Tips for Successful Public Speaking

Public speaking is consistently ranked as a top fear among people.[1] Over the past five years, I have had many public speaking opportunities and then the chance to go back and teach the skills I learned as a teaching assistant in a CEGEP public speaking course and as a training director of McGill’s Model United Nations Delegation Team. Through improving my own speaking skills and helping others improve or overcome their fear, I have developed a number of tips which I hope might help you.

Organizing Your Thoughts

The first key to a good speech is the contents; well-crafted speeches will leave viewers well-informed and confident in the material you presented. This can be done through incorporating facts, quotes, and statistics. Statistics are the best way to show off your research and catch people’s attention. Another way to do this is to highlight important subtleties in a topic. If you are presenting with a power point, these numbers can be bolded or presented in graphs.

The basic organization of a speech is the same as an essay: start with an introduction, followed by the body, and then the conclusion. Essentially, this means you should start by telling the audience what you are going to say, then going through each those things, and concluding by telling people what you just said.

Typically, your speech should have a point. Why is what you’re talking about important? Why is your idea better? This should be emphasized throughout. Many people reuse the same or a similar sentence in the introduction and conclusion of their speech. Your speech or presentation should start with a key phrase or idea that you will repeat throughout your speech; try to create a slogan for your ideas so that they become easier to remember. If you are replying or commenting on someone else’s work, try to highlight your own opinion or actions more so that viewers leave remembering what it is you want to do differently. These tools will help your idea stand out. Thus, we say that such speeches should be action-oriented: they bring forth a new actionable idea or plan.

Whether speaking time is short or long, start with the end in mind. When you go up and start your speech know how you want to start and want to end. Ending a speech strong is key. Knowing how you want to end your speech means that when you have ten or thirty seconds left you already know what to say and wrap up your speech neatly. Remember, you can bring notes up with you to help keep a structured speech. When it comes to statistics and action-oriented speaking, short notes to help stay on track are key.

The Non-Verbals

It is said that up to 95% of communication is non-verbal. When you speak, the words matter, but so do your facial expressions, movement, and body language. My favorite example of this is the Ted talk about nothing. If you’re more interested in the power of body language, check out this Ted talk.

To deliver a good speech you need to present yourself well. Make sure to look the listeners in the eye, try to really talk to your audience and own the stage. If you’re nervous, it’s because you want to do well not because you’re a bad speaker. Everyone gets nervous before their first speech, if they don’t look nervous it’s because they’re good at faking it. Half of looking not nervous is just pretending you own the floor when you speak. Aside from your mental state, consider what types of attire you are comfortable in, wear something that you will be confident in and that will match the situation. If you bring up notes have them on a small, neat notepad to look professional.

In order to improve your projection and enunciation, stand straight with your feet beneath your shoulders. Keep an open stance so that you can breathe more easily. Try not to move your hands too much as they can distract from a speech. Similarly, if you are in a big room, small gestures will not look nice. If you want to use gestures make sure they are appropriate for what you are saying, is the information important, is it a list? I have found that practicing speaking without gestures and then slowly adding them as I practice helps to make sure I only use them at opportune moments.

Practicing Speaking

Many people are afraid that their pronunciation, volume, pacing is off when they speak. There are a few tricks to overcome this. First, practice is key to successful speaking. Before a presentation run through it as many times as possible, that way you can familiarize yourself with words you aren’t used to saying out loud and make sure you have the right amount of content to fill the presentation time.

Perhaps the most surprising element of public speaking is the way that time passes when you are speaking. I often find that I have too much material for short speeches, but not enough for long presentations. The only way to avoid finishing short or getting cut off is to practice before hand. Not only is it hard to estimate how long you will speak for, it is hard to know how long you have been speaking for. To overcome this, find out when you will get timing markers (1 minute, 10 minutes, 30 seconds left, etc.) and figure out which part of your speech should be completed. If you are worried of speaking to fast or slow and not having the right amount of content, prepare two conclusions, one for if you run out of time and one for if you speak faster.

The best antidote for uhms during a speech is a pause. When you lose your train of thought or find yourself stuttering, just take a breath and stop for a few seconds. Typically, this pause will feel much too long but for the listener it is probably just the right amount of time for them to absorb what you have been saying.

If you are worried about the volume or speed of your speaking, try practicing in front of another person, they can let you know if you are yelling or whispering. The best cure however, is practice. If you can practice reading your speech aloud at a comfortable pace enough that it becomes second nature, you can repeat that during the presentation. Overall, with practice you will learn what your natural tendency is when you are nervous. Some people speak louder and faster, others speak quietly when they are nervous. Once you know your usual ‘bad habit’ you can compensate for it when less prepared by consciously trying to lower or increase your volume.

Lastly, I would like to make a quick note about speaking using a microphone. Using a microphone is one of the most disconcerting feelings if you have never used one before. If you are speaking with one for the first time, find out if you can go and use it before hand to get used to the echo of your own voice or the proximity at which you’ll need to be. If you are comfortable, taking the microphone out of the stand may make it easier for you to speak; you won’t have to lean in to the microphone.

[1] https://www.psychologytoday.com/ca/blog/smashing-the-brainblocks/201711/why-are-we-scared-public-speaking

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/wonk/wp/2014/10/30/clowns-are-twice-as-scary-to-democrats-as-they-are-to-republicans/?noredirect=on&utm_term=.3ce0981edf92

 

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