I’m thankful for a Mom who promptly enrolled me in the local 4-H program as a child and encouraged me to do a demonstration every year since the age of 7. Without years of public speaking under my belt, I’m positive I would be among the 74% of people who suffer from speech anxiety. But, like anything else, the more I’ve been able to do it (and now fully embrace and love it), the easier it has become. Learning public speaking skills is not only handy for the obvious reason of speaking in front of groups. This skill has helped me in all arenas of my business and has even transcended over into my personal life. Regardless if you think you’ll ever speak in front of hundreds, there’s a lot of value to be gained from spending some time fine-tuning this skill.
Public speaking courses, organizations, and clubs, such as Toastmasters, are a great way to learn how to become comfortable in front of a crowd. A few peer-reviewed classes of Toastmasters can leave you feeling more confident and ready to lead a professional presentation. But a busy schedule and a hectic work life allows little time to attend meetings, and all the money, time, and energy you spent can go down the drain if you miss a class. What are some ways you can improve your public speaking skills on your time?
Volunteer to Lead
Volunteering to run a company meeting instead of just sitting in the crowd can help you gain the skills you need to lead a presentation. Make sure you know the material front and back, and practice the night before. You’ll gain valuable speaking experience, and as an added bonus, your boss will be impressed you’re taking the initiative. Can’t run the meeting? You can still accomplish this goal through committee work. Either volunteer to chair a committee or designating yourself as the reporter. Either position will make you the one who stands up and delivers committee info to the rest of the group.
Approach a Stranger
Building confidence starts with stepping out of our comfort zones. To improve both your body language and your speaking abilities, and to get over the nerves of talking to someone you don’t know, confidently approach a stranger and begin a conversation. This can involve offering a compliment, chit chatting with the person next to you at a coffee shop, or finding something to relate to and striking up a conversation from there. Unless you’re not leaving your house, there’s at least one opportunity in your day to strike up conversation with a stranger. Maybe it’s your taxi driver, a doorman, a receptionist, or the barista at your local coffee shop.
Watch and Listen
Good speakers are also good listeners. They are multi-tasking the entire time they are speaking by having to constantly watch and adjust to audience cues and feedback. What makes a speaker excellent is their ability to fully attune and adapt to their audience. This can only happen when they listen really well. Start taking note of how others talk in front of a crowd, or a small group, and how they start conversations. Read their body language to see how their whole self is involved in the discussion, and gain insight on their attitudes by watching their facial expressions and listening to their tone. Is it harming them or benefiting them? Learn what’s working and not working. There’s always an opportunity to people watch and doing so will give you a lot of insight into what makes people want to listen and engage with a speaker.
Public speaking isn’t just about standing in front of an audience and delivering, it’s equally about adapting to the group. Pay attention to the crowd and adjust if necessary. Allow people to interrupt if they have questions or insight. Don’t be a statue; be ready to respond to the audience’s reaction.
Be Your Own Audience
We are our own worst critics. Use your critical eye to your advantage and stand in front of a mirror or record yourself while delivering a speech. You’re more likely to notice your habits if you’re watching yourself perform, and you can practice correcting your tone, your posture, and your gestures if you can clearly see what you’re doing wrong. Make eye contact; if you can make eye contact with yourself, then you’ll be able to look your audience in the eye when the time matters.
Another way to be your own audience is to speak loudly and confidently into a tape recorder and play it back. We all hate the sound of our own voice, but after listening to yourself on tape a few times, you’ll grow past this. This will give you a good idea of where you need to correct your delivery, and it will let you know if you need to adjust your pace. There’s simply no better way to grow as a speaker than to get an audience glimpse of what you look and sound like.
Make it a Priority
Don’t wait any longer to improve your public speaking skills. Not only can it help with your confidence and poise, it can also further your career and strengthen your relationships. Making it a priority doesn’t have to be a drain on your time or money, you can use every opportunity to speak in front of a crowd. Give a toast at your next dinner party or get-together, call an old friend that you haven’t spoken with in a long time, or take the initiative at work to present your company’s accomplishments. If you have some time but don’t want to commit to Toastmasters, you can check out local improv classes or theater organizations, or volunteer to motivate participants in charity events.
Public speaking isn’t just about talking in front of dozens, or hundreds, of people. Sometimes speaking in front of just a couple of friends can be improved by practicing a few techniques. It can enhance every aspect of your life: it helps you be more assertive, it gives you the confidence to negotiate, and it makes you a better conversationalist and also a better listener. Language is the thread that keeps us together, use it effectively.
And if all else fails …
Some great reads help to do the job as well. You will not disappointed by any of these great books and resources. They’re wonderful to reference quite regularly when you need to fine-tune right before a speech:
- How to Deliver a TED Talk: Secrets of the World’s Most Inspiring Presentations
- The Quick and Easy Way to Effective Speaking
- The Well-Spoken Woman: Your Guide to Looking and Sounding Your Best