Your knees turn to jelly as you take centerstage. Your hands tremble as you prepare your slides. You suddenly have a lump in your throat, and your heart has sunk to your stomach. The time you have been anticipating has finally come, but you’ve suddenly forgotten everything you were intending to say.
Does all this sound familiar? The fear of public speaking, also known as glossophobia, is extremely common, with some 72–75% of the population suffering from it according to research.
Despite being common, however, glossophobia is also “treatable”. In this article, we’ll go over 25 tips that can help in developing your public speaking skills so that you can deliver your next speech with more confidence and less fear!
Being able to stand in front of an audience and share your original ideas and personal stories can be incredibly empowering. The better you become at it, the less you’ll be phased by talking to people who may hold opposing views to you (on and off stage!), and the likelier you’ll be to influence others to consider your point of view.
In the workplace, having a way with words can decrease unnecessary conflict, improve your ability to negotiate and help you be seen as a confident decision maker. All these are crucial, especially when you’re in a leadership position or aspire to move up the ladder to a leadership role.
Can you recall a speech you’ve heard that you found inspiring? Part of its being memorable must have had to do with the speaker’s charisma. But what does said “charisma” actually consist of?
Charismatic speakers are ones that can convey their ideas confidently. They’re not afraid to share their own experiences and opinions, even on controversial matters. Not only do they have the backbone to defend what they believe in, but they’ve also got the knowledge to back up what they’re saying.
Often, great speeches are ones that have the audience thinking: “Oh — I had never really thought of it like that!”
It takes courage to step out in front of an audience and share your unique point of view compared to just recycling and churning out overused tropes: you’re giving the listener a glimpse into your inner world, which can leave you feeling vulnerable. This honesty is essential in establishing a connection with the audience, however.
If you’re the type of person who likes to read a lot, then you’ll have come across similar ideas many times. So, for a speech to move you, it needs to present “old” (or frequently talked about) information in new ways. And it takes creative thinking to achieve that!
Creativity will also allow a speaker to translate complex theories into easy-to-follow notions.
Emotional intelligence refers to skills and abilities like emotional regulation and self-awareness, both of which are needed to become a successful public speaker. Emotional regulation allows speakers to stay on top of their emotions and deliver great speeches even when they get cold feet. Self-awareness, on the other hand, allows them to pay attention to their body language and tone while on stage, two vital components to keeping the audience engaged.
Did you ever have a teacher or professor whose lessons were so boring that they put you to sleep? When a speaker lacks enthusiasm, their audience will inevitably also lose interest in the topic being discussed. The more passionately you can speak about an idea, the more likely you are to spark people’s curiosity and grab their attention.
Developing or improving your public speaking skills can take some time. However, with some consistent effort, you too could be stepping on that stage and making a lasting impact on dozens or hundreds of people. Here are 25 tips that can help:
1. Know your audience
Before you begin outlining any speech, it’s important to think who your message is for. Find out as much as you can about your listeners beforehand. What age groups will you be speaking to? What are they hoping to gain from your speech? If they’re older, what industry do they work in? How familiar are they with complicated terminology or industry-specific lingo and jargon?
You will need to know all this to be able to adjust your presentation and make it impactful.
2. Do your research
This should go without saying, but thorough research on the subject you will be talking about is absolutely essential to delivering an inspiring speech. After all, the more knowledgeable you are on the topic, the more self-assured you’ll be when speaking about it, especially in front of a large, live audience.
3. Organize your materials
If you don’t organize your thoughts and materials, you’ll risk jumping from one point to another, forgetting what you had originally intended to say.
Katherine Burik, founder of Interview Doctor, says: “I always begin my planning with the end in mind… What are the one or two main points I want the audience to leave with? Then I think about it from the audience’s perspective. Frame the entire talk around WIIFM [‘what’s in it for me’] and build around your main points, and you will have a great talk.”
4. Practice in front of the mirror
A good technique that many famous speakers use is practicing in front of a mirror. When you practice your speech this way, you can take mental notes of your facial expressions, hand gestures and body movements and see what needs improvements.
