlessly. Know who your target audience is, what age groups you are addressing, and any other considerations that you may need to factor in to draft your speech accordingly. Remember, a well-written speech is half the battle of public speaking won!
School-for-Champions provides some wonderful resources for speech writing, which can help you write your speeches effectively.
3. Keep it Simple
Understand your level and command of the language and write your speech to the extent and level you can handle. Avoid using complex sentence structures, vocabulary, and grammar, especially if you are unfamiliar with them. Doing so will make it harder to remember, refer to, or deliver, in front of an audience.
4. Make it Interesting
Try and make your speech exciting and engaging. Find ways of sprucing up your text instead of making everything mundane and boring your audience. Where possible, use audio clips, videos, photos, and slides to not only help you reduce the overall text in your speech but also keep the audience attentive and entertained. Adding jokes and anecdotes are sometimes a good idea, as are drawing comparisons and using analogies for certain points, all depending on the topic and occasion of the speech, of course.
5. Focus on Voice & Pace
The key to good public speaking is knowing how fast or slow you must talk and how to modulate your voice to sound good, be effective, and captivate and engage the audience. Please pay special attention to pauses and break down long sentences in a way that their length is not an impediment. Practicing variations in sentence delivery, tone and pitch, and breath control can dramatically improve your public speaking skills. When faced with complex words or jargon, look them up and learn how to pronounce them right. Diction and articulation also require focus.
Practice, practice, and practice more! Rehearsing is the best way of developing and sharpening your public speaking skills. One effective practice method is to stand in front of a mirror and deliver your speech. Another way is to record your voice (with a voice recorder) or yourself (video) and play it back to see how good you are and where you might need improvement. Delivering the speech to friends and family or a mentor will provide you with constructive criticism and genuine feedback, based on which you can work on changes to your speech or its delivery.
If you think you might need some help with delivering your speech, prepare some small quick-reference cards with key points – to jog your memory or serve as prompts.
7. Attend to Body Language
While some speakers are comfortable standing behind a podium and addressing an audience, others may prefer to move about. Then again, some want both their hands to be free to use, while others tend to be uncomfortable without holding a mic in one hand. Whatever be your preference, practice through pretense – pretend you have to deliver your speech in either or all of these scenarios and practice unless you know beforehand the stage settings. If it is a presentation, you must make it to a select audience, rehearse with family members because smaller audiences can sometimes make you more self-conscious, especially if they are made up of professionals and seniors. In general, though, have a relaxed body language and use your arms and movement on stage or in the room wisely, not overdoing any of it.
Pro Tip: Along with body language, proper eye contact can go a long way in making you comfortable when delivering your speech. When possible, and at the beginning of your speech, allow your eyes to scan the audience and identify comfort zones. You might also want to pick a handful of people who do not come across as intimidating and who seem genuinely attentive to you and make eye contact with them in turns. This technique can dramatically bring down nervousness and anxiety and put you at ease.
If these tips and your efforts prove inadequate and you still think you require help, consider signing up for a public speaking course. However, in the end, you will still need to practice, perfect, and gradually increase your comfort levels with audiences, all of which is fortunately achievable with a little focus, time, and effort. Here at Online Masters Colleges, we want all students to learn from this blog as graduate school demands students present and speak publicly. Most of the courses in graduate school involve presentations and speaking in front of the class.
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