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10 Tips for Improving Your Public Speaking Skills

Muhammad Rafiq is a freelance writer, blogger, and translator with a master's degree in English literature from the University of Malakand.

10 Tips to Improve Your Public Speaking Skills

10 Tips to Improve Your Public Speaking Skills

As an entrepreneur, you’ll likely find yourself in many situations where you need to be able to convey your thoughts and ideas to others, from investor pitches to sales meetings with clients. Although people are often scared of public speaking, becoming comfortable and confident with it can help you tremendously in the business and throughout your life. To help you improve your public speaking skills, here are 10 tips for doing so:

  1. Think Before You Speak
  2. Avoid Nervous Ticks
  3. Know Your Topic Inside Out
  4. Stand Up Straight
  5. Don’t Be Afraid to Pause
  6. Practice Speaking Out Loud
  7. Use Hand Gestures When You Speak
  8. Train With a Friend
  9. Be Clear and Concise
  10. Work on Your Voice

1. Think Before You Speak

The first step you need to take if you want to improve your public speaking skills is to THINK before you speak. You often hear people say, "I wish I had said this..." or "I wish I hadn't said that...". However, it's very easy to get caught up in the moment of a conversation and blurt out the wrong thing.

It can be difficult to control what comes out of your mouth when you're excited, nervous or upset. But it's important that we learn how to do so. No one wants to listen to someone who talks too much, or who says things that are hurtful or mean-spirited.

You can avoid this by following a simple rule: THINK before you speak! This means taking time before responding to a situation where emotions might run high. When someone says something hurtful or upsetting, take a moment to think about what you're going to say next. Consider how it might make them feel, and then choose your words carefully before responding.

You might be surprised at how effective you are when you think before you speak. You will have time to choose your words carefully, avoid saying anything hurtful or embarrassing, and make sure that what you're saying is being heard!

After all, it's not what you say that really matters. It's how your audience hears and responds to what you have to say.

2. Avoid Nervous Ticks

You're standing in front of a group of people, and you've got butterflies in your stomach. It's normal to be nervous — even the most seasoned public speakers get nervous before delivering a speech. But if you can't manage that nervous energy, it can lead to distracting habits known as "nervous ticks."

Let's look at some common nervous ticks and how you can avoid them:

Biting the lip. People often bite their lips when they're nervous. Lip-biting is one of those things that's hard to notice in yourself, but other people may notice it immediately. So if you feel the urge to bite your lip, take a deep breath instead and pause before speaking again.

Pulling on clothes. This is another type of fidgeting that can be annoying for audiences to watch. If you find yourself tugging at your tie or pulling on your shirt collar, stop talking and simply put your hands down by your sides or clasp them together behind your back.

Putting hands in pockets. Putting your hands in your pockets while speaking is usually a bad idea because it looks like you're not confident enough to use your arms. You probably won't realize how much you do this until someone points it out, but once they do, try to break yourself of that habit before you deliver another speech.

Breaking eye contact. Keeping eye contact with an audience member is important if you want them to listen to what you have to say and understand what you mean. But that's easier said than done; when we get nervous, we tend to break eye contact or stare at people too long, both of which can be distracting for an audience and make it look like we don't know what we're talking about.

3. Know Your Topic Inside Out

You can speak with confidence only on subjects you know well. So the process of preparing a speech begins long before you write it and continues until you deliver it.

To prepare for a speech, know your topic inside out. Read about it, learn all you can, think about it. You will have to do this anyway, to write your speech. If you don't know enough about the subject to be able to write the speech yourself, find someone who does, and stick close to him while he writes it.

Then memorize the speech. Don't try to improvise or ad-lib; your goal is to give the appearance of an extemporaneous talk. The best way to sound extemporaneous is not just to memorize the content of your talk but how you want to say it. This is where practice comes in handy. Practice giving your talk several times, speaking slowly and distinctly, until you get to the point where you can say it with ease and confidence.

