Public speaking might not be something that you see in your future. How often will you really need to give a presentation or display something in front of your colleagues? However, public speaking may occur more often than you think.
In fact, The National Institute of Mental Health cites that a fear of public speaking affects approximately 73% of the population.
Workplace presentations are, in many careers, incredibly commonplace. And if you find yourself floundering when tasked with the duty of giving a clear, compelling talk, then you probably need some help improving your public speaking skills.
Being a good public speaker is a fantastic talent to have in your arsenal. It can help you feel more confident overall, and communicating your ideas with clarity can help your reputation and improve the confidence that others have in you. For these reasons and more, it can significantly help you to progress in your chosen career.
You may feel as though this is something you are not naturally gifted at – after all, aren’t great orators just born more confident than the rest of us? Well, sometimes, but not often! Being a brilliant public speaker is more of a learned skill than something you can thank nature for.
So if you are looking to nurture your public speaking skills, read on. We have collected ten top tips you can use to improve your skills to give great presentations and project the knowledge only you can share!
1. Make a plan
You might imagine that truly brilliant public speakers can rattle off a fantastic speech at a moment’s notice. They make it look so easy and natural, as though they are just talking to friends, and everyone laughs in the right places or nods in agreement with those vital facts and figures.
However, very few people are truly exceptional orators without a severe amount of planning. Most things that look effortless are only designed that way! The best public speaker you know will have a dedicated plan of action to make their delivery seem off the cuff. So make sure you take a leaf from their book and plan ahead.
Making a plan includes writing down what you want to say, imagining any questions that the audience may raise, and looking into where you will be giving your talk. Being well prepared will make you more comfortable when the time comes, and you will be prepared even if something unexpected happens.
2. Practice makes perfect
Just like very few exceptional orators go into a speech without a plan, even less would consider presenting without practice! Practice really does make perfect, and this is especially true in the world of public speaking.
Ensure that you have written down everything you want to say ahead of time and practised it to yourself and, if you have any friends, colleagues, or a spouse who will give you some feedback, it helps to perform it for others.
The more you practice your speaking, the more confident you will feel, and this will also help you to weed out any turns of phrase that will fail to grab your audience and check to see if lighter moments land well.
You can also use your practice time to reduce down the amount you have to read directly from paper. No one wants to give a presentation to a piece of paper, and the more familiar you become with your material, the less you will rely on a written script.
Reduce it to note cards with prompt words to help you remember where you’re going next – you will be less likely to repeat yourself or trip over your words this way but will still be able to be animated and engaged.
You can practice your public speaking with interactive online exercises.
3. Tell a story
Even a presentation reliant on the facts and figures needs to tell a story, with a beginning, middle and end. Think about the narrative that your speech is framed around – are you presenting about a big process change? Try talking about the old way of doing things, how you have developed the new way, and the current and future benefits. This is an entire story that will keep listeners engaged and allows you to be concise.
If suitable, it helps to take this tip even more literally. Starting your talk with a personal story helps to draw listeners in immediately. Sticking the example of process change, you could tell a story about a time you struggled with how the old process worked and the consequence of that which led you to develop a new way of working.
A little humour is a great bonus here, as it grabs attention immediately. Trust us – it’s a lot more effective than starting with dry graphs and numbers!
4. Pay attention to body language
Body language really does matter. You should definitely not be reading directly from a sheet of paper, as this tends to draw all the animation away from you. Make sure you are smiling, with good posture, and that you are making eye contact with your audience.
This projects a clear image of confidence, which will, in turn, make you a much more magnetic speaker. Not only that, but looking at your audience engages them – if they know you’re looking at them, they are a lot less likely to be checking their phones!
If you struggle with eye contact initially, pick a spot slightly above someone’s head. It still looks like you are making eye contact, but it is easier for those new to public speaking.
You also need to make sure you aren’t fidgeting too much. Gesturing is a great way to appear more animated, but too much movement can be distracting and shows those nerves you want to hide.
5. Take a breath
We know, we know – you’re an adult, you know how to breathe. But keeping your breathing steady and even when you are nervous, is a brand new challenge! Do some breathing exercises in the run-up to your speech, and make sure to practice these just beforehand.
This will help you be steady and calm yourself, keeping your heart rate even and preventing adrenaline from spiking too much during your public speaking. Not only that but breathing slowly and evenly will allow you to deliver your speech in a clearer and more measured manner.
6. Include your audience
Are you nervous about having to carry an entire presentation all on your own? The good news is, the best public speakers engage with their audience. This ensures that they are listening and feel involved while having the bonus result of feeling less alone in your speaking.
You can ask leading questions that will allow the audience to smile and nod along, and if possible, you can even ask specific questions of audience members.
If you’re too nervous about doing this unexpectedly, ask someone beforehand if they mind being engaged with you during your talk. It’s a chance to show off their knowledge or to ask you something specific. They will probably be eager to help you out, and you will appear confident and commanding as a speaker.
7. Think positive
It is easy to let negative thoughts take over when you’re feeling nervous about public speaking. But one of the best ways to deal with your nerves is to let yourself think positively!
This is easier if you have prepared and practised. Imagine the presentation going exactly as you want it to – there is no reason it shouldn’t! You are fully ready to take on questions, and you know your material well.
Thinking positive thoughts helps you feel more confident as you approach your public speaking, which will shine through to your audience.
8. Pause for thought
You don’t have to talk the whole time you are public speaking. We know that sounds counterintuitive, but silence can actually be your best friend. If you have just made a big point, don’t rush on to the next one immediately. You can pause for a moment to allow your audience to digest what you have said.
Leaving a few beats of silence also allows you to gather your thoughts before you launch into the next part of your speech and gives you a more commanding presence in the room. It also simply has the benefit of making you appear far more in control and far less nervous.
9. Play it back
This might make you cringe, but playing back your public speaking is the only way to really know how you appear to others. Ask someone to record you as you give your presentations, and you will quickly see any problem areas.
Are you flapping your hands when you talk, reading too much from your notes, or just saying “um” before every sentence? A recording will help you to remedy these flaws through reflection and practice.
10. Rest and reflect
After public speaking, you may feel drained and even a little jittery – especially if you are new to it or are more introverted. Try to give yourself some time to rest afterwards.
Go out for a cup of tea, sit quietly, and take a breath. Reflect back on what went well and what you could improve upon next time. You did it! And you deserve a moment of quiet after conquering such a big challenge.
Are you feeling a little more confident about giving those workplace talks? With these handy hints, your public speaking will come on in leaps and bounds. So take a deep breath, make sure your back is straight, and give that presentation with a smile.