Public speaking skills

Public speaking skills

At the mere mention of public speaking, mouths can dry up, hearts race and stomachs sink – indeed some find it very challenging to face this task. 

But it need not be the case. Improving your ability to address a crowd will help progress your career and open you up to many new opportunities. Here are our top public speaking tips, and our advice on how you can learn to quash all fears.

Stand up and speak out

Being able to communicate clearly and put your points across to an individual or group is an important skill, and one you’ll use throughout your personal and professional life. Whether you’re presenting new products to clients or explaining procedures to colleagues, public speaking takes on many forms, and it pays to be prepared for as many of these types of opportunities as possible.

The best addresses

The strongest and most memorable examples of public speaking, whether it’s your manager rousing support for a campaign in a Monday morning meeting or words from a famed speaker such as Martin Luther King Jr., great public speakers, and the content they present, have the following elements in common:

  • A strong opening
    It’s widely known that you only have a few seconds to make an impression and capture a crowd, so keep this in mind when you’re constructing your presentation or speech. Rather than starting with something obvious or clichéd, open with an anecdote, or by referencing findings from a study. If you start well, you’ll set the tone for the entire presentation, and the confidence gained from these opening seconds will propel you through to the end. Be prepared to rewrite and test your opening until you're completely satisfied with it.
     
  • Language that’s easy to understand
    While you might be striving to sound eloquent and informed by using complicated terminology, industry jargon or decorative language, remember that you still have a key message to convey. If your audience can’t understand you, then essentially, the presentation has failed. Whether you’re introducing new IT software to a small team or revealing the results of the last financial year to the entire business, use easy-to-manage language so that your audience understands, and you get through the presentation with ease.
     
  • Pauses
    Silence can be just as important as talking in public speaking. It allows the audience to reflect on what you’ve said, consolidating their ideas and formulating questions. Perhaps more importantly, it also gives you a chance to take a deep breath, reset and go onto your next point, segmenting your address into manageable parts. Don’t be afraid to use pauses in your presentation, marking them in your notes or script so you can anticipate their arrival.
     
  • A compelling close
    A brilliant opening will be quickly forgotten if it isn’t followed by an equally strong closing remark. Perhaps you’ve weaved a theme through your talk and can bring it home with a final thought? Maybe you’ll connect with the audience and invite them to imagine a world were what your presenting includes them, improving their professional lives? Whatever your tactic, make sure you finish strong, making your public address truly memorable. Be sure to thank your audience for their time and attention too.

How to improve your public speaking

  • Let’s get physical
    In addition to the content you present, there are also physical elements of public speaking, and it’s just as important to get these right. Think eye contact with your audience, a confident posture, good enunciation and smiling. Focusing on a good physical presentation won’t only engage those watching, it will make you feel confident and strong as you’re talking too.
     
  • Know your content
    Being well researched and prepared is a key public speaking tip, and will reduce your stress and anxiety levels immensely. Give yourself adequate time to process all the information and data available, then refine it into management notes and dot points that you can use throughout your speech. Use notes as prompters only to avoid having to read great slabs of text and losing the attention of your audience.
     
  • Practice
    Like strengthening your presentation skills, practicing is central to your public speaking success. Every little bit counts, so use your friends and relatives, colleagues and mentors or even a mirror to practice your public speaking with. Keep a watch or clock close by to ensure you’re not going over the timeframe you’ve been allocated, or racing through your presentation too quickly. 
     
  • Ask for feedback
    Another great public speaking tip is to ask your audience how you performed. You might develop a short paper form or online survey, or just request commentary via email. However you obtain feedback, tell your audience that you’re eager to improve your public speaking skills and welcome their constructive advice. You should also seek feedback from those you practice with.

Public speaking doesn’t need to be a dreaded task. In fact, it can and should be a rewarding professional pursuit that you take enjoyment from as you engage audiences and deliver information and ideas in a compelling way. Remember, there’s no perfect public speaking technique, and much of the enjoyment can come from developing a unique style throughout your career.