Learning how to improve your public speaking is a great way to give yourself an advantage while you’re in school as well as in your career. But it’s not the easiest thing to do when every time you approach the podium you start feeling weak in the knees, hands sweaty, body shaking, and feelings of dread making you want to run for the exit door and never look back.
Fear of public speaking is a very real thing, and there’s even a scientific term for it: glossophobia. Many students experience this, especially when it comes time to make class presentations. But here’s the thing: public speaking skills are always going to come in handy throughout your life, so now is the best time to hone in on them and practice.
Whether you’re scared, nervous, self-conscious, or just want to get better in general, use these tips to learn how to improve your public speaking and master those skills.
Microphone waiting for a speaker in front of an audience
The Importance of Good Public Speaking Skills
Good public speaking skills can help you with so many other things in your life, from negotiating better marks with your professors to acing job interviews. The skills you improve now will help you throughout the rest of your academic career as well as post-graduate studies, career opportunities, and more. Even in your personal life, there will be times when good public speaking skills will come in handy, like making a toast at your best friend’s wedding or presenting an acceptance speech for an award.
Here are just a few of the advantages and benefits that come with learning how to improve your public speaking skills:
● More self-confidence: It can be empowering to overcome those fears and turn your anxiety into something that motivates you.
● Better communication skills: Learning how to present something to an audience helps you improve your communication skills overall by learning how to talk to specific people in a way that resonates with them.
● Connecting with people and networking: When you are more confident in public speaking, you are more likely to engage in public speaking events or conventions within your career. When you do that, more people will see how you present yourself and want to connect with you.
● Stronger leadership skills: Public speaking is an essential leadership skill. Good leaders can showcase their authority and credibility by presenting to others and sharing their insights, and know how to say the right things to encourage and inspire their audience.
● Enhanced performance skills: Presenting to people helps you build better body language, articulation, timing and volume levels, and overall storytelling skills.
Man wearing a blazer presenting a lesson to a group of students
Public Speaking Anxiety is a Real Thing
For some people, the fear of presenting is so crippling it can be nightmare-inducing. If you feel this way, you’re certainly not alone. According to research done by the Federal University of Minas Gerais, 63% of undergraduate students report a fear of public speaking, while 89% of students say they would like their school to offer classes on how to improve your public speaking.
As we mentioned, glossophobia is the official scientific term for fear of public speaking, and it affects approximately one in four Americans (not just students). Many times, the fear of public speaking is blended in with a variety of other fears, like social anxiety, low self-esteem, imposter syndrome, or even perceptions of class differences.
Even in the days of online schooling and virtual classes, presentation anxiety is still a real issue for many students. There’s still something intimidating about putting yourself out there on the computer screen for everyone else to watch.
However, like many fears, you can empower yourself to overcome your presentation anxiety and glossophobia with the right tips and practice techniques. It won’t happen overnight, but you can follow these steps and improve your public speaking skills to get ahead in everything else you do.
Back view of young man presenting to an auditorium full of people
How to Improve Your Public Speaking: A Summary
We’ll go over the specifics of each of these tips in more detail, but here is a quick list of the most effective ways to improve your public speaking skills:
● Stop relying on filler words
● Work on your self-confidence
● Pay attention to your body language
● Practice and rehearse as much as you can
● Develop good memorization techniques
● Know your audience and use rhetoric
● Pick a good topic you’re passionate about
● Start small and work your way up
● Make your PowerPoint presentations look amazing
● Take some lessons if possible
Stop Relying on Filler Words
Let’s start with something pretty basic that will help you in many areas of your life, and not just public speaking. So many of us rely on words such as “like” and “um” when we’re talking that it becomes so normal we don’t even realize we’re doing it so often. But other people notice, and it can reflect poorly on you.
When you rely too much on these words, people will start to make judgements about you, even if they aren’t true. They might start to think you’re uneducated or uninterested. The word “like” in particular is commonly linked to a type of slang known as Valspeak, which can lead to negative stereotypes associated with “valley girls” (think of characters such as Cher Horowitz from Clueless, Elle Woods from Legally Blonde, or even the Saturday Night Live sketch “The Californians”). There’s nothing inherently wrong with being a “valley person,” but it just doesn’t go over well in a career or academic setting.
Even when you’re just arguing with a friend, the more you have to rely on “like” and “um” the less powerful and credible your argument becomes. When you speak directly and to the point, you become more comfortable and confident in what you’re saying as well as the way you’re coming across as a whole.
So how do you curb the habit? Start by increasing your own awareness. Every time you catch yourself using a filler word, stop and pause instead. Sometimes we use these words when we want to fill a pause or buy a little extra time to think of what to say next. Just take a breath instead. Additionally, you could always ask friends or family members to listen to you speak and call you out when you use these words frequently. Lastly, if you really get stuck, try recording yourself rehearsing or presenting something and listen to where you use them.
