Public Speaking Tips Every Student Should Know, And Why It’s Important
The way people feel about public speaking can best be summed up by this Jerry Seinfeld joke:
“According to most studies, people’s number one fear is public speaking. Number two is death. Death is number two. Does that sound right? This means to the average person, if you go to a funeral, you’re better off in the casket than doing the eulogy.”
Truer words never said, but you do need to make peace with it. To get you there, we’ve put together a list of public speaking tips to help you in various walks of life. Let’s begin.
Public Speaking Tips No. 1: Make peace with nerves.
You are going to be nervous. That goes without saying. But you can feel better about those nerves and learn to control them if you realize that most people in a public speaking situation feel the exact same way.
If that’s not enough to calm your nerves, some of the other suggestions on our list should help. We’ll get into most of them later, but here are a few additional tips for handling this particular fear:
- See if you can channel your fear into enthusiasm.
- Watch how others do it.
- Show up early for the speech so you can get comfortable with your surroundings.
- Try to meet with some of the audience before the speech begins to establish a relationship.
- Breathe deep.
- See positive outcomes.
- Stay hydrated.
No. 2: Learn who your audience is.
This public speaking tip is about more than arriving at the show early and shaking a few hands. It is about getting into the heads of the people who will be listening to you.
What do they want to know from your presentation? What questions will they be asking beforehand, and which answers can you give them?
What does it take to hold their attention for however long your speech is going to be? Whatever it is, make sure you incorporate it.
If you’re wondering how you can better learn about your audience, get online and go to where they are having discussions.
Hit up message boards and Quora and reddit and niche-specific websites. Read what they are saying, and see how you can add value.
3. Organize your speech to smooth out the delivery.
There are numerous ways that you can get organized for a speech. Hopefully you have explored the possibilities enough to know what works best for you, but in case you need a little creative spark, here are some suggestions:
Start by creating a mind map. It’s likely that you won’t even end up saving a mind map, but it can be extremely beneficial in helping you to group random supporting details into overarching points.
Once you have fleshed out your main topics with those supporting details, it’s easier for a narrative flow to take over and produce a stronger speech.
Another way of wrangling random ideas into coherent thought is to employ an index card method — either physical, hand-written, or typed out on a program like Scrivener.
4. Watch how your audience responds, and adjust on the fly.
Your audience will give you little cues during your speech that will tell you when they are zoning out and what they might wish to know more of.
Suggestion: don’t focus on the entire audience during your speech, but do pick out three or four different people in different portions of the room.
This trick enables you to make comfortable eye contact by giving you multiple points of visibility. It also allows you to gauge true reactions from your audience by randomly focusing on a subset of people instead of turning all of your attention to a single person.
When you get a sense that someone is engaged in what you are saying, do more of that. If your audience is telling you that they’re zoning out, move along to the next point at a quicker pace.
5. Be you.
If you’re a podium-stander, stand at the podium. If you’re a walker, walk. Don’t try to form-fit your delivery technique into something that exposes your insecurities.
6. Watch yourself.
It may seem weird. If so, that’s okay. You don’t have to tell anyone you’re doing it. But try standing in front of a mirror to give your speech aloud and in private.
When you see what you look like as the words come out, you have the chance to pick up on delivery techniques you dislike and make note of the things that you like.
This information is invaluable to being able to strengthen your performance and get ready for the actual speech.
7. Listen to a recorded rehearsal.
Some might say watching yourself in the mirror or on a recorded video is enough, but I respectfully disagree. Having an audio only recording that you can listen to allows you to focus more intently on the content of your speech in the context of delivery.
By isolating the audio aspect of your speech, you can iron out any noticeable kinks before they become something that derails your speech. This technique also will call out vocalized pauses. More on that in a moment.
8. Simplify the messages in your speech.
Do not use too many big words. If worried, run your speech text through the Hemingway App and make sure that the language falls in the Grade 7-9 range.
Grade 7-9 is the sweet spot for being able to effectively communicate ideas with a mass audience. When uncertain of what to cut, look for words that end in -ly and get rid of them. If it changes the emphasis, consider rewording in a more active voice to negate the need for that -ly.
Example, Bad: He quickly turned the page and solemnly read the note back to himself.
Example, Good: Reading aloud, he flicked to the next page. His face dropped.
9. Get personal.
Be vulnerable. Share stories that mean a great deal to you and that show your humanity, good or bad, warts and all.
Your audience will appreciate your ability to share something they might not have. At the same time, you do want to exercise varying levels of control depending on your audience and your own ability to control nerves.
Establishing a connection means that you have to put yourself out there. Find ways to do that that you can accept.
10. Don’t overdo technology.
Some people get so wrapped up in the technological aspects of their presentation that they fail to establish a connection with the audience or practice the substance of their speech.
(Hint: technology does not and will never make a good speech. We all carry around high-powered computers in our pockets these days. Nothing techie you try to pull off will impress us.)
People expect to be enlightened by more than a PowerPoint presentation culled together from a bunch of data you pulled off Google. Remember that.
11. Find ways to connect with your audience.
It’s not enough to research whom your audience is. You also have to find where their interests and your own genuinely intersect. Try not to fake it. Most people can see through that.
But when you find commonalities between yourself and the people you are speaking to, that connection will shine through.
12. Eliminate vocalized pauses.
Listening to audio of yourself prior to a speech or performance is extremely important if for no other reason that it allows you to hear your vocal performance the way your audience will hear it.
Unfortunately, you probably will notice a lot of “um’s,” “uh’s,” and “you know’s.” These are vocalized pauses. Vocalized pauses take your audience out of the experience. While they happen to everyone, they are controllable once you notice them.
Why Public Speaking Is Important
Now, public speaking may not seem particularly important if you don’t plan on being a public speaker as a career, but that’s not the case. Public speaking skills will help you as you move up the educational ladder and find yourself in common life situations such as job interviews, accepting awards, delivering eulogies, giving technical briefings at work, making sales pitches, and speaking to diverse groups.
By adding public speaking as a skillset, you will stand out as a leader in life and career.
What is your comfort level with public speaking? Have you used any of the tips mentioned above, and what are some helpful ones that didn’t make our list? Share in the comments section below.
[Featured Image by Flickr Creative Commons]