Sharpening your public speaking skills brings a wealth of benefits. It can boost your confidence, enhance your personal development, and advance your career, to name just a few. But, to be able to reap these benefits, you must be able to practice effectively.
This article takes a look at 8 ways to practice public speaking to hone your craft. Implement each of them as part of your routine, to work toward becoming a confident and passionate speaker.
But first, let’s take a look at why it’s so important to become a great speaker.
The Importance of Becoming a Great Speaker
There are many benefits to becoming a great public speaker.
For instance, imagine that you're the best man or maid of honor at a wedding and are required to make a speech. Or you're at work and the boss needs you to make a presentation to a room full of potential clients.
But it doesn’t stop there. If you are in business, speaking skills will allow you to better handle customer issues and negotiate with suppliers on deals.
Whether in your professional or personal life, being able to speak in front of a group of people is an extremely helpful skill, and it's one that anyone can acquire.
According to the U.S. National Institute of Mental Health, 73% of people experience some level of anxiety when they have to speak in front of a group of people.
Many will begin to sweat, their hands become clammy, and they experience verbal tics and various other issues with their performance.
The good news is that it's possible to work through these and other issues to improve your speaking skills. With practice, anyone can become a powerful public speaker who is as comfortable in front of a room full of people as they are in front of the mirror.
Ways to Hone Your Public Speaking Skills
Everyone has to speak in public at one time or another. And rather than being the type of person who dreads such experiences, use the tips below to help hone your public speaking skills so that the next time you address a group of people, you will speak in a confident and compelling way.
1. Master Presentation Tools
Mastering the right presentation tools will give you the power to capture your audience’s attention, keep them engaged, and effectively communicate important ideas.
Furthermore, the right presentation tools can be useful for branding. Consistent fonts, colors, and general style will help your audience remember you better, and retain more of your message.
While you can use traditional tools, like Google Slides, PowerPoint, and Keynote in your presentations, you are likely to experience better results by breaking with the conventional bullet points on slides method.
For instance, you can try including images and creating some movement to add more depth to your slides.
There are many tools you can use to create attention-grabbing presentations and keep track of your progress throughout the presentation. These include:
Whichever presentation tool you choose, make sure you take the time to master it before using it in front of an audience. When you're comfortable handling your presentation tools, it will greatly boost your confidence and maximize your impact.
2. Record Yourself
Preparation and practice are two of the most important things you can do to ensure your success as a public speaker.
A simple strategy you can use to prepare yourself is to record yourself and then watch the recording back to identify any problems and check your progress.
This is a strategy that many successful speakers use to perfect their skills, and it will help you overcome nervousness and ensure that you perform exceptionally well during your talk.
As you watch your recorded speech or presentation, look for areas that did not go well, and then work on improving them, such as:
Verbal Stalls: Watch for any verbal stalls you may be using, such as "like", "um", and so on.
Body Language: Carefully watch your body language to determine if you’re standing too rigidly, swaying, or leaning too heavily on the podium. Check if you are looking at your audience, if you're smiling, and if you're speaking clearly throughout the presentation.
Gestures: Also, focus on your gestures. Are they natural-looking or forced? Can people see them if you are speaking from behind a podium?
Interruptions: If there were any interruptions during your speech, did your face show hesitation, surprise, annoyance, etc? If so, you must practice ways to manage such interruptions smoothly so you can do better next time.
If you want to take things a step further, you can turn these recordings into a full fledged YouTube channel. Who knows, you may end up being a highly profitable YouTuber who makes a living from your channel.
But whether successful or not, it’ll definitely give you an excellent place to practice your skills.
3. Practice in Front of People You Trust
Friends and family make a great practice audience when you have an upcoming speech or presentation. Ask them to listen to your speech and give you feedback so you can tweak your presentation accordingly.
One major benefit of practicing in front of family and friends is that they know you very well. They know your bad habits, and they know your natural self, which means that they will be able to tell you if you're not sounding like yourself, or if something doesn't "feel" right.
Once you've practiced a few times in front of a group of people you trust, and gotten feedback from them, you will be more confident going in front of your actual audience.
