How to Improve Your Public Speaking Skills

How to Improve Your Public Speaking Skills

When Deborah was called to the front of the class to explain the answer to the question just asked, she was terrified. Even though she had prepared well the night before and could explain it better than anybody else, stage fright got the best of her. Her law class became an instant nightmare.

This continued for a few times, as if her professor had singled her out to be the sole sacrificial lamb. A few years and a few profile transitions later she realized how that has actually helped her. She has had professional stints as a lawyer, speaker and entrepreneur and now juggles job roles of financial journalist, author and senior editor at Forbes.

If I say, public speaking isn't a piece of pie for an introvert, then that would be an understatement. Some people would prefer dying, instead of honing the limelight in front of a bunch of people. And for those who have overcome that fear, it still haunts those who are doing it wrong. In this article we would find out where you are going wrong and how to fix those.

Reach out to your audience

When Rishi was in the middle of his business presentation about the annual stats of sale hike, he was at a loss for words. Somehow it made no sense. He thought he had prepared the best presentation than anyone in the company ever could, but the expressions on the guests' faces spoke otherwise. They looked bored and irritated and completely uninterested to close the deal with their company. The business proposal was falling apart and Rishi attempted one last save.

A situation like this could go wrong in so many ways, if not a miraculous save is implemented well. First things first, you need to know your audience. The following people comprise the bunch of folks you would be addressing:

  • The “what” people
  • The “how” people
  • The “why” people
  • The “what if” people

But the people Rishi was addressing needs a separate category which I have named the “what's in it for me” people. This group is generally found prowling the offices, sipping coffee and calculating the numbers to find out how they can benefit from the proposed deal.

Here's a tip: always start with the “why”, it sets the context. You can also combine the 'what” with the “why” by combining the facts, data and then slowly work your way up the ladder to “how”, by presenting a solution. The “what if” people will always find a way to contradict your statement. All you need to do is to get rid of the why-do-they-always-have-to-sabotage-my-point attitude and give in to a fresher one. If you think twice, you would actually find that they are a valuable asset to you because they would help you find holes that you have somehow skipped. But the immediate question is what to do when they stump you with question? Here's what:

  • Thank them for pointing it out (do not apologize, it makes them lose trust)
  • Promise to look into it
  • Get back to them once you have found out the answer.

Find the right spot

Do you pace back and forth while speaking? That is outright remorseful. I'll tell you why. It is such a pain to concentrate, when the person speaking cannot hold his spot and prowl about the stage just because they feel like it! That never helps. Period.

You would need your audience to look at you and connect to you. You must have been told a lot of times to look them in the eye when you are addressing them. That sure does count, but today I will give you a nice little insider tip. Did you know that it is all about finding the right spot? Map out a few spots you like on the stage and give them a name. The best way to segregate these positions is by mood.

  • Assign a spot where you will stand while presenting most of your speech. Let's call it the “Prime spot”.
  • You could find an “intense curiosity spot” or a “spilling the secrets spot” or “long face spot”. Try to stick to a maximum of 4. You don't want to exhaust their concentration by keeping track.
  • When you move to a certain spot, try eliciting the mood by recounting a joke you once heard or an incident that took place. Do not mix them up.
  • Move about, but don't make that too frequent, you want to hold a certain state of mind for some time to ensure comprehension and then initiate a smooth transition.

You are the alpha and the omega

Your opening should grab the attention of your audience, your middle should hold it and your ending should sweep them away. That is the fairy tale of public speaking. You don't want your audience to go 'You had me at hello!' How would you do that? Let's dive in:

  • Forget the “Thank you” intro. No one wants to be bored. They have taken out time to be present. They want to listen to what you have to say. So get right to it.
  • Avoid fillers. The “however”, “moreover”, “in addition to” are best reserved for the answer paper to be graded.
  • For the middle part, make your audience laugh, make them cry, take them on a journey with you. Make yourself heard.
  • The ending decides what your audience takes home; the breadcrumbs. Make a powerful statement, own it!

Measure out your voice speed variance

Did you know that sticking to one voice speed could result in losing out on a good 66% of your audience? This is because not everyone processes the same information in the same speed. To reach out to most of your audience, you can try varying your voice speed throughout the presentation. This helps in dramatically increasing your charisma. Try these the next time:

  • When you are speaking fast, lose the hand gestures.
  • When speaking in a medium speed, you can restore your gestures to their full glory.

Make visual treats out of your PowerPoint slides

Overloading your PowerPoint slides with details can never help. Leave the details to your explanation and include the statistics in your slide. Your slides should:

  • Visually explain something that would otherwise take a lot of words to help your audience understand. A line graph can help to understand a rise in mobile phone usage over the last decade.
  • Include only the details you want your audience to remember, because trust me, they are so easy to slide by.

A quick tip: Once you finish showing the slide, make the screen blank. It would help shift focus on you instead of initiating a lull of a daydream.

Each time you speak, make a mental note of what went wrong and what went right, so that you can make your public speaking better. And practice as much as you can or, till you feel you are ready. Also remember that your speech is about your audience, so get your attitude right.

Enough said, the limelight awaits!


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