Help, I have to give a speech!
Most people don't have trouble getting up and speaking in front of a small group of friends and family, but the thought of having to speak in front of a group of strangers, especially a large group of professionals can often bring about an attack of "stage fright." I used to get nervous from public speaking, but now I enjoy it. As with just about any skill, you really do get better with a bit of time and practice.
I had to get up and talk in front of an audience for the first time when I was in grade school, as I did a summer camp program in acting. In junior high, I had a teacher that made us do book reports in front of the class. High school brought even more presentations. Then there were self-critiques in college, and an extremely nerve-wracking Master's thesis defense in graduate school. By the time I got to the working world, talking in front of a group had almost become easy.
Here are my ten best tips and suggestions for how to improve your public speaking skills. Some things are advice I was given and some are things I've learned along the way.
Did you hear the one about...?
1) Breathe - don't be afraid to pause or just take a breath. I had a high school teacher who was the one to point out that those long awkward silences we think we've fallen into are in fact only about 2-3 seconds and the audience doesn't think you've stopped or gotten lost. Most of the time, they won't even register those pauses.
2) Make an outline for yourself and print it out in type larger than usual print size, so that it's easy to read at just a glance. Having the outline helps keep your presentation on track so you don't ramble off and prompts you if you lose your train of thought. You don't want to actually read a speech, as your audience doesn't want to look at the top of your head while you talk to your chest. And don't be afraid of losing your train of thought and having to check your notes. That's what they are for.
3) Own what you know - this wonderful saying came from my graduate school adviser. Remember at the presentation that the audience presumes you are the expert. If you act confident, they really will believe you are confident. This helped me so much when it came time to get through my thesis presentation for my Master's Degree. And it comes in really handy when a co-worker in a meeting gets stuck and suddenly turns the discussion over to you!
Public Speaking, Movement and Gesture (Highlights) - 1940s
4) Make eye contact - slowly scan across the audience and look people in the eye as you talk. A good audience gives energy back to you and participates when you demonstrate a friendly presence, so invite them in. This is also how you can see if your information is being comprehended, and helps you spot people with questions.
5) If you are really nervous, practice your speech ahead of time - Even if you wind up talking to your pets, kids or significant other, hearing yourself run over the presentation can really help you feel more comfortable with it and iron out any awkward spots, as our ears are really smart and will catch stuff that sounds "off." Some people tape record themselves for practice and listen to it to catch and note their verbal mannerisms (see #9)
6) Take all questions at the end so that you can get through the material you intend to present - It's better to run short on time for questions than to have the audience derail the presentation. Sometimes for longer presentations, you might want to pause after key sections and ask for questions then. Don't be afraid to tell some that their question will be answered by material you have yet to talk about, or ask them if you can take it at the end if that works better for you.
Develop Your Public Speaking Skills
Avoiding Bumps in the Road...
7) Don't freak out heavily on timing - People speak a bit faster when they're nervous, so if you time the presentation at home, it can often run shorter when you actually give it. Make sure you know if you absolutely have to wrap up by certain time so that you don't run over. It's better to take off your watch and put it where you can see it, or find a clock you can see while you speak than to keep looking at your watch during your presentation. That can really turn off an audience. If all else fails, bring along a friend or ask a colleague to give you time signals during your talk from the back where no one will see them doing it.
8) Be mindful of nervous habits - i.e. twirling hair, playing with a necklace, bracelets, etc. The audience will often be distracted by the movement and watch your behavior thus losing the presentation part. As part of this, don't wear clothing or jewelry that will make noises as you speak. Again, the audience's attention will wind up focusing on that instead of what you are saying.
9) If you find yourself about to say "Um..." or "Uh....." just close your mouth, take a breath and think what you need to say next - Ever been to a lecture or talk where the presenter said "ummm...." every other word? We all have, and it doesn't sound very good. Not saying anything sounds more professional than thinking aloud. (This was another gem from high school and it can take some practice to master) One of the best ways to work on this is to tape record yourself giving your speech or presentation and then listen to yourself talk.
