16 Tricks To Master Public Speaking

It might be intimidating to talk in front of people, be it five, 50, or 500. Surveys have shown that public speaking has long been one of the things people fear the most.

Unfortunately, in many professions, a certain amount of public speaking is required. You may need to speak at a small meeting, tell the whole company about something, or attend a conference, or other events. 

For whatever reason it is, there are steps you can take to master your presentation and public speaking skills.

 

Before You Even Get Up There

Much of what happens in public speaking takes place long before you approach the front of the room. Preparation and practice are essential requirements for public speaking. 

Here’s what one can do in advance to make sure that your speech goes as smoothly as possible.

 

1. Understand the Expectations and Learn the Details

Gather all the information you need to about location, technical setup, speaking time, clothing, on/off topics, type of presentation, etc. 

Having all this information in advance will help you prepare a presentation that is appropriate for the occasion and resonates with your audience.

It will also help you avoid technical or logistical breakdowns that could add unnecessary stress. You don’t want any surprises. 

 

2. Know Your Audience

Understanding your audience is as essential as understanding the topic you will be discussing. Make sure you know your level of knowledge and adapt your presentation accordingly. You don’t want to tire them out with details they already know or want to overload them with unnecessary information.

Josephine Lee, who won third place at the 2016 World Speaking Arts Championship, emphasizes that even if she delivers the same speech in front of two different audiences, she will take the time to adapt it to the audience’s requirements. 

She always asks herself the question: “Who is the target audience, and why are they there?”.

For example, the speech you would give at an engagement party among all your college friends may be very different from the speech you gave at the wedding of the same friend in front of the whole extended family.

Or, in a professional context, imagine you’re doing a presentation about the future of your company. That will look different depending on whether you are talking to your execs team, or to a room full of college students interested in getting into the industry. 

For the management team, you can immerse yourself in the madness of the last quarter’s results and share your vision of what changes your organization needs to make them remain competitive. 

For interested students, you would probably zoom in a bit, give an idea of your industry, and outline what your company is doing and where it is going.

 

3. Plan and Structure Your Speech

So often, the focus of a public speaking board is on how you speak in front of an audience. These things are essential (so we’ll talk about them in detail below!). However, before you get there, you should think about what you are saying.

You may have excellent diction and presentation skills, but if your words and structure are everywhere, people will not remember what you said. 

It’s 100% about simplicity. When you speak in front of a live audience, it should be short. Therefore, if you have a lot of points, and go off on a tangent, you may lose their interest. Whereas, if you stay on a straightforward path, the people will remember what you were talking about.

Another useful structure of conversation is “in, out, forward.” 

You start with an opening story to explain why you’re talking about this particular topic; then, zoom into the evidence, and finish with the solutions.

 

4. Don’t Overload Your Slides

If you use slides to accompany your presentation, make sure that you do not overload them with too much text. 

Think about how you’d like to present the speech. Very few of us like slide presentations from the ‘80s where a person just reads us everything.

Personally, starting from my time in college, I love using the Prezi.com tool to build my visuals. The tool is quite powerful, and it’s easy to overdo it, but as they say, with great power comes great responsibility.

Apart from the simple fact that people will be distracted by squinting to see the tiny font, you may be tempted to start reading slides, and eventually, you will sound too much like Ferris Bueller, the economics teacher.

Instead, you should use slides primarily as a visual supplement to your words and as a tool to emphasize your basic ideas.

 

5. Practice, Practice, Practice

Once you have prepared your speech and your slides, it is now time to start practicing. The more you practice (duh), the more confident you will become and will be able to recognize and eliminate any irrelevant information that your speech may contain. 

While self-training is useful, it may be even better to do it in front of a live audience – even if it’s only your best friend or sister. The more you get used to talking in front of real people, the easier it will be.

 

6. Get Feedback

You can also get feedback from the pilot presentation before you go out and do the real thing. 

Ask the audience if your words and points were clear if there was something that confused them, how your rhythm is, and if there was something else that they noticed.

You can also give yourself feedback. Use your phone or any other device you have to record an audio or video of your training. 

When you play it back – you become your audience in a way and catch things that you didn’t understand and may need some attention.

