Public Speaking Skills

How to Improve Your Public Speaking Skills

Speaker at podium holding out arm
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Public speaking skills are valuable both in your personal life and career. Even if you don't regularly engage in public speaking, developing skills in this area will increase your confidence and reduce anxiety about situations in which you may be called upon to speak in public.

Though you may think that suffering with social anxiety disorder (SAD) would make it impossible to speak in public, with correct treatment (such as medication or cognitive-behavioral therapy) and skill development you can become a confident speaker.

 

Below are some key skills held by good public speakers. Once your social anxiety is manageable, work on developing these skills to improve your ability as a presenter.

Remember—choose a goal of being the best you can be, instead of competing with others. When you do so, you will always come out a winner.

Public Speaking Skill #1: Stage Presence

Good public speakers appear confident, friendly, enthusiastic and energetic. Confidence comes from choosing a topic you like and researching it well.

Friendliness can be conveyed simply by smiling at your audience. Enthusiasm and energy will naturally follow when you enjoy your topic and are well prepared.

If you feel that your stage presence is lacking, take some time and view clips of speakers that you admire. Aim to imitate their style.

If you are adequately prepared, there isn't any reason why you can't "fake it 'til you make it". In other words, act confident until you feel confident.

Public Speaking Skill #2: Voice Control

Your voice is the most important tool you will use as a public speaker. One key skill to improve the quality of your voice is to practice diaphragmatic breathing; breathing from your diaphragm instead of your chest.

Doing so will reduce the feeling of breathlessness caused by speech anxiety.

In addition, this type of breathing will allow you to better control the tone (quality), pitch (high or low) and volume of your voice.

Public Speaking Skill #3: Body Language

It is not enough to practice how you will speak to your audience. It is also important to consider your body language and the message that it conveys.

In general, you should practice standing with a relaxed upright posture. Your hands should be at your sides or clasped in front of you, unless you are making a gesture to emphasize a point.

Become aware of your facial expressions as well; they should match the message you are delivering.

Public Speaking Skill #4: Delivery

When it comes to public speaking, delivery is everything. Even if you have a great voice and good body language, your message will get lost if the audience can't easily follow what you say. Below are some tips for developing good delivery skills.

  • Speak slowly and deliberately; it should seem too slow to you.
  • Pause between ideas.
  • Carefully articulate and pronounce your words
  • Avoid filler sounds like "Um" and "ah"
  • Vary the pitch and volume of your voice to add interest

Public Speaking Skill #5: Audience Relations

Good public speakers are in tune with their audience. Public speaking is more than standing in front of a group and talking.

Acknowledge your audience right away and begin talking as soon as all eyes are on you; similarly, if you need to set up equipment, converse with your audience at the same time to keep their attention.

Make eye contact and watch for communication from the audience. Smiles and nodding are good; fidgeting or confused looks may mean that you need to adjust what you are doing.

Sources:

Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Public Speaking Tips. Accessed March 18, 2016.

Ohio State University Extension. Tools for Public Speaking. Accessed March 18, 2016.

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