Also, the more you practice, the more familiar you’ll be with the contents of your speech, which is essential in building your sense of confidence. In the words of SEO expert and entrepreneur Kevin Miller: “I used to dread public speaking before I did it a million times. I learned that doing something a million times helps us desensitize ourselves to it, even when it’s scary.”
5. Observer other public speakers
Georges El-Hage, founder and CEO of Wave, makes the following suggestion for aspiring public speakers: “Watch skilled speakers and learn from their techniques. What do they do well that you can incorporate?”
The more speeches you watch, the more pointers and inspiration you can draw from successful public speakers. You just have to observe closely and note down the things you like about them: is it the way their eyes move across the audience while they speak? The way they complement what they’re saying with visual aids? Do they encourage the audience to share their own insights?
6. Work on your breathing
The right breathing techniques can regulate your nervous system and make you feel calmer. A popular one is called the “resonant breathing” technique, in which you breathe in slowly for five seconds and then exhale slowly for another five, for a few minutes each time.
The calmer you feel before you step out in front of an audience, the greater your mental clarity will be and the better able you’ll be to deliver your speech. Plus, your voice will sound steadier and louder, which will also benefit your delivery.
7. Record yourself
You’re probably thinking “cringe alert!” — but by recording yourself, you can listen to your delivery and make notes on how you can improve. You’ll also see how long your speech takes and be able to increase the length or cut it down as necessary.
8. Take classes
If you’re struggling to make progress on your own (after all, you can only get so far without some kind of an audience to speak in front of), look for public speaking classes in your area. These are great because they can teach you how to communicate effectively and persuasively, as well as help you overcome your fear and make important social connections.
9. Visualize success
Visualization has been used by many famous athletes including Michael Phelps and LeBron James as a tool to enhance performance. Although public speaking isn’t technically a sport (it can sure get that heart rate up, though!), you can use visualization techniques to envision yourself crushing your upcoming speech or presentation.
When visualizing success, it’s important to engage all your senses; the more powerful the imagery, the more you’ll feel within yourself that success is attainable.
10. Discover your stage persona
Some people find it useful to create an alter ego for when they are on stage; take Beyoncé, for example, who has a “sensual, aggressive” alter ego called Sasha Fierce for when she performs.
By adopting a different persona, you can put some space between your “performing” self and your regular, everyday self. That way, you can separate the audience’s reaction and their reception of your speech from your sense of self-worth, allowing you to relax more.
11. Use the KISS technique
The “keep it simple, stupid” technique is popular among professionals everywhere, regardless of industry. When preparing a presentation or speech, bear this technique in mind in order to keep it your sentences short, sweet and uncomplicated so that your listeners can follow along and remain engaged.
12. Mind your body language
Without you even being aware of it, your body language can betray your nervousness and any tension you’re feeling. It’s important, therefore, to pay attention to your body language while you speak. Try to stand up tall and keep your shoulders level, take deep breaths so that your voice stays clear and loud, and maintain eye contact with the audience while you speak.
13. Show your passion
For people to become interested in what you are talking about, you yourself need to demonstrate a passion for it. Someone who’s passionate about what they’re saying will have a magnetizing glow about them, which helps keep the listeners engaged for longer.
Plus, expressing a level of genuine enthusiasm is a must if you want to retain their attention and have them share their own views, sparking a conversation.
14. Open your speech with a grabber
The first minute of your speech or presentation is, perhaps, the most important. This is where you establish a connection with your audience and hold their attention. That’s why so many great speakers begin with a personal story! When you express genuine feelings and open up about real events, you allow your personality to shine through, creating an immediate connection with the audience.
Alternatively, you can start with a fun (or scary) fact that also stirs up emotions for the listener.
15. Avoid talking too fast
When you talk too fast, your audience will either get lost or think that you’re unsure of what you’re saying. Both of these things are enough to render your speech unsuccessful.
To convey your message in a powerful manner, your words need to be loud, clear and confident. It is, therefore, vital to talk clearly and slow enough to be understood at all times.
Smiling throughout your presentation is important, as it makes you come across as friendlier and more trustworthy, establishing a better connection with your audience. (So long as it fits with the overall tone of your speech, that is; don’t go smiling while sharing bad news or stats!)