Young woman in graduation gown making a speech to an audience of graduates
Work on Your Self-Confidence
One of the biggest and most important keys to learning how to improve your public speaking skills is to work on your self-confidence. These two things are very connected. The way you present yourself to an audience is largely determined by your level of self-confidence, because the more comfortable you are in your own abilities, the easier it gets to speak to the public.
There’s no simple, straightforward way to improve your self-confidence because every person is different, and every single person has a completely different set of life experiences. That being said, there are some things you can do to help work on your confidence and become more comfortable in your own skin.
Here are some tips you can use to work on boosting your self-confidence:
● Dress to impress when you’re presenting. If you know you look powerful, chances are you will start to feel powerful. This is why many people choose to get their hair done before a big interview or presentation.
● Focus on preparation. Being unprepared is a big determinant to self-confidence because many people fear being put on the spot or facing unexpected circumstances. The more prepared you are for something, the less you have to fear the unknown.
● Think positively. Nervousness often arises from negative thoughts, which leads to presentation anxiety. Hype yourself up and tell yourself you’ve got this! It might help you to write down a list of your strengths to remind yourself what you’re great at.
● Turn criticism into opportunities. It’s terrifying to receive constructive criticism after presenting, but the truth is that this criticism can help you a lot by identifying opportunities where you can learn, improve, and strengthen skills.
● Stay calm. The more you stress out about things, the easier it is for that anxiety to start building inside of you. Try out some meditation or breathing techniques and learn how to relax.
● Push yourself to step outside of your comfort zone. The more you do things that make you uncomfortable (without putting yourself in danger, of course), the easier it gets to build confidence.
Body Language is Key
What you do with your body while you’re presenting says just as much as the words that come out of your mouth do. That’s why working on your body language is a big key to learning how to improve your public speaking.
Start with your posture. Stand up straight, keep your shoulders back, and avoid slouching. Face your audience at all times and try to make eye contact whenever you can. Eye contact is important, especially if someone in your audience asks you a question. Any time you answer someone, make sure to keep your eyes on them, and while presenting, try to scan the room and move from face to face.
It may be tempting to put your hands in your pockets or cross your arms while you’re speaking, but this can make you appear more closed off to your audience. Keep your hands free so you can use them to make hand gestures that can help emphasize your words. Using gestures will also help you keep your audience’s attention.
Lastly, try incorporating some movement into your presentation. You don’t need to be wandering around pacing the space while you’re talking, but try to take little actions such as taking a step closer to the audience while emphasizing a point, or moving to another side of the area every so often.
Other areas you can work on your body language include working on your positive facial expressions, taking deep breaths to keep yourself calm and relaxed, and pointing to your visual aids whenever necessary.
Young man using a projector while presenting a speech
Practice, Rehearse, and Practice Again
You’ve heard it before: practice makes perfect. And you’re going to hear it again now, because it’s absolutely essential for public speaking.
Rehearse your presentation as much as you can. The more you practice it, the easier it’ll get to present it. Take advantage of every opportunity you get to run through your speech, whether you’re bored and killing time or your friends are over and willing to lend an ear. Practice everything, from your body language to potential follow-up questions.
While you rehearse, it’s helpful to record yourself on video if you can. Just set your phone up on your desk or ask a roommate to help you. This way, you can see how your presentation looks and identify any opportunities where you could change or improve your delivery.
If you’re preparing for a job interview, you can try rehearsing your answers to some popular interview questions you think someone might ask. Practice your handshake, your eye contact, and even the way you sit.
Use Effective Memorization Tactics
Memorization is important with any speech or presentation. You want to be able to avoid relying on cue cards or visual aids to remember your talking points, and having everything committed to your memory will help with your confidence as well.
Here are some proven memorization techniques and strategies you can use to improve your memory and drill that speech into your head:
● The Pomodoro technique
● Active recall
● Mnemonic devices for trickier terms and concepts
● Flash cards or cue cards
● Spaced repetition (practicing something over time in chunks instead of cramming it all at once)
If you’re interested in more memorization techniques that will help you with studying for tests and exams, check out our ultimate studying guide. We go over tons of scientific techniques and methods that are proven to help boost memory and concentration.
Back view of a man presenting a speech in front of a microphone podium
Know Your Audience and use Rhetorical Techniques
Rhetoric is used in almost every single speech ever presented. It’s a method of presenting information to an audience in a way that resonates with that particular audience.
Think about climate change activist Greta Thunberg’s speech to the United Nations in 2019. Here are just a few lines from that speech that showcase her ability to channel her passionate energy into an emotional appeal and sense of urgency: “People are suffering. People are dying. Entire ecosystems are collapsing. We are in the beginning of a mass extinction, and all you can talk about is money and fairy tales of eternal economic growth. How dare you!”
You don’t need to be as brutally honest or intense as Greta Thunberg, but you do need to understand what kind of information and presentation is going to resonate with your audience and their own education level, interests, and lifestyle. For example, if you’re presenting a speech on animal rights to a room full of undergrads, you’ll want to appeal to emotion and highlight talking points that might make them feel compassion.
