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Public Speaking Tips, Skills and Exercises

Written by: Hilbert College   •  Oct 27, 2022
A speaker giving a presentation to an audience.

Public Speaking Tips, Skills and Exercises

Public speaking: Many people fear it and do their best to avoid it. However, at some point in life, public speaking is something that most everyone will have to do.

In high school and college, students may have to present an assignment to the class. In business, an employee may have to deliver a presentation at a meeting. In academia, public speaking is essential for communicating facts and research. Then there are the situations that seem to arise out of nowhere, like having to give a toast at a wedding or an impromptu talk at a public gathering. Researching public speaking tips, skills and exercises is an important step for anyone looking to prepare for the eventuality of giving a public speech or presentation. Following these tips can help anyone advance in their careers and create opportunities for workplace success.

Why Public Speaking Skills Are Important

The need for solid public speaking skills goes beyond being prepared for public speeches and debates. Improving one’s public speaking skills and learning how to improve presentation skills are important because they help individuals to:

Build Self-Confidence

Public speaking skills can increase self-confidence and can help make individuals feel more comfortable around others. Greater confidence also enables individuals to take measured risks and move outside of what they are used to, creating opportunities to take on new responsibilities that can lead to career advancement.

Prepare to Lead and Motivate Individuals and Teams

Effective managers use public speaking skills to build trust, share their vision, set clear goals, communicate with staff and foster collaboration, which can translate into business success. For individuals without a managerial title, public speaking skills can help them motivate their peers to achieve mutual team goals, which can impact the success of the business.

Effectively Share Information and Education

Data is the backbone of today’s world. A simple internet search can point anyone to informational resources that are useful for personal and business use. However, people may prefer to rely on educators and leaders to differentiate fact from fiction. A common trait among effective education leaders is that they have strong speaking skills, which sets them apart as trustworthy beacons of credible information.

Clearly Express Ideas

Ideas that form in our minds can be difficult to express in ways that are clear to others, whether in writing or speech. Through painstaking planning and by following well-known principles of effective public speaking, individuals can organize their thoughts and clearly communicate their message or the meaning behind an idea.

Influence People

An individual can be an energetic orator with an extensive vocabulary, but in the end, one of the key elements of a successful public speech is how it influences the audience. A prerequisite to achieving this is understanding the audience, whether it is a jury deliberating the evidence of a case or a prospective customer debating whether or not to buy a product or service.

The Science of Public Speaking

Public speaking requires talent and inspiration and gives individuals the creative freedom to choose how and what they speak about based on their own personal style and preferences. One speaker may choose to use comedy to maintain their audience’s attention, while another may use statistics or data to highlight an important value they are trying to communicate. These traits make public speaking an art.

Public speaking can also be considered a science based on the physiology and psychology behind it—for example, eye contact, speech tempo and visualization all play a part in public speaking. Additionally, effective speakers use a systematic approach to building, organizing, presenting and testing knowledge, similar to the scientific method.

Psychological science plays a role in the fear of public speaking as well: Some estimates suggest that about 77% of the population has some trepidation at the thought of speaking publicly, according to Verywell Mind. Having to speak in front of others can trigger anxiety, producing symptoms such as sweaty palms, an increased heart rate, muscle tension, a dry mouth and difficulty breathing.

What are the causes of the fear of public speaking? Here are some factors:

  • Human nature; specifically, the biological fight-or-flight response
  • Past negative experiences or lack of any public speaking experience
  • Psychological factors, including low self-esteem or impostor syndrome
  • Audience type, such as high-powered executives

Undoubtedly, some people appear to be natural public speakers, but the truth is that as an art and a science, public speaking is a skill that is best acquired through learning and experience. For those individuals looking to bolster their public speaking and presentation competencies, understanding which factors may be behind their fear can help them zero in on the specific public speaking tips that can best help them overcome the barriers to becoming successful public speakers.