Smiling will also make you feel more calm and relaxed, which will make it easier to gather your thoughts in the process.
17. Engage with your audience
Many speakers make the mistake of talking at rather than to their audience. It’s important to stay aware of your audience’s reactions, letting those decide when to carry on strong or when to take a second to pause.
If the topic or setup allows for it, consider making an effort to establish some kind of contact with the audience. For example, by asking questions and hearing the audience members’ opinions!
18. Work on your fear of rejection
“What if my audience gets bored?”, you might be wondering. “What if I get booed? Or forget my words?”
While there’s no way to predict how an audience might respond to your talk, the anticipation is often far worse than the event itself. So, while it will probably be not quite as dreadful as you imagine, there’s still a chance that your message won’t resonate with a particular group of people for a variety of reasons.
By viewing your work as separate to who you are as a person, and approaching your speeches with a growth mindset, you’ll automatically feel better and be able to overcome mistakes and obstacles faster.
19. Do some light exercise beforehand
Exercising before a speech can reduce your cortisol levels (the stress hormone, that is), effectively making you feel less tense and more focused. If you can’t go on a short walk beforehand, try doing a few dynamic stretches, such as arm circles, torso twists and leg swings.
20. Use visual aids appropriately
As Dr Mark Farrell, actuary and director of ProActuary, says: “One of the public speaking techniques I use is the conscious effort to avoid overusing or becoming overly reliant on PowerPoint slides.”
That’s a great piece of advice: if you have presentation slides, they should be there to help you remember the key points. Don’t go reading off them for the entirety of your speech, or you’ll miss out on establishing a connection with your audience.
If you’re unsure on how to create effective visual aids, the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association suggests using punctuation sparingly, using bullet points in body copy, and avoiding having more than eight words per line.
21. Channel nervous energy into positive energy
Turning your nerves into excitement will do a world of wonders, so when you next go up on stage, tell yourself how excited you are. That’s right — you’re not nervous, quite the contrary!
“When you do [it], it really has a miraculous impact in helping you change your attitude to what you're about to do,” says inspirational speaker and best-selling author Simon Sinek. And he must know a thing or two on public speaking; his TED Talks are among the most viewed of all times, after all.
22. Keep it short
In today’s fast-paced world, time is precious. Not only that, but research suggests that people’s attention spans are getting shorter.
Therefore, to avoid frustrating your audience (or sending them to sleep with an endless monologue), show that you value their time and aim to end your speech within the intended timeframe — or a couple of minutes early.
23. Pause for effect
Sometimes what you say is just as important as what you don’t say. Pauses during speeches can be used to emphasize your words, allowing the audience to sit with what you’ve just said. Use them wisely, however: too many pauses, and your speech will become slow and hard to follow.
24. Start small
As Paige Arnof-Fenn, founder and CEO of Mavens & Moguls, suggests: “Start as a panelist or moderator before you do a keynote talk or even try a podcast or radio interview via phone if you are nervous to speak in front of large groups.”
Indeed, if you begin with smaller audiences in more intimate settings, you can build your confidence until you feel more comfortable taking the stage in a large auditorium.
25. Ask for feedback
Although it’s easy to think that being a charismatic speaker is an inherent quality a person is born with, public speaking is a skill that can be learned and developed. In order to feel more confident each time you speak in front of an audience, therefore, it’s good to ask a few of your listeners for honest feedback.
The more room for improvement you can identify, the more you can perfect your spoken craft.
It takes a lot of practice to become an inspirational public speaker, but with these tips, you could build the necessary skills and habits to spread your ideas and influence your listeners. To summarize what we’ve talked about in this article:
- Speaking in public with confidence and ease is a skill that can be developed through practice.
- Not all great speakers are natural experts; they devote time to preparing and improving their techniques.
- If you’re completely new to public speaking, speak in front of smaller audiences first, until you’ve gained some experience and built up some confidence.
We hope you found these tips to improve your public speaking skills useful! Let us know if you’ve got any more advice to share with fellow readers in the comments section below.
Originally published on February 14, 2018. Updated by Electra Michaelidou.