4. Give Free Speeches
Giving free speeches to a real audience is a step-up from practicing in front of only a trusted group. There are many venues where you can offer to speak for free as a way to help you hone your public speaking craft, including the following:
Toastmasters: The first and most popular option is to join a local Toastmasters near you. The Toastmasters organization is the global leader in communication development, and it's a great place for aspiring speakers to sharpen their skills.
Public Libraries: To become a top performer, you must work your presentations in a variety of environments. Public libraries often have an ongoing event calendar, and you can sign up to speak in front of audiences from preschoolers to senior citizens, and everyone in between.
Chamber of Commerce Events: Whether you are a small business owner or a representative of a larger organization, you will find regular opportunities to speak in front of groups at your chamber.
5. Get Mentorship From Great Speakers
An effective way to improve your presentation skills is to get mentorship from great speakers. Here are some steps you can take to create your first mentoring experience:
Step #1: Search for professional speakers who are experts on the subject you want to speak about.
Step #2: Observe them online by reading their blogs, signing up for their newsletters, following them on social media, etc., and keep track of everything they do. You can learn a lot from professional speakers using this "backstage mentoring" technique, even if you never actually meet them one-on-one.
Step #3: Continually like/share/comment on their social media posts. While it may not be easy to get the attention of someone like Tony Robbins, many smaller or even medium sized speakers will take notice of your engagement and appreciate it.
Step #4: Use the speakers’ membership on NSA (National Speakers Association) websites to see what they speak about, and reach out when you find a topic that you are interested in. Ask if you can do anything to help them prepare for the presentation or help them digitally.
Step #5: When you engage with them, and after you help them, ask if they’d be willing to mentor you in a limited capacity. The key here is to help them first, then provide a small ask to get in their “circle”. Once they know, like, and trust you, they’ll be much more likely to consider mentoring you.
6. Study Excellent Speakers Online
This tip for improving your speaking skills ties into the previous one about following your mentors online and keeping track of everything they do.
Once you’ve found the ones you want to follow, watch their videos, read their advice, study the blog that they’ve built, and take copious notes.
When watching talks by great public speakers, don't copy them, but rather watch with the attitude of learning what works so you can develop your own speaking style.
Remember, no matter how well you can emulate another great speaker, you will never be as good as they are at what they do. But you can work towards being the best at what you do.
7. Learn to Speak Without Reading
When speaking in public, do your best to avoid looking down to read your notes (unless you absolutely have to). That’s because reading from a script destroys the interpersonal connection between you and your audience.
Some speakers tend to hide behind their scripts, and make very little eye contact with their audiences. You absolutely need to maintain eye contact to keep engagement levels high so your audience can focus on you and your message.
You can use a brief outline to help jog your memory during your presentation and keep you on track. The rest of your talk should be improvised (even if it is carefully planned improvisation).
This will allow you to communicate your message in the most powerful and effective way, using a combination of voice quality, body language, energy, and words.
Neal Taparia, a serial entrepreneur, and founder of classic card gaming site Solitaired, suggests that you should practice without a script. “Most people cannot improvise naturally. It takes consistent practice and knowledge of the topic. Whenever I give a presentation with just a few talking points, I practice delivering it to myself in front of the mirror at least three times. By the time I give the presentation, I can confidently speak about all the talking points.”
8. Practice in Manageable Increments
After practicing a few times in front of family and friends, and after reviewing videos of yourself giving your speech, you may have a long list of things that you want to improve.
But don't practice to correct all your speaking issues at the same time. This would be overwhelming.
A better way is to practice in manageable increments, such as practicing a certain skill (e.g. getting rid of the use of filler words) by concentrating on this for short periods a few times in a row.
Start with the most important areas for improvement, and work your way down your list in a systematic way.
Practicing in manageable chunks will help to reduce stress, as your brain is only focusing on one thing at a time. It also maximizes the improvement you make in each area.
By following these 8 ways to practice public speaking to hone your craft, you will set yourself up for success the next time you have to speak in front of an audience.
And remember, practice makes perfect. It’s not enough simply knowing these techniques, you have to practice them so you reduce anxiety and deliver phenomenal speeches.
Which of the public speaking tips outlined above are you going to implement first? Share your thoughts here.
About the author:
Ron Stefanski is an internet business expert and marketing professor who has a passion for helping people create and market online businesses. You can learn more from him by visiting OneHourProfessor.com. You can also connect with him on YouTube or Linkedin.