Improve your public speaking skills with this guest post from Eric Straighte.
It’s safe to say the consensus among Americans is that they would prefer doing almost anything else to speaking in front of an audience. However, since public speaking is something nearly everyone has to do at some point, it makes sense to tackle those fears with some practical tools. So whether you’re still studying for your degree in management or masters in leadership, or already out in the professional world, by using these five easy ways to improve your public speaking skills, you may discover that you enjoy what you used to dread.
1 Improve your public speaking skills by understanding your audience
Some professional speakers might say, “Just imagine the audience in their underwear.” The idea behind imagining them in their underwear is to humanize your audience — to turn them into people like you, rather than judgmental forces. What can be far more helpful, though, is to realize that your audience is actually benevolent. They want you to do well because they are interested enough in what you are speaking about to show up and stay in their seat. If you begin to understand your audience and feel their support, public speaking becomes much less scary.
2 Improve your public speaking skills by using props
One of the reasons people are frightened of public speaking is they imagine themselves up on stage — as if they were in the school play — forgetting their lines. For some speakers, this fear is quite severe, so they choose not to stand on the platform or stage but rather on the floor at audience level. Other speakers deal with this fear by building a simple PowerPoint presentation or slideshow to give them a regular point of contact in case they lose their train of thought. Still other speakers like to use props, such as clothing, hats or cut-outs, and others use notecards or even an iPad to help them stay on course. Few speakers today deliver a speech without some support from cues or props.
3 Improve your public speaking skills by catching yourself on camera
The best way to improve as a speaker is to capture yourself on video and watch yourself after the fact. You can learn about your nervous tics and habits to minimize them in the future, and you can evaluate your facial expressions, body language and hand gestures. This is a great way to grow as a speaker after the event. You can also ask for testimonials from attendees and use them as helpful feedback to improve your presentation.
4 Improve your public speaking skills by practicing
Practice makes progress. Very few public speakers — no matter how phenomenal you think they are — got to where they are without continual practice. If you plan to use a PowerPoint presentation or a series of props, run through your whole program several times using these tools. Then, run through it again in your head without any of the tools (it helps if you can lie down and relax while you do this). Practice on the way to the event. Practice in your dressing room. Practice while you are falling asleep at night. Musicians often visualize their instrument and repeatedly playing the notes of a piece—you can do the same thing to progress as a speaker.
5 Improve your public speaking skills by inviting flexibility
The best public speakers understand that no matter how much they prepare, they cannot prepare for every single contingency. An audience member might interrupt your carefully planned speech to ask a sudden question. You might have a fire drill in the middle of your speech. Since you can’t plan for every unknown, invite flexibility and humor into your speech. Your audience will appreciate your ability to “join them” for the time you are together, and you will instantly seem more approachable and genuine.
About the Author: Eric Straighte is a contributing writer who will receive his communications degree in spring of 2013. He has taken several public speaking classes, which he feels have vastly improved his speechmaking skills. Image provided by Antony Adolf from Flickr’s Creative Commons