Improving your public speaking skills can be a process that may take time to complete. For different speaking engagements, you may lean more heavily on certain skills, and you may find yourself needing to do some extra planning.
Regardless of where you are right now with your speaking skills, these ten helpful tips can help you improve in different areas and become a better speaker overall.
When you know you will be doing some public speaking it is always a good idea to prepare by doing some prior planning. By gathering as much information about the speaking engagement and audience as possible you should have what you need to craft an appropriate speech.
Planning your opening, closing, and key points in between is a good way to easily improve your speaking skills and can also help you feel more confident. A good plan will also coordinate with a visual if needed and include how much time should be allowed for each segment.
If you are planning to speak with a group of individuals be sure to note who will cover each part of the speech and what details they will include in order to prevent overlap. There are times when group members may become nervous and cover too many details or speak for too long.
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 individuals prefer to practice alone at first, before finding a supportive audience to get additional feedback.
Practicing your speaking skills will make you feel more confident, help you navigate public speaking more easily, and also help calm your nerves prior to speaking in a public setting. Public speaking and speaking skills can mean giving a speech, presenting information during a meeting, or even just making a comment while working in a group with others.
Spending some time practicing your speaking skills in these different scenarios will help you make valuable connections with others and network more easily.
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.
Mind Your Body Language
Before you are about to speak you may find yourself feeling many emotions and these emotions may present as gestures or body language on stage. Body language is an important speaking skill as it can affect how your message is received by your audience.
Many individuals have small twitches or repetitive movements that they do when they are nervous. These can be distracting to the audience and prevent them from becoming fully engaged in what you 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 will prevent you from fidgeting with your hands, or making repetitive gestures that have no meaning.
Find Ways to Deal with Your Nerves
Being nervous before speaking publicly is a completely normal way to feel. Feeling nervous does not indicate that you lack skill, or don't belong as a public speaker. The important part is that you have an effective way of dealing with your nerves so that you can deliver your best speech.
Many individuals find that practicing their speech beforehand is sufficient for preventing nerves, but this may not work for everyone. Positive self-talk can be effective, and breathing exercises are another popular tactic.
You may want to try a variety of techniques before you decide on a single one to use. Blending different techniques can also be an effective solution. Some professional speakers also recommend trying mindfulness techniques or meditation.
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.
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.
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.
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 under-prepared 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.
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.