If the thought of speaking to a group of people grips you in a cold sweat, you’re not alone.
According to YouGov, 49% of us are at least somewhat scared of addressing a group of people publicly. And 15% would say they’re glossophobic: in other words, they have an overwhelming, debilitating fear of public speaking.
This can be a big deal, especially as it’s often expected to make some form of workplace presentation every now and again. Not only can this be stressful, but it can sometimes hamper individuals from reaching their full potential, or even advancing their career.
If you find public speaking daunting, here are some pointers to help you become a better, more confident public speaker.
- Being a better public speaker can benefit your career by bolstering your communication skills; making you a more effective team player; boosting your confidence; and helping you deal with other nerve-racking workplace scenarios.
- Much of improving your public speaking is in the preparation. Familiarise yourself with the material, write a script or make a plan, and know your audience.
- Tips for becoming a more confident public speaker include speaking slowly and clearly; considering your body language; being authentic; learning from feedback; and – of course – getting plenty of practice in.
Why being a better public speaker benefits your career
While some may choose to simply avoid it, improving your public speaking can be hugely helpful for your career. These benefits include:
- Better communication skills. Public speaking involves articulating thoughts clearly, which aids your overall communication.
- More effective team communication. The skills you gain will also help you to speak up and have your voice heard in the team environment. Being clear and persuasive can help with collaboration, and ensures your ideas and contributions are heard.
- A boost in confidence. Being a good public speaker will improve your self-confidence . While being a benefit in itself, this will also help you professionally. Speaking confidently in meetings or presentations will project an image of competence, which can go a long way in the workplace.
- Overcome fear and nerves. By actively working on something you have doubts about – or are possibly even afraid of – you’re overcoming an obstacle and developing resilience. This can translate into a better ability to handle all sorts of challenging workplace scenarios.
8 Tips for becoming a better public speaker
While some people may appear to be natural public speakers, more often than not, this is likely to be down to practice. Public speaking is a skill, and as such, it can be learned. And honed.
With this in mind, here are a few practical tips to help you improve your public-speaking skills, while gaining in confidence along the way.
#1. Before you start, be prepared!
Thorough preparation is key to delivering a confident and engaging speech. Start by identifying your main message or theme, and then develop an outline or script that supports it. Be sure to include key points and examples. And if you know the subject inside-out, then you’ve already won half the battle.
Of course, we don’t always have the luxury of being an expert in the subject we’re speaking about. But at least being prepared and having a plan in place will see you through. Be sure to practise delivering the speech until you feel comfortable with the material.
In addition, take a bit of time to think about who your audience are as people, and what ways you could cater your presentation or speech for them. Tailoring your message to their interests and needs can help make a stronger connection with them. It might also prevent you from putting your foot in it!
#2. Practise, practise, and practise some more
The most effective way to improve your public speaking skills is through actually doing it. Rinse. Repeat.
If you haven’t begun your public-speaking journey, a good place to start is by speaking in front of a small group of people. Friends or family members are usually a receptive audience. Then gradually work your way up to larger audiences.
💡Bonus tip: Go to see someone give a talk or presentation. When it’s time for Q&A, ask a question. This will be good, bite-sized practice for stepping into the spotlight, and then stepping straight back out of it again.
Also, while some may find this takes a bit of getting used to, recording yourself speaking can be great practice. Watching or listening to the playback can help identify areas for improvement.
#3. Make a presentation, and use visual aids
In a work context, making a presentation is a standard and expected part of day-to-day business. Using visual aids such as photos, charts and graphs or illustrations can help to reinforce your message – while also making your presentation more engaging.
It’s best not to overload it though. Use visual aids sparingly, and avoid cluttering your slides with too much information. It’s also a bit of a no-no to read text from your slides verbatim. Rather, give yourself snippets of text to use as prompts, and chat around them.
Also, make sure you’re familiar with the equipment you’ll be using. This will ensure that everything runs smoothly during your presentation. The last thing you want is to get flustered by your visual presentation not working properly.
💡Bonus tip: Our presentation skills training courses, delivered by our expert trainers, will give you all the necessary business skills to become a better public speaker.
#4. Speak clearly and slowly
One of the most common mistakes people make when speaking in public is speaking too quickly. This can make it difficult for your audience to understand what you’re saying. Plus it can make you appear nervous.
Take your time. Speak slowly and clearly, enunciating each word and pausing for emphasis. It’s also OK to pause now and again. This gives the impression that you’re stopping for thought. Which maybe you are, but it’s also a good strategy for keeping things at a digestible pace.
#5. Think about your body language
Your body language can have a significant impact on how your message is received. Be careful not to slouch, and use hand gestures to emphasise key points – although don’t overdo it by gesticulating wildly!
Eye contact is also important. Don’t be shy about maintaining eye contact with your audience, as this will help them feel more engaged. Choose maybe three or four audience members in different areas of the space to look at, and switch between them periodically. This will give people in those sections the feeling that they’re getting your attention.
#6. Keep your audience engaged
Engaging your audience is key to keeping them interested in your message. But how can you achieve this? Asking questions and encouraging participation is one effective way of keeping people engaged, although this may seem daunting if you’re just beginning your public-speaking journey. But remember, we all know what practice makes.
Your audience is also more likely to remain engaged if you’re relatable. Try using stories, anecdotes or examples to help illustrate your points. But on this point…
#7. Be authentic!
One of the best ways to gain confidence as a public speaker is to be authentic and true to yourself. Avoid trying to be someone you’re not, as this can come across as insincere. And people have a good nose for inauthenticity!
Instead, be genuine and speak from the heart, sharing your personal experiences and insights with your audience. Being honest and sincere is sure to get your audience on your side.
#8. Learn from feedback
As with so many things, gathering feedback can be a valuable tool for improving your public-speaking skills. After each presentation, ask for feedback from someone you trust, or from the audience themselves. You could leave feedback forms for audience members to fill in, for instance, or create an online survey using a service such as SurveyMonkey .
Use this feedback to identify areas for improvement, and develop a plan for how to address them in future presentations.
Still not sure about public speaking?
If you’re not a confident public speaker, you’re actually in some stellar company. The list of those who’ve overcome social anxiety to become influential public figures includes Hugh Grant, Emma Watson, Warren Buffet, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Abraham Lincoln, Elanor Roosevelt, Princess Diana and Mahatma Gandhi.
If you’d like help to improve a range of interpersonal skills – including communication, rapport building, presentation and public speaking – you may find our business skills training courses useful.
- Ted Talk: Amy Cuddy – Our body language may shape who you are (#3. The Most Popular TED Talks)
- Build confidence when speaking with these practice exercises (YouTube).
- TEDx talk on the surprising secret to speaking with confidence (YouTube).
- This British Council guide to overcoming your fear of public speaking focuses on the mechanics, including breathing and bodily exercises you can do to help.