Jump to section
Published May 28, 2021
Some people are more afraid of public speaking than they are of dying.
I know that sounds extreme, but it makes sense when you think about it.
Our ancestors needed one another to survive. Social acceptance or rejection meant the difference between life and death.
And if there’s one situation where you run the risk of mass rejection, it’s public speaking.
No wonder many of us find it terrifying. It’s our survival instinct kicking in.
Yet, public speaking is an essential skill in today’s labor market.
If you want to know how to improve public speaking skills, keep reading for tips and strategies that will help make you a better public speaker.
Strong spoken communication skills are essential for a successful career or business.
According to a study by the Association of American Colleges and Universities, the majority of executives and hiring managers prioritize strong oral communication skills.
Most jobs require some degree of public speaking, whether it’s giving a presentation to your team or speaking at a conference.
But the survey respondents reported that less than half of college graduates are satisfactory in this area.
Public speaking requires you to present your ideas clearly. At the same time, you must project an image of yourself that inspires empathy in your audience.
But many of us experience public speaking anxiety. It can hinder your ability to deliver your message and engage your audience.
Public speaking isn’t only important at work. Fear of public speaking can also affect your personal life. It may create misunderstandings with family or friends or prevent you from taking part in activities.
For example, you might avoid speaking about your ideas or plans or giving a speech at a wedding or social event.
But if you have stage fright, don’t worry — you’re not alone. Few people are born with a natural talent for public speaking.
This is good news, as it means it’s a skill that you can learn. So let’s dive into how to become a great public speaker.
Thank you for your interest in BetterUp.
Developing your public speaking skills has many benefits in a work environment. It will also increase your confidence.
Even if you’re an introvert or suffer from chronic anxiety, overcoming your fear and learning to be a great public speaker is possible.
Here are four factors that influence your ability to communicate effectively.
1. Voice control
Your voice is the most basic communication tool you possess. Learning to use it properly is key for improving your public speaking.
Diaphragmatic breathing is a useful voice control technique. It can give your voice greater power and clarity and prevent the shortness of breath that anxiety causes.
To do this technique, relax your belly and let it expand as you breathe. Extend your inhalations and exhalations to a count of four each.
Practicing this type of breathing without speaking will help you prepare to use it while speaking.
It also helps calm your nerves.
During your public speaking event, use diaphragmatic breathing to control the three main aspects of your voice:
2. Body language
Your body language is the combination of your gestures, facial expressions, and movements.
It’s an integral part of how we communicate. It helps your audience better understand the nuances of your message.
If your body language contrasts with what you want to transmit or seems incoherent, your speech will be confusing.
Once you confuse people, you lose them.
Use the following tips to improve your body language and engage your audience:
- Stand up straight and avoid slouching if you are able. .
- Make sure your facial expression is coherent with your message.
- Stay still. Constant movement can distract your audience or change the way they receive your message.
- Practice power poses before your speaking event. This reduces stress and boosts your confidence. Try standing with your feet apart and arms stretched up. Take a few deep breaths, then observe how you feel.
- Watch a TED Talk and identify body language that effective communicators use.
Delivery is the way you speak. Good delivery is essential for your audience to understand your speech.
Follow these tips to improve your delivery:
- Speak at the speed of a normal conversation. Avoid speaking too quickly because people will get lost in what you are saying. But don’t speak too slowly, either, as they will get bored.
- Pause regularly. This gives people time to absorb the concepts and ideas. It also makes you appear more confident.
- Don’t mumble or eat your words — articulate clearly.
- Avoid making noises such as “ahh” or “umm” between words. If you need time to think, take a brief pause. There is nothing wrong with a few seconds of silence.
4. Audience relations
If you want your audience to listen to you, you need to engage them from the beginning.
The following are ways to connect with your audience:
- Smile and greet the audience. Thank them for being there. This will humanize you and establish a conversational tone.
- Look for people in the audience who seem actively engaged in your speech. Imagine speaking only to them.
- Make eye contact with as many people as possible. This will help establish personal connections with your audience.
