Leadership, Top Story

5 Steps to Master Public Speaking

Cary Register

Fitness and Leadership Editor

Public speaking does not come naturally for everyone. Although nerve wracking, speaking in front of others is a skill that is useful no matter who you are. When you can speak comfortably and coherently in front of others, there’s no limit to how far you can go. I was not born with a strong public speaking ability, but here are some strategies I have learned that have helped propel me into being a strong public speaker. 

Step 1: Make Direct Eye Contact 

This is the first step, because it’s the most important step. When someone is speaking and they aren’t making eye contact, it’s… weird. The person usually looks at a specific point at the wall in front of them, or worse the floor. To be a good public speaker you need to make eye contact. Your audience will connect with you and your message if you can look them in the eye while you say it. People don’t trust those who won’t look them in the eye, especially if they are trying to tell them something.  

One caveat; don’t single one person out in a crowd by staring at them while you’re speaking. This can make them uncomfortable and be distracting for the other listeners. Look each person in the eye at least once and don’t be afraid to switch your gaze frequently. 

Step 2: Practice 

When speaking in public or in front of a small group of people, it is incredibly helpful to rehearse what you are going to say. This is easier if you have a pre-planned speech because you can memorize it. The better you know your speech or topic, the better it will flow. Often during a speaking event, the person tends to zero in on their speech and think of little else. This is helpful only if you know what you want to say. If you go on autopilot at the podium and forget your speech you will most likely stumble. If you don’t have a pre-planned speech, practice what you want to say out loud. Rarely is it worth it to simply wing it and go in cold. This can give anything from a lackluster to a terrible performance. If you can confidently say you have practiced your words and feel confident in your delivery, then proceed. 

Step 3: Know Your Subject

Like step 2, you need to know the topic of your speech. If you’re speaking about gas prices, it pays to understand why and how prices go up or down. This is especially important if you have to answer questions following your speech. Knowing the subject matter will give you an extra boost in confidence as well. If you know the topic then you would feel more comfortable speaking about it. This step is most helpful if you have to answer questions or clarify what you mean after you have finished speaking. Nothing is more embarrassing than giving a speech only to be left stumbling over a simple follow-up question. Don’t be that kind of speaker! Take the time to know the topic and you will not regret it. 

Step 4: Be Engaging 

Body posture is everything. If you look weak or timid, then your speech will be received that way. When speaking, keep your shoulders back, head held high, and use hand gestures. These body language movements will help keep the audience’s attention. Don’t make frantic movement’s but use gestures to emphasize your points. When properly utilized, taking advantage of body language is very helpful to keep the audience listening, and a true master knows that the difference between a successful speech or not can lie in the gestures (or lack thereof) of the speaker. 

Step 5: Breathe

This is the best tool to staying calm during a public speaking appearance. Breathing in through the nose and out through the mouth can help build a sense of calm before taking the stage or podium. Whilst speaking, controlling the breath can help you stay calm, as well as keep you from running out of breath just as you’re about to make your own point. Breathing can keep you calm especially when anxiety or nervousness strikes. If you can control your breath you can control your fear. I often breath slowly and deeply before speaking, and it helps me stay calm and collected. When I’m nervous I run the risk of forgetting my speech or stumbling over my words. Breathing techniques have helped me mitigate these fears and stay focused. 

Public speaking can be a tough skill to acquire, but it is by far one of the most useful skills to have if you want to get anywhere in life. Being a good leader often requires the occasional pep talk, and these tools can give you the confidence you need to be the leader you always knew you were. 

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