How to NOT Suck at Public Speaking

Ohhhhh, public speaking… you glorious and terrible bundle of joy.

Public speaking is one of the most important skills you need to learn that tends to get overlooked. I’ve seen so many of my coworkers that can rock a presentation deck, know the numbers by heart and then get up to speak in front of a large group and their lack of speaking skills makes it look like they have absolutely no idea what they are talking about.

In order to get comfortable with your public speaking skills, you are going to have to get really uncomfortable. I think the reason that public speaking is so hard for so many people is that they are uncomfortable with themselves. Most of the time, the people watching you are too concerned with their own thoughts and lives to realize if you make a mistake. Most of my tips and tricks are going to put you way outside of your comfort zone but that’s okay because when you practice – you’re the only one in your comfort zone – which means the only person that will make fun of you is you – and last I checked we don’t make fun of ourselves when we are working on improving ourselves. So, let’s make a promise. If it feels awkward and things real weird – we aren’t going to let it bother us.

Now that we are in agreement, let’s get started!

Here are some tips and tricks that will help you improve your public speaking skills:

  • Practice makes perfect.
  • Record yourself and as painstaking as it is, listen to the whole recording. Once you have gotten your vocals where they need to be move on to video.
  • Take a video of yourself as you present. How you look is just as important and what you say. Watch yourself in a mirror a few times first to get out all the wiggles. Then, take a video of the whole presentation and you guessed it…watch the whole damn thing. I promise each time you record yourself and then watch it and then do it again you will get better.
  • Slow down. Most people don’t get slower when they present, they speed up. Put marks into your notes for when you start to jumble all your words. I like to use bold X marks.
  • Memorize when possible. You don’t have to memorize your whole presentation, but have an idea of how it should sound
  • Do the presentation in your head and make it look incredible. Make it the best presentation you have ever given. Some of the very best athletes use visualization to improve their game-day skills. It sounds crazy but it works. Trick your brain into believing you are going to give the most stellar presentation ever.
  • Articulate and annunciate. Highlight words you stumble over and practice saying them slowly.
  • Look up. Some people say that making eye contact is important but most of the time if you have a larger audience they can’t tell if you are looking at them or if you are looking at the back wall (this is even more true if you are standing on an elevated stage). Find the exit sign and then make it your bitch. Eye contact with the audience can be scary and derail your presentation. If you are talking about something that isn’t universally agreed upon or a controversial subject it can be even worse. It can throw you way off your game if you seek approval. Don’t seek eye contact as a means of approval of a good presentation.
  • You do, however, need to add audience gut checks into your presentation. You are not looking for them to approve of your content. It’s your presentation – not theirs. You are looking to them to see if they are engaged. If they are falling asleep, have prepared responses that will get them re-engaged. Ask for a volunteer to answer a question and randomly select someone. Have everyone stand up and engage in some way. You are just looking to make sure that you aren’t sending everyone off to snoozeville.
  • Your notes should not just be words on a page. You should have cues to yourself for when to speed up, slow down, articulate. Highlight words, make X’s. Add little pictures if it helps. The only person that needs to understand what your notes mean is you.
  • Learn what makes a good presentation. Put less words on a page and focused. Don’t talk in circles.
  • Before you start your presentation do something that makes you the most uncomfortable you will be throughout the entire presentation. Get a quick laugh at your expense. Once you know you have embarrassed yourself, it can’t get much worse. Tell a story about something silly you did, point out a little coffee stain on your shirt… level with your audience, and prove you are normal.

Now that you feel good about your presentation, practice in front of a good friend. Ask them for feedback. Sometimes, it can be hard to hear but getting good feedback is the only way to grow.

What are your favorite tips and tricks?


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