Updated: Nov 30, 2020
Do you get anxious before presentations? Are you afraid that you will mess up and embarrass yourself in front of everyone? Are you unsure if you are grabbing the audience’s attention effectively? These questions are some of the most common fears that many people have when it comes to public speaking. Public speaking is an important skill to have when it comes to being both a student and a leader. Whether you are giving a class presentation about a historical figure or you are presenting research to your boss, having the communication skills to give an effective presentation is essential as you move forward in your life.
I myself was a nervous public speaker, and I still am! I took initiative to improve my communication skills when giving presentations and speeches by reaching out to the resources available around me for help. I started by joining a Toastmasters program, which is designated for helping students learn how to write and deliver speeches effectively and professionally. To my surprise, public speaking was more than standing and talking. In the class, we learned how to organize our speeches so that they transitioned well, and we were taught how to use hand gestures and body language to make ourselves more connected to the audience. We then worked on using the right tone to fit with the topic of the presentation and graded each other based on how well they made use of these skills. Finally, we put all of these practices to the test by giving a speech in front of an audience with a topic that we had to choose right before we actually gave the talk. By doing this, we were able to put our creativity to the test with the addition of the skills we had learned to make our presentations effective and interactive.
Becoming confident with public speaking does not just take a few days. In fact, there is really no such thing as being a “perfect public speaker.” The best thing you can do is practice the skills needed to deliver the speech effectively, as well as finding ways to help you stay cool and collected during the presentation. Fortunately, there are many different ways that you can take advantage of, such as the resources available in your community, online, and at school to help yourself become a better public speaker. Here are some tips to master the art of public speaking.
1. Join a local program!
There are many programs and classes that are offered to help students and adults improve their public speaking skills. Organizations such as Toastmasters strive to help people overcome their fear of speaking in front of audiences and maintaining fluidity while delivering speeches. These classes usually start by assessing your knowledge beforehand by giving a short introduction of who you are, then helping you advance from there. You will learn how to incorporate hand gestures and movement, tone, organization, and eye contact in your presentations so that you can keep the attention of the audience while delivering your speech. These organizations will not only help you with giving speeches but also with making conversation. They introduce table topics, which are basically conversation starters that you will take advantage of learning how to keep a conversation going with someone else. Finally, you will put all of your skills to test by delivering a speech to a larger audience.
2. Learn How to Cope With Your Nerves
One of the biggest challenges when it comes to public speaking is handling the pre-speech jitters. Public speaking can trigger the flight or fight response, which causes you to begin to sweat, take deeper breaths, and shake. People tend to behave like this before giving a presentation because they have a common fear of failure. They are afraid that they will mess up or lose their train of thought, thus leading to some form of embarrassment and humiliation. There are multiple ways to cope with your nerves before giving a speech.
One way to cope with stress before presentations is by taking the time you have to take deep breaths and clear your mind. We tend to have negative thoughts before presenting, so being able to temporarily distract yourself by focusing on taking deep breaths can help calm the jitters. One of the most notable breathing exercises is the 4-7-8 breath. In this exercise, you will breathe in for a count of four seconds, hold your breath for seven seconds, then breathe out for eight seconds. This gives you time to focus on your breathing rather than the fears you have before giving the presentation.
Another way to calm the pre-speech jitters is by practicing. If you have gone over your speech and rehearsed multiple times, you are more likely to be confident before giving the speech. Although this may not completely help with the distress, it serves as a boost of confidence that you have practiced and know the information well enough to be able to get back on track if you lose your spot.
3. Pay Attention to Your Body Language
When giving a speech, it is easy to be distracted by what you are saying rather than what you are doing. When delivering a talk, it is important that you stay loose while speaking while also maintaining a connection with the audience. Ways to do this are keeping eye contact with different people, walking around the stage, and avoiding doing the things that you tend to do under pressure such as adjusting your shirt, playing with your hair, and pulling up your socks. Being able to recognize these forms of body language will help you appear more confident and collected while giving a speech. With practice, non-verbal communication will become natural and you will be using it unconsciously.
Another factor you will want to pay attention to is hand gestures. Hand gestures are used to emphasize and express a certain idea. These can include holding up fingers to represent a quantity, pointing to yourself when reflecting on a past experience, and using open palms to gain a connection with the audience, and more. There are a variety of hand gestures that are used to convey different forms of speech, so it is important that you take the time to research and understand these motions.
The best thing you can do for yourself before giving a speech is practicing. One way you can do this is by presenting in front of your family and/or friends, then asking for their feedback after you finish. You can also record yourself while you speak so you can evaluate key factors such as your tone, your hand gestures and body language, your eye contact, and your volume. Rehearsal is crucial. Practice builds confidence, which increases cohesiveness and decreases the number of ums and unnecessary pauses throughout your speech. Whenever I am preparing for a speech, I record myself as it helps me catch the errors that I made and was unaware of while I was talking. I was often able to catch myself speaking too quickly, mumbling, not using the right tone, or looking at my paper too often.
5. Organizing Your Speech
Writing a speech is one of the most important parts of delivering a presentation. It is important that you outline your speech so that it has as much detail as possible while keeping it smooth and concise. There are many different templates that can be used for different kinds of speeches, so it is important that you choose the best format that fits with the main focus of your discourse. If you are delivering a persuasive speech, for example, you can have an introduction, three main points, and then the conclusion. This way, you keep it organized and compact, allowing you to keep the attention of your audience. If you make it long and over-embellished, you may lose the interest and the concentration of your audience. Also, make sure you have a strong hook at the beginning so the audience will not be bored out. An attention grabber is essential to the liveliness and connection to the audience. Another good way to keep the audience engaged is by incorporating vocal variation and points of inflection at certain phrases of emphasis.
Oftentimes, we will have our speeches in front of us while we are presenting. It is important that you take advantage of this privilege as you can use colors and highlights to remind yourself of key factors. For example, you can highlight a certain sentence to remind yourself to make eye contact, and then you will be able to find where you left off by looking back at the colored words. This will help you prevent yourself from making eye contact, then looking back at your paper and forgetting where you left off, thus causing you to temporarily lose your grasp on the audience. Another way to make use of having your paper in front of you is by bolding words to remind you to emphasize them, or by underlining a sentence to remind yourself to elaborate on a certain point.
Public speaking is, and will always be, an important part of our endeavors. From class presentations to sharing research, having confidence and experience in the field of public speaking is essential. There is no doubt that many of us are nervous when it comes to delivering speeches and presentations, but there are many ways for us to become more comfortable and engaging when speaking. The most important part of becoming a better public speaker is practicing and critiquing your techniques to improve for future presentations, so get out there and start working!