10) Bring water along if you might get thirsty, and have some tissues in a pocket - There is nothing so uncomfortable during a presentation like having a dry mouth or having to sneeze and not being able to take care of yourself. Have the water in container that is hard to spill but not hard to drink from and take very small sips when you do. That way you don't run the risk of coughing on a mouthful of water that "went down wrong" or giving yourself hiccups.
Public Speaking Tips
- Conquering your fear of public speaking | Train Wreck - CNET News
People fear public speaking more than anything else. The anxiety can be debilitating. It can also affect your career, especially in high-tech. Here are some tips for conquering your fear.
- Public speaking
Techniques and strategies for speaking in public and presenting presentations
Improve Your Public Speaking Right Now!
Speak Out on Public Speaking! - comments and contributions
Raye (author) from Seattle, WA on November 30, 2013:
Many people who give speeches write out the entire thing and then read them.
B.Mccoullum from Fort Wayne on November 30, 2013:
I always forget what needs to be said even after I've written the speech and I have notes.
Grant Williams from Kansas City, Missouri on November 21, 2013:
Excellent article! I really enjoy public speaking, and I hate seeing people in my Speech class at college struggle with it. I honestly have a blast with giving speeches. Hopefully this article will help those struggling get on the right track.
Raye (author) from Seattle, WA on March 24, 2013:
Good luck in the contest!
lara on March 23, 2013:
Thank you so much for these tips ,i made it to a national public speaking contest ,and your tips are really useful
dafreesan from India on September 29, 2012:
Great tips to improve oratory skills. I like your hub. I will follow your tips next time I give a public speech.
fauzan on September 07, 2012:
a great solutions
Anjo Bacarisas II from Cagayan de Oro, Philippines on August 06, 2012:
Voted up! This hub contain thoughts and ideas that was immensely important. Keep up providing tips about public speaking. :)
smith-k 24 on March 23, 2012:
thank you for all that yall have done
Mahaveer Sanglikar from Pune, India on February 17, 2012:
Those who want to speak in front of an audience, but do not know the technique, should read this Hub. Voted up.
Raye (author) from Seattle, WA on December 10, 2011:
Rosie, re-read the Hub. Many of the tips can help minimize nervousness. However, in the end, the best cure for that is to actually get used to speaking in public by doing it regularly.
Rosie on December 06, 2011:
Please help this coming Sunday will be my first sunday to make announcements in front of the congregation in church. I am not good in speaking in front of the public and I relly need to get off this nervouseness form me I always wish in my life to speak confident in fornt of the church. What are some helpful tips to avoid this nervouseness.
GClark from United States on November 17, 2011:
Well thought out Hub with useful tips for beginners. Toastmasters is a great place for budding speakers to perfect their skill and learn to enjoy the process. Thanks again for sharing. GC
AllSuretyBonds on October 04, 2011:
Public Speaking can be very intimidating. Great tips I think all of these things if followed would make a great public speaker.
Jeff_McRitchie on July 12, 2011:
There are some great tips in this Hub. I'll be sure to try some of them out the next time I have to lead a meeting.
Paul Raisbeck on July 12, 2011:
A good Hub, thank you.
Practice is always a big one for me (my cat gets to hear all sorts of things but is very patient!).
Also, I like to try to open with something that connects me, the audience and the subject so that the whole talk is put into context. Making it personal helps make the connection, too.
rallyre from San Diego, California on March 06, 2011:
Great Article about public speaking... Toast Masters Club#7 San Diego!
adair_francesca on December 07, 2010:
wonderful hub and great information. Public speaking is my weakness especially I do have stage fright. I hope you tips will work for me.
Sima Ballinger from Michigan on October 28, 2010:
Good tips! I think practice is really helpful before one speaks to the general public is good.
