How to Improve Public Speaking: 20 Tips
Many people are afraid of public speaking. In fact, it’s more feared than death.
But, unlike death, most of us have to face public speaking several times throughout our lives. You might have to give a presentation in front of your boss, do a sales pitch to a potential client, speak on a panel in front of an audience, present or receive an award, or give a speech at a wedding — or all of the above.
For some of us, even just speaking up in a large meeting is enough to break us out in a cold sweat.
Public speaking is a skill, though, and it’s one you can get better at. Here are our top 20 tips for improving your public speaking, no matter who you’re standing in front of.
How to Improve Public Speaking Skills
1. Practice Public Speaking
Let’s get this tip out of the way first. We know it’s one you don’t want to hear, but the fear of public speaking is a natural one, and sometimes the only way to get over it is to practice.
Start small by speaking up in large meetings or volunteering to introduce a speaker at an event. Then, take any opportunity you can to speak in front of people.
Practice outside of work, too. Volunteer to speak at your running club’s monthly social or speak on a panel at a networking event, for example.
Even short one-or-two-minute speaking opportunities will help build your confidence and reduce that fear.
2. Practice Your Speech
We know, more practice? But hear us out.
A lot of the fear of speaking in front of people comes from being unprepared. If you know you’ve got a talk or presentation coming up, practice as much as you can for it.
Write out the points you want to cover ahead of time, practice talking about them, and get feedback from a friend or colleague.
If your talk has a strict time limit, time yourself giving your speech, so you know if you have too much material or not enough.
3. Watch the Pros
Ever watch someone give a presentation and wonder how they got to be so confident?
They may not be feeling that way on the inside. But, you can learn from their appearance so that you can look just as comfortable in front of people.
Watch confident speakers in your workplace and look up TED talks, politicians, and celebrities giving speeches.
Take note of how the most confident speakers stand, what they do with their arms, and how they vary their tone of voice and work to bring these things into your own speaking.
4. Visualize Yourself Giving a Great Speech
Visualization isn’t a fad. It’s used by athletes, performers, and business people alike to boost their performance.
A 2015 study even found visualization helped to reduce negative thinking and nerves about public speaking.
Participants watched someone deliver a great presentation, and then they were asked to imagine themselves delivering a speech as well as this person just did.
When they visualized themselves giving a great speech beforehand, the participants showed less rigidity and less inhibition when giving their own speech.
To try visualization before your next talk, imagine giving your speech confidently and calmly. Imagine the audience looking engaged and interested.
And imagine how your voice will sound, your body language will look, and what you’ll do up on stage.
All this should help boost your confidence, settle your nerves, and improve your performance on the day.
5. Make Eye Contact with the Audience
Eye contact is everything when public speaking. You don’t want to be staring at your notes, your feet, or your PowerPoint slides the whole time you’re up on stage.
Be sure to glance around the room, making an effort to make eye contact with people in the audience. Hold their eyes for a second before moving on.
You can, of course, glance at your notes or your slides, but keep this brief.
Try to spend a large proportion of your speaking time looking out to your audience. It’ll make you look much more confident, even if you don’t feel it.
6. Move Around While Speaking
The stage is there for you to use, even if that stage is just the front of a meeting room.
The point is, move around while giving your presentation. You might take a few steps, make hand gestures, and move your arms.
Moving around every now and again will also help to shake off nervous energy and make eye contact with different people in the room.
However, you need to get the balance right. Too much movement will distract your audience and may make you look more nervous.
Again, study the pros to find the right balance.
7. Tell a Story
Facts and figures get boring fast. Make your speech or presentation more interesting by telling a story.
That could be a simple anecdote about a time you used the methods you’re teaching in a speech or a story about why the topic you’re talking about is so important to you.
Even if there are no personal stories you can tell about the topic, see if you can share your topic in a story-like format.
8. Beware of Scripting Your Talk
If you’re nervous about public speaking, it’s tempting to write out an entire script for your talk and memorize it by heart.
This sounds like you’re being prepared, but be careful. There is such a thing as being too prepared.
If you have a script memorized, it’s easy to sound robotic. You can easily get thrown off if someone asks a question halfway through your talk, and you may stumble over your words, lose your place, and struggle to recover.
The better way? Write out bullet points for the key points you want to talk about.
You can then flesh these out off the cuff, but you’ve prepared your main talking points and the order of your speech, so nothing important gets forgotten.
9. Think About Body Language
It’s easy to fidget and shrink your posture when you’re nervous. But that will only make you look and feel even more nervous when public speaking.
Instead, make a conscious effort to improve your body language.
