Want to improve your public speaking skills? Whether you’re leading a meeting or giving a speech, keeping your audience engaged is key. It may seem scary at first. But with practice and planning, you can master the skills you need. Here are some helpful tips to set you on the path to success.
How to Improve Public Speaking Skills
You’ll likely find that honing your public speaking skills is an ongoing process. For starters, you’ll need to plan ahead so you can tailor your talks to the audience and venue. Then, you’ll need to spend some time practicing your speech. There are also lots of tricks top public speakers use to prepare and to hold a crowd’s attention.
No matter where you are right now, these 10 tips will help greatly with your communication skills.
1. Plan Ahead
To improve your public speaking skills, start by planning ahead. When you know you’ll be doing some public speaking, it’s a good idea to prepare. Start by gathering as much information as you can about the speaking venue and the audience. This will help you craft the right speech.
You’ll want to know things like the size of the venue, how many people to expect, and time limits. And then there’s the matter of other logistics like whether there’s a large screen to display your visuals. And, most importantly, you’ll want to know what the people in your audience hope to take away from your speech… Or, what you want them to take away.
And then there’s the actual speech. You should start by planning opening, closing, key points, and any photos or videos you want to include. Experts advise you to limit yourself to no more than five topics or points. Studies have shown people rarely retain any more than that.
If you’re speaking as part of a group, plan ahead so everything’s covered and to avoid any overlaps. Be sure to note who will cover each part of the speech and what details they will include.
The video below gives some more tips on planning your speech.
2. Spend Some Time Practicing
Speaking skills can get better if you take the time to practice them. In order to practice your speech, try using a mirror, or finding a supportive friend to give you feedback. Many prefer to practice alone at first, before doing it in front of an audience.
When you practice your speech, it makes you feel more confident. When you commit your speech to memory, that also helps calm your nerves prior to speaking in a public setting. And remember: “public speaking skills” refers to any time you talk in a group setting. It can mean giving a speech, leading a meeting, or even just making a comment in a group of coworkers.
Practicing in all these settings won’t just help you memorize your speech… It’ll also help you learn to network with others more easily and make valuable connections.
Another great way to practice your public speaking skills is to join your local chapter of the Toastmasters. This non-profit gathers people together to support each others’ journeys for becoming better public speakers and leaders.
3. Find Ways to Engage Your Audience
Regardless of how entertaining you think you are, if you do not engage your audience your message will be lost on them. Finding ways to engage your audience is a difficult speaking skill, and it helps if you are given time to figure out a strategy.
Take the information that you know about your audience and find ways to better connect the information you’d like to deliver to how your audience would like to hear it. For example, if you are giving an academically oriented speech to a group of high schoolers, you may want to use different language and visuals than you would normally use at a professional conference.
Here’s a brilliant video on how to get a crowd’s attention… and keep it.
4. Mind Your Body Language
Before you are about to speak you may find yourself feeling many emotions. These emotions may present as gestures or body language on stage. Body language is an important aspect of your public speaking skills, as it affects how people receive your message.
Many of us have small twitches or repetitive movements that we make when we’re nervous. These can distract the audience and prevent them from becoming fully engaged in what we are saying.
When in doubt, touch your thumb and middle fingers together and rest your arms at your sides. Although this may feel unnatural at first, it’ll keep you from fidgeting and making odd gestures with your hands.
Watch: The Hub explains 10 things you don’t realize your body language is saying about you.
5. Find Ways to Deal with Your Nerves
Being nervous before speaking in public is a completely normal way to feel. Feeling nervous does not indicate that you lack skill, or don’t belong to a public speaker. The important part is to find a way of dealing with your nerves so you can deliver your best speech.
Some find that practicing their speech helps calm their nerves, but this may not work for everyone. Are you nervous? First, try giving yourself a pep talk — what the pros call “positive self-talk.” Telling ourselves, “Attaboy (or girl)! you can do it!” does wonders for some of us. Many also do breathing exercises or do meditation.
You may want to try a number of techniques before you decide on a single one to use. Blending the ones you like best can also work well.
Here are five tips on how to calm your nerves before giving a presentation or speech.
6. Record Yourself Speaking
Creating a video recording of yourself speaking will allow you to improve your speaking skills dramatically by showing you what you look like to your audience. It’s a great way to pick up on any nervous mannerisms you make or strange hand gestures that the audience might find distracting.
It also gives you a chance to examine your body language and figure out if there are any changes you would like to make. You can also figure out if you are speaking loudly enough and enunciating, or if you look at your notes too often.
Recording yourself more than once is a sure way to improve your skills in a short amount of time and it will also give you a lot to think about. You may find that there are other changes that you’d like to make or mannerisms you have which are beneficial.
7. Familiarize Yourself with Your Audience
Before you agree to a public speaking engagement make sure that you know at least a little bit about your audience. Your audience will be the group receiving the message you are trying to communicate and you want to make sure that your delivery is somewhat customized for them.
Your delivery will be more effective if you know more about your audience. Their approximate age, broad interests, and general familiarity with your topic is a good start. If you think your audience may be very unfamiliar with your topic, be sure to take this into account when planning the contents of your speech.
8. Let Your Personality Shine
Tailoring your delivery for your audience, and designing your speech can be complex, but be sure to include some of your own personality. By including some of your personality, your speech and speaking skills will shine and you’ll come across as being more genuine.
Your audience may also engage more deeply if you expose a bit of your personality as this can make you easier for them to relate to. Sharing a bit of yourself and your quirks or humor can be a great way to open with an audience that you may not be familiar with.
Many public speakers make the mistake of putting personal photos or inappropriate themes on their visual aids and this should be something you strive to avoid. Letting your personality show shouldn’t interfere with the message you are trying to deliver or distract from how effectively you are able to deliver it.
9. Don’t Read from Your Notes
Reading through your notes too often is the definitive sign of an under-prepared speaker, and unless you are giving a speech over an hour long, you shouldn’t need many notes. Recently, it has become more acceptable to use notes while public speaking, but the effects of that habit can be negative.
When you are reading directly from your notes or your visual aid you are not looking at your audience and they will begin to lose interest in what you are saying. Reading directly from your visual aid can also be less than interesting for your audience and doesn’t provide any additional information.
Good speaking skills generally include being able to give a reasonably entertaining and informative speech that resonates with your audience. If the audience senses that you are underprepared they are less likely to trust you, hear your message, or be engaged.
If you absolutely need notes, be sure that they are brief enough to read in the span of a few seconds so that you do not break eye contact for too long with your audience. Keeping eye contact going is one of the ways to increase your audience’s interest and overall engagement.
Frequently, speakers feel like they need notes, however, when it comes time to deliver their speech they find that they only need an occasional reminder of what they have written. This is ideal as it allows you to use your best speaking skills with your audience while also having a backup should you need a helpful reminder.
10. Craft A Good Opening, And A Dynamic Ending
Good public speakers know that even if your topic is very dense, a good opening and solid closing can make all of the difference to the audience. No topic is too boring or dry for an entertaining opening and an ending that recaps important information.
To craft your best opening and closing first plan out your speech and consider your audience. Think of ways that you could open your speech that would hook the audience and help them stay interested.
For the ending, you’ll want to recap the important points you spoke on and create an appropriately fun or playful way of reeling the audience back in. A great speaker can design different ways to leave the audience wanting more while also delivering valuable information.