You want to demonstrate to your audience that you know what you are talking about. If they believe that, then they will listen to what you have to say and take some advice from an "expert" on the topic. You don't have to be an expert, but if you do your research, then you can absolutely fake it until you make it.

Get together all of the information that you can about your topic. This can include books, articles or research papers from other people who are well known in the field. Make notes from these sources and keep them handy for reference so that when someone asks a question or makes a comment, you have something to refer back to for an answer.

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4. Stand Up Straight

You have probably heard this advice a thousand times, but I am going to repeat it anyway: stand up straight during your speech.

Most people do not know how to stand up straight. Their shoulders are rounded, their legs are crossed, and their necks are bent forward. They look like they are in pain.

This is unfortunate because we associate pain with weakness. Even if you set aside the question of whether or not you want to appear weak, I am still going to tell you why standing up straight is important.

Why? Because when you do not stand up straight, your voice sounds weak too. Your voice can only sound as loud as your body allows it to be. When you hunch over, your body is telling your lungs that they can only expand so much. So when you speak, your diaphragm isn't able to fully engage, and your voice will be quiet and shaky.

To fix this problem, stop slouching! You should always keep your head above the rest of your body. To make sure that you do this correctly, imagine there is a string attached to the top of your head and somebody is pulling that string upward. It may appear ridiculous, but it works!

5. Don’t Be Afraid to Pause

One of the most common problems in public speaking is not knowing when to stop talking. Every speaker has had the experience of looking out at an audience and seeing people looking restless, or even asleep.

One way to avoid this is to practice, so you know exactly how long your speech will take. But this doesn't always work: sometimes you will get questions, or for some other reason have to go longer than you had planned. So what can you do?

I've found one reliable way to make a talk shorter if I need to: pause. If you see that people are losing interest or you're running out of time, pause. Don't say anything. Just wait a little bit. Then keep going.

The main reason this works is that it makes it easy for people to leave early if they want to: they don't have to interrupt you, they can just walk out while you're paused. And if they leave during a break in your speech, it's less likely that anyone else will notice them leaving.

Also pausing gives everyone a chance to relax, which makes people more receptive to what comes next. And after a big pause people are more likely to pay attention because they think something important must be coming next - which means whatever you say next will be better received than if it had come at an earlier point in your talk. Try it out and see if it works for you!

6. Practice Speaking Out Loud

The best way to begin is to practice on your own. You can do it by picking up a book, magazine, or newspaper and reading aloud excerpts from them. Watch your facial expressions and gestures. Do you look bored? Anxious? Do you cross your arms over your chest or shift from one foot to another? Are your hands clasped tightly together or flailing around too much?

Now try reading the same passage with different facial expressions, gestures, and body language. Smile as you speak. Then frown deeply; do you sound angry? Lie down on the floor and read the same passage; does it sound like you are giving a eulogy at a funeral?

The idea is to become aware of the variety of possibilities of how we communicate through our bodies. Standing up straight with an alert expression and open gestures is generally considered to be good body language for public speaking. But there are times when this may not be appropriate. If you are telling a funny story, smiling will help the audience know that they should laugh.

You can also practice in front of other people. A friend's feedback can be very helpful in becoming more self-aware about how we come across to others when we speak publicly. Try videotaping yourself giving a short speech, then watch the tape later with someone whose

Speak to your family, your friends, your classmates. Or get a job working the door at a restaurant or something like that, and talk to customers as they come in.

The main difference between the people who hate public speaking and the people who are ok with it is that the latter have done more of it. If you think you're bad at something, but you don't do it much, how do you know? Maybe if you did do it more, you'd be better at it than most of the people who do it all the time now.

7. Use Hand Gestures When You Speak

Because speech is a physical thing, using our bodies as we speak is a natural way to convey emotion.

Think about the last time someone gave a boring talk. What was it like? You might have been nodding off and looking at your watch, but you were also probably keeping your hands still.

Conversely, when a speaker is excited, their hands move more naturally. They'll tend to use more gestures. Hand movements often help keep the audience engaged by making the talk feel more alive and dynamic.