You can do this by:
- Standing up straight with your shoulders back and chin up
- Making hand gestures, especially when making an important point
- Keep your arms by your sides, in your lap, or otherwise, not fidgeting too much
10. Smile, Even if You Don’t Feel Like it
Kick off your talk with a massive smile. It’ll not only make you look friendly and confident, but it’ll make you feel better, too.
While you don’t want to be grinning throughout your speech, especially if it’s an important topic, you do want to be aware of your facial expressions and make sure they’re neutral to positive.
11. Test Your Tech
If you’re going to be using a PowerPoint presentation, delivering your talk over Zoom, or using a microphone, be sure to test your tech beforehand.
Ideally, you’d run through your entire presentation with the technology you’re going to be using. But, at the very least, turn up 10 minutes early to make sure your internet connection is stable, your presentation slides have loaded, and anything else you need is set up and ready to go.
You don’t want the stress of setting up new equipment adding to the already nerve-wracking experience of public speaking.
12. Speak Slowly
Time flows differently when you’re public speaking. Five minutes for your audience feels like a lifetime for you.
Take extra care to speak slowly and pause between important points. Speaking slowly will also give you time to get some deep breaths in, which will help calm your nerves.
13. Practice Projecting Your Voice
Your presentation content could be perfect, but if no one can hear you deliver it, it’s not going to go down well.
Projecting your voice is especially important if you’re speaking to a large audience without the help of a microphone.
Practice speaking from your diaphragm. Take deeper breaths that fill up your belly, not just your chest, and maintain an upright and open posture to help your voice carry further.
14. Strike a Power Pose
This tip is one to do just before you head up on stage: strike a power pose.
Before you deliver your talk, spend a minute or two holding a powerful pose that makes you feel confident and capable.
Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and put your hands on your hips. To really boost your confidence, reach your arms up above you.
Just be sure to do this in the bathroom or a private space to avoid any awkward looks.
15. Brainstorm a Strong Opener
All of the content in your talk is important, of course, but your opening line or two may be the most critical part.
Grab your audience’s attention with something interesting and unique. Research shocking statistics about the topic you’re talking about or share a personal and emotive story.
16. Ignore or Laugh Off Mistakes
Mistakes happen when public speaking, but they’re not the end of the world. Whether you’ve stumbled over your words, dropped your notes, or messed up the order of your slides, things can easily go wrong.
Stay calm when mistakes happen. If they’re small, you don’t even need to address them. Simply keep on giving your talk.
If it’s something more noticeable, a small apology or joke is all that’s needed before getting back on track.
- “Woops, that slide is meant to be at the end. Here’s the one I need…”
- “Well, it seems technology is against me today. Let’s just do the talk without the slides.”
- “Let me just grab some water for this cough. Okay, as I was saying…”
17. Train Yourself to Not User Filler Words
Filler words include “umm,” “err,” and “ahh.” We often say these when we’re searching for the right words and want to fill the silence. But, they can often fall out of our mouths out of habit.
Train yourself out of relying on filler words too heavily.
Record yourself speaking naturally and notice how many times you “umm” and “err.”
When speaking with friends or at work, notice when you say them, too, and see if you can work on reducing how often they pop up.
Speaking without using too many filler words will make you sound much more confident.
There’s a common piece of advice when public speaking that you should tell the audience what you’re going to say, tell them that thing, and then tell them what you said.
Not everyone agrees with this advice, but it can be useful in some situations, so see how it fits for your specific talk.
If you’re giving a long presentation or covering important topics you need people to remember, this summary trio may come in handy.
19. Dress for Success
Appearances shouldn’t matter, but they do. Not only will dressing the part make you appear more professional, you’ll feel more confident in yourself, which will come across when you speak.
Opt for comfortable clothes that aren’t too tight or constrictive. Wear something you feel confident in and consider how professional you need to go for your specific talk.
20. Get Feedback
The best way to learn is to practice and get honest feedback on your performance. Practice your public speaking in front of a friend, trusted colleague, or anyone who will listen.
Ask them for their honest thoughts on how you did. Depending on what you want to improve, ask for specific advice on your presentation content or your public speaking style.
For example, ask whether you were speaking too fast, moving around too much, or whether the content itself was engaging and delivered in an interesting way.
You can also join public speaking groups in your area — yes, these hellish groups exist.
Usually, they’ll consist of people just like you who want to work on their public speaking skills. You might take it in turns delivering talks and offering each other feedback.
One example is Toastmasters, which has groups in almost 150 countries around the world.
These groups aren’t only great for getting feedback, they’re the ideal place to practice, and that brings us back to tip number one: practice as much as you can!