For more on rhetoric and how it works, read our blog on how to write a rhetorical analysis essay. In this blog, we explain exactly what rhetoric is, how to use it effectively in your own writing or speechwriting, and what kind of techniques you can use.
Female fashion professor presenting lessons to her students
Pick a Good Topic
We don’t always get to choose the topic we work with. But if you can, choose a topic you’re passionate about or at least interested in. Chances are, if it’s something you are very interested in, you already know a lot about it. With that base of knowledge, it’s a lot easier to find the confidence to continue talking because you know you can back up what you’re saying if you get put on the spot.
Think about it. When you talk to your friends, classmates, or family about the things you love or causes you’re interested in, you probably never stop to second guess yourself or worry about not having the answers. This is the level of confidence you want to achieve when you’re public speaking, no matter who the audience is.
If you need some good ideas, take a look at our list of 200 informative speech topics and 100 persuasive speech topics that will help you capture your audience’s attention.
Start Small and Build up From There
Practice presenting to a small group of people, and then work your way up to a bigger audience. When you first start out, try presenting to your friends or family members who you know will support and encourage you. Sure, the people who love you aren’t going to be as inclined to give you constructive criticism because they won’t want to hurt your feelings. However, it’s good to practice speaking to a group you’re already comfortable with, and then slowly leave your comfort zone by taking baby steps.
After you’re comfortable presenting to your group of family or friends, slowly start with smaller groups that have strangers or people you don’t know as well thrown into the mix. This blend of familiar faces and strangers will slowly help you feel more comfortable, and you can keep on building up until you’re ready to talk to an audience made up entirely of strangers.
Young man presenting ideas at a big tech conference
Back Yourself up With an Awesome PowerPoint Presentation
This may not seem that relevant when it comes to learning how to improve your public speaking and presenting skills, but what you present is equally as important as how you present it. If you know your audience is going to be looking at an awesome presentation behind you, it can help you feel more comfortable presenting overall.
A good visual aid or PowerPoint presentation should have some of the following key elements:
● Consistency: Use the same fonts, colours, and sizes throughout the presentation. Stick to a template to make this easier.
● Easy to read fonts: This is not the time to get fancy and use unusual fonts just because they’re available in the font library. Stick to simple fonts like Arial and Times New Roman that everyone can read, even from the back row.
● Simple information: Points should be direct and summary-based so you can expand on them in your speech. Don’t crowd each slide with too much text.
● A good number of slides: Don’t make your presentation too long, but use enough slides to make your point. Try to stick to about one slide per minute.
● Limited special effects: You may be tempted to have your text flying in from all directions for a fun effect, but these special effects are distracting, “cutesy,” and take away from the credibility of your message.
● Good quality images: Don’t just throw in images for the fun of it if they aren’t good quality. Your audience doesn’t want to spend half your presentation squinting to see the images.
If you’re not feeling very confident in your PowerPoint presentation creation skills, you still have plenty of options. At Homework Help Global, we offer a range of services that can help make your life easier, including PowerPoint presentations. All of our presentations are created by experts who love bringing concepts to life and know exactly what it takes to make a presentation that will impress any crowd.
Take Some Extra Lessons
There are a lot of arguments out there that state that schools should teach public speaking classes. While this is a great idea, it’s not a common offering yet. In the meantime, until schools have more resources for this, there are tons of great places you can look for public speaking lessons and coaching sessions if you’re really struggling.
Check out some free online resources that have videos such as this lesson plan from FluentU. You can also try watching TED Talks to analyze what successful presenters do. Many services out there offer tutoring lessons that can help you practice, or you can look for local organizations that have community gatherings and meetings to help.
Toastmasters is one of the most widely recognized organizations dedicated to helping people communicate better, become more confident with presenting, and strengthen their public speaking skills. They have chapters in many different cities, and are currently hosting online meetings you can attend from anywhere in the world.
College marketing student making a presentation to her classmates
Final Quick Tips For Learning How to Improve Your Public Speaking
Before we leave you to start practicing your public speaking, here are some final quick tips that will help you with your presentations and speaking:
● When writing out your presentation notes or cue cards, change colours every few lines. This way, if you lose your spot, you can easily find it again without missing a beat.
● Use the “meme style” for your text (white text with a black border). This text style is visible on virtually every background.
● Make a backup plan you can use in case you encounter technical difficulties, like a handout or a fact sheet your audience can follow along on.
● Don’t read off your slides or cue cards. This is where all that practice really pays off!
● Practice with distractions in the room (like the TV on) to help you be prepared for distractions that might occur during your actual presentation.
● Try to fit in some exercise before your presentation if you can. Exercise helps release endorphins, which can help calm your nerves and reduce anxiety.
Graduate student presenting her thesis to members of the faculty
A Good Speech Makes Public Speaking Easier. Here’s How to Get One Without Doing the Work
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