Though it may seem to be a lost art, public speaking is an incredibly important life skill. You might be surprised at how the ability to communicate powerfully and effectively in front of an audience can translate into your everyday world—and just how far it can get you.
The eloquence and improvisational skills you learn by speaking in public will also help you communicate more effectively with teachers and employers, while the confidence you accrue will enhance every aspect of your life. But public speaking doesn’t come naturally to everyone. Here are 5 tips to get you started on polishing your speaking skills so you can communicate fearlessly.
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1. Make note cards
Preparation is key when you’re delivering a speech. If you spend plenty of time learning your material and preparing your notes, then when it’s time to speak, you’ll already have a clear picture of what to say and how to say it. Effective notes should be simple, just a few words or phrases on each card to remind you of where you are in your speech and what you plan to say. Don’t overwhelm yourself with too many notes, or you may end up with your nose in the cards instead of engaging your audience.
2. Record yourself when you practice
Obviously, the first step to advancing at any skill is practice, but just as important as spending time practicing is ensuring that your practice is productive. One of the best ways to practice a speech is by capturing a video recording of yourself. I know, I know, this sounds awful, but it really is effective.
Once you’ve finished delivering the speech just as you would to a live audience, go back and review the recording. You’ll notice the areas that should be corrected, such as speech tics, awkward hand motions, or phrases that need to be reworded. Watching a recording of yourself is the best way to understand where you need improvement, even though it might be a little painful.
3. Eliminate filler
When you watched your recording of your speech, did you notice a lot of “uhs,” “ums,” “likes,” or other filler words? These speech tics are things you say without even realizing, but to a listener they are extremely distracting. Once you’re aware of those words that you stick into every sentence break, you can eliminate them easily if you remain calm and focused.
As you’re delivering your speech, instead of resorting to a filler word, just pause and have a second of silence. It will feel awkward at first, but silence is a great tool in a speech, as it gives time for your words to sink in for the audience.
4. Connect with the audience
A personal connection is crucial in public speaking; eye contact and body language will help convey to your audience that they’re valued and that you want them to hear and understand what you’re saying. It will also make for a more engaging speech if you use gestures or motion for emphasis, which keeps people engaged and channels your energy and enthusiasm to the audience.
5. End on a high note
Your closing statement can make or break your speech; a strong, memorable closer will stick in the minds of your audience and give them a positive impression. A weak closing is anticlimactic and disappointing, so even if everything else you said was highly entertaining, your closing could determine how people will remember the speech—or whether they’ll remember it at all. Close with an inspirational quote, a call to action, or even a humorous (short!) story to keep people engaged and listening right up to the very end.
Implement these tips for your next speech, and you’ll be well on your way to becoming a great public speaker! Just remember to breathe, relax, and have fun.