When you're speaking, try to make your hands part of your story. Use hand gestures to make your points stand out and to help you emphasize certain words or phrases.

Gestures can work even if they're not so dramatic. A simple gesture like holding up an index finger can help listeners understand when you're making an important point or summarizing a list of things you've said before. But don't go overboard; too much gesturing can be distracting for your audience.

You might need to focus on using hand gestures in your talks for the first few times you practice them. This will seem weird at first, but with repetition, it should become second nature. You may even find that it helps you remember what to say next in your talk, as well as how to speak more eloquently overall.

Try some of these steps, and let us know if they helped!

8. Train with a Friend

If you want to really master public speaking, the best thing to do is find a friend who wants to learn as well and teach each other. Get together once a week and give each other a talk on some topic--a book you've read, something that happened at work or in the news, whatever you like. Then give each other feedback on what went well and what could have gone better. Try giving each other a different kind of talk each week (informative, persuasive, entertaining). After six months or so of this, your skill level will skyrocket.

I'm not saying that it's easy to find someone else who wants to learn public speaking with you. But if there's even one other person out there who does, the two of you can be an incredible support for each other and help bring out the best in each other's skills.

Why does this work? First, it creates real-world speaking conditions as closely as possible. You need to get used to doing all the right things: preparing your speech in advance, rehearsing it aloud a few times before delivering it, tailoring your delivery style to the size of the audience (no one talks the same way to two people as they do in front of people).

Second, your friend is probably not an expert in public speaking either, but as long as he has some skill at it, you will both improve faster than either one of you would alone.

Second, when we teach something we learn it much more deeply than when we merely study it or practice it. I'm sure you know this from experience: if there's any subject you're an expert in, I bet someone has asked for your advice about it at some point. And when they did, I bet you found yourself explaining things in ways that seemed obvious to you but were news to them--and in the process discovered things about the subject that were new even to you.

Why is that? It's because when we have to explain something to another person, it requires us to articulate our knowledge as clearly as possible.

9. Be Clear and Concise

One of the biggest mistakes that people make when speaking in public is trying to include too much information. The more information you try to cover in a speech, the more likely you are going to confuse or bore people. It can also be difficult for people to keep up with you if you talk too fast.

Instead of giving your audience a lot of information, try picking two or three points that are most relevant and focus on these. Remember that after your speech, people will not remember everything you said but if there were two or three points that stood out for them, they will remember those.

If possible, try writing down some bullet points or key phrases on a notecard so that you don't go off track and forget what you want to say. This can also help you give a smoother presentation because you won't have to keep referring to your notes during the speech and losing eye contact with your audience.

It's a good idea to write down any jokes or funny stories that you plan on using as well - having these written down means they'll come across better when you tell them during your speech and it's less likely that you'll forget any important words or details.

10. Work on Your Voice

If you want to be a good public speaker, there are many things you can practice. You can practice your gestures and movements, your facial expressions, and your timing. But one of the most important things is to practice the sound of your voice.

When you speak in front of an audience, they will not only hear what you say, but they will also hear how you say it. Your voice may have a higher or a lower pitch than others expect. You may speak too fast or too slow for others to understand you clearly. Or you may mumble, which makes it hard for people to follow what you're saying. These are all problems that are related to the sound of your voice, and all of them can be improved with practice.

The first thing to pay attention to is pitch or tone. If your voice is too high or too low for the audience to hear comfortably, then change it! Most people naturally speak in the middle range of their voices. But if you find yourself straining at the top or bottom of your range, then adjust by speaking in a different place.

Next is to pay attention to is mumbling. If people cannot understand what you are saying because you mumble, then they cannot follow what you are saying! Make sure that when you speak in front of an audience, they can hear every word clearly so that they can follow what you're saying and respond to it appropriately.

The last important this is to pay attention to is how fast or slow you speak. If your speech is too fast, then people will not understand what you are saying, and they may even lose interest in your message. However, if your speech is too slow, people will become bored and lose interest as well. Try to find a balance that works well for you and the audience.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2022 Muhammad Rafiq

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