 

7. Memorize Your First and Last Lines

However, you also don’t want to sound like a robot vomiting up a bunch of words you’ve written down.

If you memorize all the words word by word, it won’t sound very natural. Instead, you should plan a structure, but keep the words themselves a little flexible. 

Usually, you should try to memorize the opening and closing sentences. The goal is to ensure that you start and end strong, while at the same time giving yourself space for natural conversation between the beginning and end of your speech.

 

8. Join a Club or Attend a Workshop

You should not only practice each speech or presentation before you give it, but also try to get as much real-life experience behind you as possible to get used to it. The most important thing is to get as much stage time as possible in front of an audience. 

My go-to tool for events in real life is meetup.com, e.g. here is a link for public speaking:

https://www.meetup.com/topics/publicspeaking/

If there’s nothing available in your area, or do not appeal to you, look for personal development programs that can be very helpful. 

Otherwise, you can also try to gather a group of friends and colleagues who want to practice their skills and give and receive regular feedback.

 

9. Get in the Zone

Come up with a stage mantra that takes you physically and mentally into the presentation mode. 

That can vary from person to person. Think about what actions you need to take in advance to get into the zone.

It may take some time to find things that will help you in the lead-up to your speech, whether you are doing them the night before, during the day, or at moments just before the start. 

 

10. Don’t Bury Your Face in Your Notes

Notes can be useful.

 

Photo by @plqml

However, they can also be like a crutch if you start relying on them too much. You should communicate with the audience, make eye contact, and have a real conversation with them, not your notes.

If you are still unsure and you need your notes, go with bullet points. They will help you stay on the right track without tempting you to read everything from the page.

Notes can also block your face or body if you hold them up too high. So if you plan to have notes, try folding paper or using index cards with multiple bullet points to serve as a guide.

 

11. Make Eye Contact

You’ve probably heard this before, but eye contact is the key to a public performance. It helps you communicate with your audience, and is most effective when you focus on one person at a time. 

When you speak, you should always sound as if you are talking to one person, not to the masses. Direct visual contact toward one person, and then transition to another. That is an effective way to do it.

 

12. Use Pauses

Many times, people babble. Their mind drives them away, and yet they want to make a good impression. They also tend to rush and get it over with, especially when they get nervous. 

Make sure you use pauses. That is something that you can get focus on when you are practicing your speech. 

You can use the pauses strategically by inserting them right after crucial moments. Breaks also help you to gather your thoughts and draw the audience’s attention to what you are about to say.

 

13. Repeat Yourself

Remember that people listening to you live cannot rewind to catch the vital thing you just said, or flip a few pages to find that critical point that you mentioned earlier as if they were reading a book.

Therefore, help them by repeating your main ideas of your speech. Repetition ensures that everyone hears it, understands what is essential, and can process it properly.

If you have slides, you can also put them up a few times. It’s like the chorus of a song. It’s memorable, and it’s the first thing anyone can do again.

 

14. Let Some Questions Go

You can plan a lot, but the truth is that you can’t anticipate everything, including the issues or questions that may arise. It’s okay to say, “That is a great question. Let me call you back.” It’s a lot better than stuttering and making things up.

 

15. Keep Talking

Even experienced speakers sometimes stop and forget parts of their speech. You just have to keep talking until you find your way back.

Step away from a mentality that you have to be perfect. It’s okay if you forget. Learn to fill in the gaps. Start talking until you remember.

If your speech has a clear, simple structure, it’ll be easier for you to find your way back.

 

16. Remember the Audience Is on Your Side

For many people, public speaking seems like one of the scariest things they can be called to. They are afraid to fail and think they will be humiliated. 

However, people, on the other hand, don’t want to see you mess up – they want to hear what you have to say.

If you remember that the audience is on your side, it’s much more manageable. Focus on what you’re giving the audience, as if you were giving advice or telling a story to your best friend, dad, not worrying about yourself, and how you look.

Photo by Kane Reinholdtsen

To Sum Up

Remember that everyone gets nervous. Those leaders on many levels above you, whose presence makes you sweat? They must be nervous when they talk too. Give yourself some grace, and do your best. Let nothing stop you!

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