Public Speaking Tips for Effective Communication
Most leaders, managers, and experts must speak in front of an audience. Sometimes it’s making a PowerPoint presentation to an audience. Other times, it’s speaking up in a team meeting. In every case, however, the effectiveness with which you communicate is essential. Strong public speaking and presentation skills are essential, whether it’s with a large audience or a small one.
A public speaking situation can either go well or badly. Your ability to clearly communicate your ideas and arguments while keeping the audience engaged will significantly impact how people perceive you and your company. A good speech will force audience members to pay attention.
This isn’t to scare you from ever speaking in public again; it’s simply to explain why so many of us become nervous and anxious before public speaking engagements. Fortunately, there are many ways to prepare for your presentations and meetings, manage your nervousness, and consistently improve your performance.
Poised lays it all out here:
Why Effective Public Speaking Matters
You don’t have to be in a position where you regularly give presentations to a group of people to need effective and good public speaking skills. There are many situations where such skills can open up opportunities and benefit your career advancement goals.
Say, for instance, that you are at a networking event and someone asks you about what your organization or small business does. Or, perhaps you win an award and have to make a speech afterward. It could be as simple as subbing in to teach an orientation class to new employees.
And these days, there are plenty of online situations where you may need to speak to an audience, such as team meetings, company-wide presentations or talks, or client and vendor meetings.
Public speaking skills extend even beyond the workplace. You can benefit from confidently and effectively communicating in front of others if you ever need to inspire volunteers at a fundraiser, give a eulogy, or address a crowd at a wedding. In other words, establishing yourself as a competent public speaker can increase your self-confidence, improve your reputation, and open all kinds of doors.
History of Public Speaking: Great Speeches
There are countless public speakers over the ages who have made an immeasurable impact on their listeners.
Some of the most renowned speakers in history include:
- Abraham Lincoln
- Frederick Douglas
- Sojourner Truth
- Susan B. Anthony
- Theodore Roosevelt
- Winston Churchill
- Martin Luther King, Jr.
- Nelson Mandela
You’ll notice that all of these speakers share a common quality: They were either politicians or were heavily involved in the political movements of their day. However, there are plenty of other public speakers that we can pull from for inspiration in our business environments, especially in current times.
In the 2008 Harvard commencement speech, author J.K. Rowling brilliantly connected with her audience, beginning with sharing her fear of public speaking. This allowed her to build a positive rapport with her listeners and ease the tension she was feeling. Then, she used her grammatical abilities and a conversational tone to deliver an impactful speech.
This is just one of many examples of effective public speaking today. Take the time to research some of the world’s top CEOs and founders to see how they deliver their messages with purpose and clearly demonstrate their short- and long-term visions.
Fear of Public Speaking
Fear of public speaking is a very real thing, and it has a medical term for it — glossophobia. This fear occurs during or before you perform a speech or oral presentation in front of a group or audience.
Fear of public speaking is quite common. The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) claims that about 73% of people suffer from glossophobia to one degree or another. This phobia is categorized as a social anxiety disorder.
It’s Normal To Be Nervous
It cannot be overstated how important it is to remember that nervousness is normal. In specific uncomfortable situations, it can even benefit you. Don't be surprised if you feel nervous or anxious every time you have a new challenge or opportunity in front of you. Such experiences ultimately help you to grow over time.
Remember that feeling nervous typically occurs when your body is preparing you for something you're uncomfortable with, meaning it can stretch you and take you to new heights in your career. Remind yourself that nerves are normal, relinquish your fear, and keep your nerves at bay.
Many leaders, managers, and employees use deep breathing to control their nervousness or anxiety. The fight-or-flight response is useful in truly dangerous situations. But deep breathing can help you prevent this response when no genuine threat is present.
Remember that the fight-or-flight response makes your heartbeat and breathing rate increase. Focusing on and regulating your breathing can reduce your risk of experiencing an anxiety attack or panic attack, and it can calm you before a meeting or presentation.
