Black college-aged male passionately speaks into a microphone

Four tips for perfecting your public speaking skills

Public speaking is an important skill to have, regardless of your industry. You never know when you might find yourself in front of a group, but when it happens, it’s important to have confidence and poise.

While some people are naturals when it comes to the gift of gab, public speaking is also a skill that can be taught and improved with practice.

Whether it’s presenting to a classroom full of students, speaking with patients or leading a huddle on your job site, we’ve outlined some universal tips to ensure you have a smooth delivery.

It’s okay to be nervous.

If your heart starts to race or your hands get sweaty, you’re not alone. Research shows that people list public speaking number one on their list of greatest fears, above heights, bugs, snakes, zombies and flying. Most people have some apprehension speaking in front of an audience, and you should feel assured to know that many people possess similar feelings.

Plus—being nervous means you care about your work and want your delivery to live up to all the energy you have spent preparing. Home in on your nerves, and use them to your advantage.

Practice, practice and more practice.

Nothing creates more confidence than practicing and knowing you’ve delivered it successfully ahead of time. Whether this involves enlisting your roommates, family or neighbors to serve as “audience members,” practicing in front of a simulated audience raises the stakes and helps you uncover areas that might need improvement.

Attentive audience members are useful indicators of successful delivery, and you should lean on your friends and family to help you practice before the big day. And, most of the time (assuming you have supporting people in your life), these practice sessions will include plenty of positive reinforcement from your friendly audience that will lead to confidence and affirmation before the big day.

Conversational delivery > memorization.

There are often two schools of thought when it comes to preparing for a speech: memorize the speech word-for-word or use keyword notecards to allow for a conversational style. It’s safe to say the latter is the right choice.

If you’ve witnessed someone give a speech that’s been memorized, you’ve probably picked up on a few unfortunate outcomes. First, memorization often leads to a fast speaking rate, without natural pauses and a conversational tone. We speak differently than we write, and memorizers stand out like a sore thumb. Secondly, when you memorize something, you increase the chances of drawing a blank in between points. Nothing is worse than trying to pick up where you left off in front of a crowd, and having a memorized speech increases the likelihood of this embarrassing outcome.  

What’s the alternative to memorization? A strategy called “extemporaneous delivery,” which is defined as speaking with key points outlined in a conversational tone. Create an outline highlighting your main takeaways and use this template as a guide. You won’t communicate the exact same words each time, but the content will be gracefully laid out and digestible for your audience.

Notecards serve as sidekicks.

Remember, you don’t have to show up empty handed. Creating keyword notecards with research facts, key data points or main takeaways can help provide a crutch to lean on throughout your speech. Notecards serve the role of a sidekick and help you feel reassured.

It’s also helpful to jot down a few delivery tips or confidence boosters. You can write phrases like “you got this,” “take a deep breath,“ or “remember to smile.” Most importantly, don’t forget to number your notecards. Accidentally flipping to the wrong card halfway through can ruffle anyone’s confidence.

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