Public Speaking Tips

For individuals looking for career advancement, public speaking tips can help them become better communicators and presenters. These tips can help individuals communicate better with work colleagues, deliver effective presentations and share their ideas in meetings. Public speaking advice can also help individuals feel more prepared and less nervous, which can help them convey professionalism in their speech or presentation.

Individuals researching public speaking advice can find dozens of helpful tips in an online search. Here are five of the best:

  1. Research the audience. To be more effective public speakers, individuals should first understand their audience. Second, they should also understand what their audience wants.
  2. Organize materials. Communicating ideas is easier when notes, illustrations, slides and other elements used in a presentation are in the right order.
  3. Boost self-confidence. A pep talk can help remind individuals about their preparedness for a presentation to improve their self-confidence before stepping up to the microphone.
  4. Know the environment or setting. Every setting is different—it could be a large room with bright lights or an intimate setting. Knowing where the speech will take place can help individuals prepare for the unknown.
  5. Minimize the impact of nervousness. Keeping calm can be challenging in nerve-racking moments, like getting ready for a presentation. Nerves can take hold of anyone at this stage. Deep, long breaths can help calm nerves and slow down the pace.

Perhaps one of the most important tips for becoming an effective speaker is to work to improve one’s presentation skills.

How to Improve Presentation Skills

Presentation skills allow individuals to convey information to an audience in an impactful way using visuals, storytelling and conversations that engage an audience. Every individual is different, so the best approach to improving one’s presentation skills may vary. For example, an individual can research public speaking tips and use the ones that may work for them. Individuals can also enroll in an educational program that teaches effective presentation skills.

Here are some competencies individuals can acquire that can help them improve their presentation skills:

  • Doing background research. Investigating the discussion topic is a critical step in the process, allowing for an organized speech or presentation with credible data. This is key to conveying professionalism.
  • Developing outlines. Creating a general outline—with a beginning, middle and end—provides guidance throughout a presentation and helps speakers stay on topic.
  • Storytelling. Instead of reading off a script or slide presentation, effective presenters tell stories. They share their knowledge, inform and educate with concepts that the audience can relate to, such as personal experiences. Stories can also entertain, getting the audience to react and engage.
  • Using graphics and other media. Engaging visuals such as graphics, audio, video and slides can provide added value in connecting with the audience.

Public Speaking Resources

Exercises and Tools to Become a Better Speaker

Individuals can gain knowledge about public speaking from online resources and books, but becoming a better speaker should also include the use of exercises and tools, such as:

  1. Practice, practice, practice. This can mean speaking in front of others, like family or friends, or even a wall or mirror. Welcome feedback to learn how to improve.
  2. Join a speaking club. Participating in groups such as Toastmasters can provide opportunities to acquire valuable skills, learn public speaking tips and receive feedback from peers.
  3. Memorize key lines. Nothing will disengage an audience more than a dry speech where the presenter reads from a prompt or slide without ever making eye contact. Memorizing the introduction, the conclusion and key elements of a speech can help a speaker interact with the audience.
  4. Learn from the experts. Whether watching a TV journalist reporting live from an event or browsing through videos of great presenters and speakers, seeing how the experts do it can help individuals become better speakers.
  5. Keep track of timing. Going over the allotted time for a speech or presentation is poor etiquette, and the audience may see it as a lack of preparation. Mobile devices typically have built-in timer apps so individuals can time themselves during practice.
  6. Record and listen. No need for fancy equipment—the voice recorder app on most smartphones will suffice.

Strengthening Presentation Skills Can Help Ignite Career Growth

Individuals interested in how to improve their presentation skills should embrace public speaking because it can distinguish them from their peers. According to the Graduate Management Admission Council (GMAC), oral communication and presentation skills were among the most sought-after communication skills in new hires, with oral communication skills topping the list.

Opportunities to acquire public speaking skills can include enrolling in classes and volunteering to work on committees that require presentation skills—while gaining confidence and improving one’s performance.

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