Tom Ware from Sydney, Australia on October 16, 2010:
I just became a follower and lost what I'd said by way of comment. Just wished to say, "Hi." We have a lot in common I expect, when it comes to public speaking. Will re-read your Hub. One can never learn to much.
TroyM on October 13, 2010:
COntrol breathing, that can sure help - -slow things down. And if you can record yourself first, you can find your own personal quirks, like saying, "Um, Um, Um...."
Ugh, public speaking - - scary topic but good hub :)
Audrey Selig from Oklahoma City, Oklahoma on June 23, 2010:
Great article on public speaking. I have been a toastmaster for many years. You must be in a group or have expertise in public speaking. Written very well.
Emily Friend on June 16, 2010:
Great practical stuff, especially about the emotional aspect of speaking and how you come across as a speaker.
delmer on November 24, 2009:
Gud! it help alot especially in my career. thank yo so much!
Sexy jonty from India on September 05, 2009:
Very well written hub .....
very much informative ......
Thank you very much for your great hub, for good advice, good wishes and support. Thanks for sharing your experience with all of us.
Zsuzsy Bee from Ontario/Canada on February 13, 2008:
19 years ago (when I was expecting my last baby) I was in charge of the volunteer blood donor clinics. It became one of my duties to speak in front of very large groups to gain financial support for them. The first time I barely got through my presentation before getting sick to my stomach. After I forced myself to work through it. I asked at my church if I could do as many readings etc. as possible...practice has taken the butterflies away. Now not a big deal anymore. Great HUB regards Zsuzsy
Harold on February 12, 2008:
Another thing is to video tape yourself and see how you come across..then correct the things you don't like and so on...
works for me!
Michelle Simtoco from Cebu, Philippines on February 10, 2008:
no matter how many time I have to go through the front, I get all the butterflies in my stomach. It helps to be prepared. Thanks for the tips.
MM Del Rosario from NSW, Australia on February 08, 2008:
gee...i really get very nervous.
singpec476 from Not Too Far Away on February 08, 2008:
Great info many of us suffer from nerves with public speaking.
Gojiberryjuice from Ottawa, Canada on February 07, 2008:
Only through surviving the attempt will you gain the experience. Experience is what makes you a good speaker. Just get out there and screw it up ;) I did many many times, but then as time goes on you just get better and better until you crave it :)
Abhinaya on February 07, 2008:
Thank you so much for the tips realche.Whenever I have been asked to speak on stage for my 'old student's asssociation' in college I feel my knees shaking.I prepare myself well before leaving home but get nervous when on dais.I will visit this hub next time I have to speak.Wonderful article!
Whitney from Georgia on February 07, 2008:
relache- I'm the same way. I tend to speak fast and blurr my words in normal conversation, so when speaking infront of an audience plus nervousness plus normal speach equals rapid speach. Ha. In high school, teachers would always says" I think you had something important and meaningful to say, but you need to slow down to say it."
Raye (author) from Seattle, WA on February 07, 2008:
I first wrote these up when the owner/founder of Bellaonline was asked to speak at a women's conference last year, and suddenly realized she would be facing about 2,000 audience members, about 10 times what she'd handled before. When I speak in public, I have to watch that I don't talk too fast and that I pronounce words clearly.
Bug Mee from Great Midwest on February 07, 2008:
Excellent Info, something I need to work on.
Paul Edmondson from Burlingame, CA on February 07, 2008:
This is well said. I sometimes get very nervous before speaking. The best thing for me is #5 - practice, practice, practise. #8, nervous habits. This is tough because sometimes you don't even realize you're doing it. I have two tendencies. One is to clap my hands, the other is to talk in a soft monotone voice. #10 is very important because if you get nervous, taking a drink gives you a chance to compose yourselft.
I'll add #11 to this wonderful list. At the end, ask for feedback. If you get honest feedback, people will tell you what you can improve. I wouldn't have noticed that I clap my hands or talk monotone if someone hadn't given me the feedback. At least now I can be aware and do my best to correct them.