CEO Insight: 15 Ways to Improve Your Public Speaking Skills

CEO Insight: 15 Ways to Improve Your Public Speaking Skills

You know it. I know it. We all know it. Public speaking is scary for many. Though the task can feel daunting for many of us, the good news is that with a little forethought and strategy, you can undergo a metamorphosis, emerging from the curse of being an anxiety-ridden ball of nerves and blossoming into a confident and compelling speaker. With that said, here are 15 of our fave tips and tricks to help you do it.

1. Know Thy Audience

As with anything else, it’s important that you know and understand the audience you’re speaking to. You want to tailor your delivery so that you speak to their expectations, experiences, interests, and level of understanding. You can help in this area and better connect with them by doing a little good old-fashioned research before your speech to discover psychographics and demographics.

2. Don’t Skip the Prep

Every once in a while, you might come across someone naturally gifted at just spitballing on a particular topic and not preparing anything ahead of time. But typically, those people are rare, and they know the subject matter backward and forwards. Since that may not be you, you’ll want to ensure you prepare before speaking to have a rough template to follow and that you hit all the main points you want to hit.

Then, practice delivering your speech in front of a mirror, paying attention to timing, delivery, and body language. Remember, practice makes perfect, so do this several times until you’re very comfortable with the material. Don’t look like a sad sack in the mirror with no joy or pizazz.

3. Enlist Onlookers

Along with practicing in a mirror, you should also consider rehearsing for others. Enlist a friend or two to listen and offer feedback, and then do it again and see if the speech improves. You can also record yourself using audio to listen back and ensure you’re not overusing things like hmm, ahh, or uh.

You can even video record yourself to watch your delivery on a screen. You might notice things you don’t notice when practicing in front of a mirror. Practicing breathing exercises and visualization is also a great idea to help lower your anxiety and smooth out your delivery.

4. Remember It’s About Your Message

It’s easy to get caught up in ourselves, worrying about our performance instead of focusing our attention on simply delivering the message we’ve been called to deliver. By focusing on your message and the value you’re bringing to people, you can boost your confidence and keep folks better engaged. You’ll be less anxious and able to communicate better.

5. Channel Your Inner Storyteller

Once upon a time, the only way stories passed through humanity was through verbal storytelling. This means somewhere down there, deep in your DNA, lives an innate storyteller. You’ve just got to find them and let them loose. By adding personal anecdotes and stories relevant to your audience, you can grab their attention and distill complex ideas into something easier for everyone to grasp. And always remember, a little humor never hurt, either!

6. About Those Transitions

When first preparing a speech, you might start by cobbling bits of ideas together here and there to make a full picture. However, it’s important that you smooth out the transitions between those ideas so that people can better follow what you’re saying and things make logical sense to the masses, not just to you.

7. Get Your Audience Participating

A great speaker knows how to engage with their audience and get them to be participants, not just onlookers or consumers of information. You can do it by inviting them to participate, asking them questions, encouraging them to clap for something if it deserves some praise, and even asking them to read along with something out loud to wake them up from their observational stupor. When you invite them to participate and use examples and stories they can relate to, you’ll deliver a stronger presentation.

8. Cue the Visual Aids Please

Visual aids can be very helpful in certain types of presentations, but they should always be used appropriately and be relevant and concise. You don’t want to use aids that offer a jumble of information that clouds their ability to understand what you’re saying. Visual aids can include PDFs, charts, slides, and even videos. Just remember the golden rule- keep it simple, silly.

9. Regulate Your Nervous System

There’s an old saying that when you feel nervous, you’re just excited. That’s actually not far from the truth because feelings of being nervous are similar to feelings of being excited. However, that slight mental reframe can make all the difference in what happens once you go out there and start speaking.

It’s also a great idea to develop techniques like box breathing, muscle relaxation, and others to help regulate your physical response. Remember that the audience is there to hear you speak, so they support you overall.

10. Do the Work to Understand Your Fears

Your fear of public speaking could come from different sources, so it’s important to do the work to try to uncover what the source is so you can cut it off at the knees, so to speak. Journaling could be a good way to help you zero in on specific triggers or negative thoughts you may be hosting that are contributing to your anxiety. Knowing is half the battle!

11. Practice the Art of Gradual Exposure

We don’t recommend doing this for a cold plunge, but in terms of public speaking, exposing yourself gradually over time to situations that call on you to speak in front of people can be a great way to get your feet wet and work your way up to speaking in larger rooms with more folks.

12. Don’t Knock Pro Help

For some of us, anxiety can be downright crippling. If that’s you, there’s no shame in seeking professional help from a qualified therapist or joining a group such as Toastmasters, organized by consumers to offer a non-threatening space to help people overcome their public speaking woes.

13. Master Your Body Language

Sometimes, it’s the things you don’t say that speak the loudest, and that is usually communicated through body language. So, it’s important to learn how to communicate nonverbally positively, like using natural gestures, eye contact, and good posture. In an ideal world, your body language is the underline of your verbal delivery.

14. Master Your Voice, Too

Okay, if you’ve ever sat through a speech where the presenter spoke the entire thing on monotone, you know what we mean right now! Your voice is one of your most powerful tools when speaking publicly, so it’s important that you learn how to use it masterfully, much like an instrument.

Skills like varying your tone, volume, and pitch during your speech to emphasize certain key points and keep listeners engaged are important. Also important are speaking clearly to avoid mumbling and practicing delivering your presentation at a moderate pace—no rushing, but no speaking like a turtle, either.

15. Covet Feedback from Trusted Sources

Everyone needs constructive feedback when trying to improve a skill, and public speaking is no different. Try to find someone you trust who is present during your speech and would be willing to offer you some suggestions for improvement. Also, commit to reflecting on those recommendations to see if they have a point. Always work on improving your delivery, and don’t forget to celebrate your wins.

Public speaking isn’t for everyone, but it is a skill, and like other skills, it can be learned by anyone. You may not always feel one hundred percent at ease, but with time and practice, you can become a stronger, more confident public speaker that people enjoy listening to and, even better, responding to.

Step up to the podium; let’s chat.

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