Public Speaking Tips

Public Speaking Tips blog header
Public Speaking Tips blog header
Public Speaking Tips blog header

Public Speaking Tips

As Jerry Seinfeld once famously said, “According to most studies, people's number one fear is public speaking. Number two is death. Death is number two. Does that sound right? This means to the average person, if you go to a funeral, you're better off in the casket than doing the eulogy.” (Weissman, 2018, para. 2).

The phrase “public speaking” conjures an image of someone standing in front of a large group of people delivering a formal speech. This is certainly true, but it is also true that public speaking principles apply regardless of audience size. In today’s business environment, professionals are working more in small groups and teams rather than alone, and they are often required to present information to teammates, other colleagues, and management. As such, understanding a few basic principles of public speaking along with dedicating the time and effort necessary to improve your skill-set in this area can distinguish you from colleagues.

Similarities and Differences Between Casual Conversation and Public Speaking

In his book, The Art of Public Speaking, Stephen Lucas (2014, p. 8-9) makes the following distinctions between casual conversation and public speaking:

Similarities

Differences

Tailor your message to your audience.

 

Public speaking requires more formal language and does not allow for slang, jargon, or bad grammar.

Tell a story for maximum impact.

 

Public Speaking requires a different method of delivery. Phrases such as “like” and “you know” should be avoided.

Adapt to listener feedback.

 

Public speaking requires a conscious effort to avoid poor posture and distracting mannerisms.

 

Now that you have a sense of how public speaking differs from casual conversation, you can begin to reflect upon areas where you might struggle.

1. Do you communicate clearly and in a logically organized way? Or do others consistently ask you to clarify your meaning?

2. Do you use vocalized pauses such as “um” and “uh-huh”? Or do you collect your thoughts silently?

3. Do you engage in distracting mannerisms like playing with your hair, tapping a pen, pacing, or repeatedly touching your face?

4. Do you use your voice appropriately? Or do you speak too slowly, quickly, loudly, or softly?

Regardless of what kind of speech or presentation you have to give, there is work to do before, during, and after. Before your speech or presentation, you need to have a sense of what you are going to say and to whom. During it, you must manage your anxiety and focus on engaging the audience; and after it, you should reflect upon what went well and where improvement is needed.

Before: Analyzing Your Audience

In addition to organizing and refining the content of your material before the presentation, you must also spend adequate time learning about your audience. Audiences can struggle to understand a speaker’s content when the speaker either communicates ideas that are too difficult to understand or communicates ideas about which the audience already has in-depth knowledge. In either case, it is likely the speaker did not have a clear sense of the audience. Considering your audience is crucial to the success of any speech or presentation. The following are some questions to consider about the intended audience and the speaking situation in general. Answers to these questions inform both the construction and delivery of the speech or presentation.

  • How many people are expected?

  • Are they required to be here? Or is it voluntary?

  • What are the seating and room arrangements?

  • How much time is available to speak?

  • Is time allotted for questions?

  • What is the knowledge-level of the audience on this particular topic?

 

During: Anxiety Management and Engaging the Audience

Nervousness and anxiety manifest themselves in different ways for different people. Maybe you speak too quickly or too softly, or maybe you catastrophize, sweat, or feel nauseous. Regardless of your symptoms, the following is a set of tips to help you manage them:

  • Prepare—the more you prepare, the more confident you are likely to be.

  • Visualize—picture people being engaged in what you are sharing.

  • Understand that most of your nervousness is NOT visible, so be sure not to say things like “I am so nervous” before you speak, as this only damages your credibility.

  • Practice tightening and relaxing select muscle groups.

  • Breathe.

When your content is well prepared and you have tools to manage your anxiety, you can focus more on engaging your audience during your speech or presentation.

After: Reflection

After the speech or presentation, reflect on both content and delivery. Identify areas in which you did well and those in which you can improve. Was your material clear, well organized, and appropriate for your audience? Was your delivery smooth? Were you making good eye contact and engaging your audience? How did your anxiety manifest itself? And did your symptoms subside as you progressed?

Two Final Suggestions

 

1. Be mindful of your speaking and listening habits while talking with friends and colleagues. Noticing and working toward eliminating bad habits such as offering minimal eye contact, interrupting, using vocalized pauses excessively, etc., in casual conversations makes it easier to avoid them when speaking in a more public or professional setting.

2. Pay closer attention to others as they speak. By doing this, you can learn both what works and what to avoid as you plan and deliver your own speech or presentation.

Public speaking is no longer relegated to the worlds of political leaders, members of the clergy, or philosophers. Increasingly, employers are looking to hire applicants with both technical skills AND the ability to communicate well in groups of all sizes. The more you can hone this particular skill-set, the more valuable you will be to your employer.