The Perks of Being a Public Speaker: How To Not Suck

I’m a teacher; a new one, at that. But, even I know that the ability to speak well in public is a big “pro” in life, at school, at work, and especially during interviews! As University students, we’ve all been through the occasional oral presentation. I’ve never been one to be nervous about speaking in front of others, but I do understand the butterfly-feeling in your stomach before you go up to give a talk. I get it. It’s hard. Societal pressures make it even harder. Is my hair tied up right? Do I look okay? Oh, gosh…these pants make me look fat. Am I wearing the right shoes? Will I forget any of my lines? Oh, crap…I hope I didn’t forget to print something. What if I can’t keep eye contact with the audience? Are people judging me? These are just some of the questions that may go through your mind before you get up there to do your presentation.

Here’s the thing, though. There are certain things that NEED to be done in order for you to truly succeed in giving presentations. I just taught a full motivational speech unit to my Grade 10 students and I explained that these are the fundamental components for any given speech:

  1. Eye Contact. 
    -Don’t look down at your cue-cards or your papers for the entirety of your presentation. It leaves your audience in an uncomfortable state of mind in which they do not feel intrigued or curious to hear any more of what you have to say. In giving your audience eye contact, by looking around the room, you are expanding yourself – your speech automatically becomes more positive.
  2. Movement.
    -Don’t stand in the same spot unless you are lecturing at a podium. If you don’t have any reason to stand still, then pace a little bit. That’s not to say that you need to jog around the room or jump up on a desk, but it helps to move a little bit, to keep your audience entertained and eyes locked on you. Pacing too much, however, can often make the audience a bit dizzy – use your judgment.
  3. Voice
    -Here’s the thing about voice. We all have one. You may speak a little bit lower, or maybe your voice is super forceful and loud. It doesn’t matter. Use your voice to the best of your ability. If you are a little bit nervous, introverted, shy, or anything of the like, if you love what you’re talking about, you can force yourself to stretch your voice a little bit. No need to scream…just convey your message in a clear voice. If you’re too enthusiastic or too loud (sometimes I’m a victim of this), the audience can feel a bit intimidated too. Use your voice in the right kinds of ways…don’t make yourself be anyone else. Don’t pretend to be like another presenter. Do your speech in YOUR way.
  4. Passion
    -If you aren’t interested about what you’re talking about, no one else will be. Do your research. Get your facts right. Make sure you can justify your words. That way, if anyone asks you questions, you won’t be caught off-guard. CARE about your topic.
  5. Memorization
    -You don’t necessarily need to memorize your presentation…but I would consider it. Think of all of the actresses and actors out there, the entertainers that memorize lines for a living. In memorizing lines, you develop a sense of “conviction.” A person who has clearly memorized their speech is obviously passionate about their topic and thus influences the audience even more.
  6. Extras
    -Add extra “oomph” to your speech by using a PowerPoint, a projector, music, activities for the audience, asking questions, using quotations by famous individuals, giving your own personal stories/opinions, addressing relevant cultural reference, using citations, etc.

Of course, every speech is different and not every single component applies to each genre of speech. However, if you take anything away from this post, let it be that eye contact, movement and passion are very important. If you don’t care about your speech, no one else will. Public speaking and presentations do not have to be terrifying. If you prepare and you care, you’ll do just fine.

For more information about my thoughts on motivational speeches, check out my blog post about my experience at “We Day: Montreal 2017” on my personal blog:

A Teacher’s Experience at “We Day” Montreal (2017)

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