Public Speaking Skills

How to Improve Your Public Speaking Skills

Learn how to become a confident public speaker.
Public speaking is a skill that can be learned. Getty / Klaus Vedfelt

Public speaking skills are valuable both in your personal life and in your career. Even if you don't regularly engage in public speaking, developing skills in this area will increase your confidence and reduce anxiety about situations in which you may be called upon to speak in public.

Even those who live with social anxiety disorder (SAD) can become confident speakers, with skill development and treatment for anxiety (such as medication or cognitive-behavioral therapy). Below are some key skills held by good public speakers. Once your social anxiety is manageable, work on developing these skills to improve your ability as a presenter.

1. Stage Presence

Good public speakers appear

  • confident
  • friendly
  • enthusiastic
  • energetic 

Confidence comes from choosing a topic you like and researching it well.

Friendliness can be conveyed simply by smiling at your audience.

Enthusiasm and energy will naturally follow when you enjoy your topic and are well prepared.

If you feel that your stage presence is lacking, view clips of speakers whom you admire. Aim to imitate their style. Then, "fake it until you make it." In other words, act confident until you feel confident.

2. Voice Control

Your voice is the most important tool you will use as a public speaker. Improve the quality of your voice through diaphragmatic breathing; breathing from your diaphragm instead of your chest. This is how professional singers breathe. It is what helps to make their voices sound fabulous and enables them to hold notes long after most people would be out of breath.

Doing so also reduces feelings of breathlessness caused by speech anxiety. This type of breathing will allow you to better control the following aspects of your voice:

  • tone (quality)
  • pitch (high or low)
  • volume of your voice

A quick tip to implement diaphragmatic breathing is to lie down on the floor and place one hand on your abdomen. As you breath, try to make your stomach rise. Count to 10 as you inhale and fill your stomach, then count to 10 again as you exhale. Try to remember to breath from your diaphragm as you speak in public.

3. Body Language

Consider your body language and the message that it conveys.

  • Practice standing with a relaxed upright posture.
  • Place your hands at your sides or clasped in front of you, unless you are making a gesture to emphasize a point.
  • Become aware of your facial expressions as well; they should match the message you are delivering. If you're giving an upbeat speech, try to have a relaxed and joyful look on your face.

4. Delivery

When it comes to public speaking, delivery is everything. Even if you have a great voice and good body language, your message will get lost if the audience can't easily follow what you say. Below are some tips for developing good delivery skills.

  • Speak slowly and deliberately. Here's a tip: it will probably seem too slow for you.
  • Pause between ideas to give the audience time to digest what you are saying.
  • Carefully articulate and pronounce your words. A mumbling public speaker is hard to understand.
  • Avoid filler sounds like "Um" and "ah." It detracts from what you are saying and is distracting to the audience.
  • Vary the pitch and volume of your voice to add interest. Speaking in a monotone is a surefire way to lose the interest of your listeners. Listen to podcasts of upbeat public speakers and try to imitate how they talk. One good example is Paula Pant of the Afford Anything podcast.

5. Audience Relations

Good public speakers are in tune with their audience. Public speaking is more than standing in front of a group and talking.

  • Acknowledge your audience right away and begin talking as soon as all eyes are on you. This helps to make you seem more like a "real" person and keeps a conversational tone.
  • If you need to set up equipment, converse with your audience at the same time to keep their attention.
  • Make eye contact and watch for communication from the audience. Smiles and nodding are good; fidgeting or confused looks may mean that you need to adjust what you are doing. However, if you live with social anxiety, be careful not to focus too much on negative faces. It could be that they are just having a bad day, and their facial expressions have nothing to do with what you are saying. A good rule of thumb is to find a friendly face at the start of your talk. If that person seems to be confused or bored, that is when you know it is time to address issues with your public speaking.

Innoculation Messages

Research has shown that inoculation strategies can be useful to help individuals remain calm before and during public speaking. What is an inoculation message? In short, it is a message that helps you to interpret your fear differently. The term "innoculation" is used to indicate that it is something that is done prior to public speaking, to "innoculate" you from your fear.

It is presented in this way:

1. You are told that speaking in front of an audience may cause you anxiety. That this is something that happens to many people.

2. You are presented with typical worries that go along with that fear, such as that the audience will be bored or laugh at you.

3. Then, your worries are followed up with refuting points, such as that it would be rare for an audience to laugh, or that even if things do go badly, the audience is likely to sympathize with you.

In a way, this is much like what you would experience during cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), though it is being presented in an informational format without you needing to attend any therapy sessions.

How can you make this work for you? Tell yourself the same things before engaging in public speaking and see if it helps to reduce your fears.

Tell yourself the following:

  1. Public speaking anxiety is common.
  2. Most people worry that the audience will get bored or that they will make a fool of themselves.
  3. Even if the worst were to happen, the audience is more likely to be sympathetic.

A Word From Verywell

Fear of public speaking is a normal experience. However, if you have extreme anxiety while speaking in public, you may suffer with a specific form of social anxiety disorder. It is important to seek help from your doctor or a trained mental health professional. While improving your public speaking skills is helpful, this needs to be grounded in a solid framework for overcoming your social anxiety.

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