Love it or hate it. Everyone, at some point in their life, will be faced with having to speak to a group of people. This could be a crowd of thousands, or a small group setting. But in order to be effective communicators, which is essential in both personal and professional life, we must embrace, not avoid public speaking.
Truly the best way to improve your public speaking is to do it often. Only then will you be able to assess and refine your skills. This doesn’t necessarily mean booking paid speaking gigs at large conferences. No, this simply means giving a presentation to peers, speaking up in a work meeting or telling a story to a group of friends – but doing so on a regular basis!
The good news is you likely already possess many qualities of a great public speaker, you just need to be intentional about utilizing them. No matter how you would rate your public speaking skills, there’s something to be learned from these 11 tips.
- Understand what motivates your audience
Your audience, no matter the size, will have some sort of shared motive. Consider the reason for them to gather together in the first place. Is it a conference? A work meeting? A social function? There is a motive for people showing up to any of these (i.e. something they hope to gain). To prepare for public speaking, give thought to the shared demographics. Once you’ve pinpointed the shared motive of the group, be sure to speak to this in your presentation.
- Know your content – but don’t memorize it
It’s so important to prepare your presentation so that you appear confident and knowledgeable. However, it is absolutely possible to over-prepare to the point that you sound “rehearsed” and not in a good way. By memorizing, word-for-word, what you want to say you risk losing the emotional aspect of your delivery. It can sound cold or robotic. You also remove yourself from living in the moment and adjusting your presentation to your audience’s reaction – a huge missed opportunity! Instead, aim to use your talking points as a reference guide, but don’t rely upon them so heavily that they become your script.
- Have back up plans for technology
When it comes to presentations, technology follows Murphy’s Law. I’ve seen so many different hiccups in presentations from a power point presentation that wouldn’t open, to lost internet connection, to a laptop that’s not compatible to the projector – and you get the picture. If you plan to incorporate technology of any kind into your presentation, expect the unexpected. Scout out the meeting location in advance, talk to someone in charge of the room’s technology and most importantly, take matters into your own hand. With a little research, you will find that there are plenty of free resources, like Google Slides, that give you easy access to your audio/visual elements wherever and whenever you need them.
- Set the tone of your presentation
Do you want this to feel like a casual conversation among peers? Or do you want your presentation to be highly polished and professional. In my own public speaking, I make sure to set the tone early in my presentation. This can be done by simply opening with such a statement like “I want this to be a fun and informal discussion where you feel welcome to jump in with questions at any time.” A more formal presentation would obviously not begin with such remarks, but might start with a bold attention-getter or an introduction of your credentials to establish your expertise. Setting the tone early will give people a feel for what’s to come.
- Get out from behind the podium
This is highly dependent upon your setting, but I feel my speaking is far more engaging when I set away from the podium and give myself the freedom to move around as I speak. First, you feel closer to your audience and as a result you will tend to engage them more. Second, you look less like you’re giving a middle school presentation and more like a confident speaker, which brings me to my next point.
- Convey confidence, but be likeable
Confidence is important. So is being relatable and likeable to your audience. Someone who comes across overly confident risks looking arrogant. As a result, you will create distance between you and your audience and it will be a lot harder to engage them. Smile, make a joke, tell a personal story or share your background/hobbies so people start to feel like they are listening to a real person, not some talking head.
- Asses your audience and adjust
This is where you need to understand how to read visual cues such as facial expressions and body language. This is a highly valuable indicator of whether or not your audience is engaged with what you are saying. Does your audience seem distracted? Bored? Annoyed? Their face and body can tell you this. These cues can also tell you if you’re saying things that resonate with your audience. Smiles, nodding heads and people taking notes are positive indicators that you are doing exactly that. If you’re seeing negative feedback, take note and adjust your delivery or move to a new point that you think is more interesting.
- Share anecdotes
Everyone loves a good story. Do you have one to share that relates to your message? Practice telling it so you can fine tune your delivery and ensure it remains concise. A story worth sharing is one that elicits emotion. Stories with a funny or happy ending or ones that teach a good lesson will not only wake up your audience, but studies show it will be one of the top things people remember about your presentation.
- Anticipate questions
At the end of your presentation, you’ll want to end with the option for your audience to ask questions. Depending upon your audience and the setting, there is likely to be a handful of questions to facilitate discussion. However, that may not always be the case. Even the best presentation can come to an awkward end when the speaker say, “Okay, so who has some questions for me?” and then all you hear is crickets. Rather than slink off stage in silence, step in with your own question so that you’re sure you have at least one more thing to say. I’ve had to do this once or twice and when I do, it usually inspires another question from the audience. Sometimes you just need to be your own wingman!
- Stick around after you’re done
So long as your schedule permits, stick around for a little while after your presentation. During the next break, members of the audience may wish to ask you a question in private, offer a thank you or provide feedback on your presentation. These are all valuable opportunities to form relationships and improve your public speaking.
- Actively seek more opportunities to speak!
This may be the hardest piece of advice for anyone who doesn’t enjoy public speaking and that’s to get out there and do it as often as you can. There’s no way around it. It’s the only way you’ll get better. I speak from my own personal experience when I say I used to be as nervous as anyone before stepping up in front of a crowd. Now I regularly present to a wide variety of audiences – and not only have my nerves calmed, I actually look forward to sharing my passion and putting on a good “performance.”
How do you feel about public speaking?
Moreover, how would you rate yourself as a public speaker?
Share your public speaking experience and the tips you’ve found to be most effective for improving your skills!