Public speaking is a skill that anyone can develop.
These tips for public speaking will help you overcome your fear and show up with confidence at your next public speaking engagement.
Giving a great speech or presentation starts with planning.
Identify the core message you want to transmit. Look for interesting facts and statistics to back up your point. Prepare for possible questions that might come up.
Preparing also includes logistical planning. Visit the event location beforehand to get familiar with the environment.
Use this opportunity to identify any technical requirements, such as a microphone or projector.
Consider using a visual aid, such as a PowerPoint presentation. But if it’s going to give you more anxiety and stress worrying about clicking through the slides, then don’t. There is no hard and fast rule on visuals.
Practice in front of the mirror or record yourself speaking, then watch it back.
Analyze your speed, tone, body language, and facial expression to identify areas for improvement.
Look for public speaking opportunities — whether it’s giving a presentation at work or joining a local Toastmasters club.
Practice your speech as many times as possible before your public speaking engagement.
You can do this in front of the mirror, record yourself, or practice in front of friends and family.
3. Have a positive mindset
Everyone gets nervous before a performance. In fact, research shows that a healthy amount of nervousness enhances performance.
But don’t let your nerves suck you into a spiral of negative thoughts. Instead, embrace them and use them as performance rocket fuel.
To cultivate a positive mindset, visualize yourself giving the best speech of your life. Top performers use visualization to improve their results.
4. Involve your audience
Not only does this grab their attention, but it’s also a way to take the spotlight off of you.
Sharing the starring role with your audience members will help you establish a connection with them and feel less nervous.
5. Start with a story
Humans are wired to pay attention to stories. It activates the same parts of our brain that would activate if we experienced the events first-hand.
We all respond to stories in this way. There is no difference across cultures. This means you can harness the power of storytelling to establish a connection with anyone.
When you start your speech, you only have one minute to make a good impression on your audience.
A story, anecdote, or question can pique their curiosity and make them want to keep listening.
6. Dress for the occasion
When you look good, you feel good. And feeling good is the key to giving the best possible performance.
Think about it. Do you feel more confident in your favorite suit or dress or in your pajamas?
Dress to impress, but make sure you feel comfortable. Don’t wear anything that’s not your usual style.
Avoid wearing anything that you will constantly have to adjust as it will be uncomfortable and distracting.
7. Be yourself
It can be tempting to emulate a strong public speaker you admire. But this is a mistake.
We are all unique, and although you can never be someone else, you are great at being you.
Perhaps you wish you were funnier, but you’re not a natural comedian. That’s okay. Don’t start cracking jokes as soon as you get on stage.
Instead, embrace your other quirks — we all have them — and let them shine through in your speech. You never know how many audience members might resonate with you.
8. Ask for feedback
Ask a trusted friend or colleague to watch your presentation with a critical eye and give you feedback. (You can also film or record yourself.)
Ask them to be as specific as possible. Tell them to analyze what you do well, as well as what can be improved.
You probably already have some perceived strengths and weaknesses regarding your presentation skills. Ask your feedback buddy to look out for those specifically.
Even if you’re an introvert or suffer from social anxiety, it’s possible to overcome your fear of public speaking.
It will also boost your confidence, and you may even discover you enjoy it.
But if you still need more information on how to improve public speaking, consider taking a public speaking course.Alternatively, you could engage a coach to help you improve your confidence and become a better public speaker.
Sign up to receive the latest insights, content, and resources from BetterUp.
Thank you for your interest in BetterUp.
Vice President of Alliance Solutions
Leadership & Management
12 min read | May 6, 2021
The 11 tips that will improve your public speaking skillsRead More
14 min read | February 15, 2021
What Is self-management, and how can you improve it?Read More
17 min read | May 20, 2021
Speaking up for yourself: why it’s important and 11 steps to do it rightRead More
21 min read | April 12, 2021
Why communication is important in the workplace and how to improve your skillsRead More
14 min read | July 6, 2021
What is a skills gap in your company? (plus gap analysis template)Read More
13 min read | July 8, 2021