Top Public Speaking Tips
Once you begin to find ways to manage your nervousness, it’s time to hone your public speaking skills. Some people are born powerful orators, but most of us must work at it each day and learn from experience how to communicate with more impact.
Many books, documentaries, courses, and other media are worth studying to help sharpen your speaking skills. But here are a few proven tips to get you started:
Maintain Eye Contact
Making and maintaining eye contact can help your presentation or meeting in many ways. First of all, it initiates a connection with your listeners because it shows you care about their thoughts and opinions. It also helps to improve your concentration and makes you come across as confident and authoritative. All and all, it helps you keep your audience engaged.
Try to picture your audience as individual listeners, and involve as many people as possible in the interaction. Lock eyes with each listener for at least three seconds but no longer than five. If someone becomes uncomfortable, move your eyes to someone else.
Moreover, if there are key points in your speech that you want to ensure listeners absorb, it's paramount to make eye contact while delivering them.
Avoid Filler Words
We all use filler words in everyday conversation. Even some of the most gifted orators use filler words occasionally during speeches. But using too many of them can eliminate any chance you have of engaging your audience in a meeting or presentation. Most of the time, filler words happen out of nervousness.
So, how do you minimize these useless words (e.g., “um,” “so,” “like,” etc.)? One way is to use a communication coach software like Poised to receive real-time alerts and post-meeting analyses of your filler word usage.
It can also help to record yourself rehearsing your presentation beforehand to hear for yourself how often you are incorporating them into your speech. As you learn about how filler words are impacting your communication, keep practicing each day to reduce their frequency.
Perfect Your Body Language
The content of your message is essential. But in many cases, your tone and body language are even more critical than the words you deliver.
That's because movement and body language are two of the key factors that distinguish public speaking from writing. If you simply stare down and read your presentation from a paper or device, your audience may as well be listening to a recording or reading a report.
Using your body language and other forms of nonverbal communication can emphasize the urgency and importance of specific parts of your content, and it can keep your audience engaged for long periods of time. If you come across as passionate about what you are saying, your listeners will be more likely to embrace it.
How To Keep Your Audience’s Attention
No one wants to sit through a boring presentation or a meeting where team members are reading from a list of organizational changes. If you want to stand out from your team and advance your career, learning to hold your audience’s attention will prove to be an indispensable skill.
Let’s talk about a few tactics you can try during your next meeting or presentation.
Use Humor (Appropriately)
There is no better icebreaker than humor. If you naturally have a great sense of humor, use it to your advantage to charm your audience. Even if you would not consider yourself naturally funny, you can use humor as a device to engage your listeners, as long as you do it tactfully!
Any joke you tell should be appropriate and relevant to your presentation. For example, if you reference a TV show, make sure most of your listeners will understand the reference. One of the most effective strategies is to employ self-deprecating humor, meaning you joke at your own expense. This can instantly help you build a positive rapport with your audience because it makes you relatable.
Draw On Visual Aids
Using visual aids sparingly throughout your presentation can go a long way in helping your audience remain attentive. Graphs and charts to highlight statistics is one tried-and-true method. Presentation slides can be effective for showcasing key points, introducing outlines, and summarizing content.
One of the most impactful visual aids to consider is video. Most people watch videos for entertainment and to learn information in daily life. So, why not inject some of your listener’s daily experiences into your presentation?
A transition occurs anytime you move from one section or point of your presentation to the next, and it can be either a word, a phrase or a sentence. For instance, you might begin your speech with “Today, I’m going to talk about [topic].”
If you are presenting the outline of your presentation, you may tell your audience about the structure by saying, “We will be covering three main points.”
You would also include transitional words or phrases between the introduction and the first point, after each subsequent point, when referring to previous ideas, suggesting an aside note, and many other scenarios. The key is to keep your transitions clear and to use them in variety.
The Art of Public Speaking
Unless you were born a powerful orator, plan for it to take time to develop your public speaking skills. By following the tips above, you can start learning the art of public speaking and improving your chops today. Remember to take advantage of any communication tools along the way.