7 ways to instantly improve your public speaking
Presentations don't have to be torture. With some simple tricks and practice, you can become a more confident, eloquent, and engaging speaker.
There’s only one way to say this: If you want to stand out in today’s job market, you better learn how to improve your public speaking skills.
According to a recent survey from Editorial Projects in Education, about eight in 10 executives and hiring managers said good oral communication is the skill they want most from job candidates, ranking it more important than critical thinking, ethical decision-making, and teamwork. Yet fear of public speaking is a hang-up for plenty of people, and that can inhibit your professional development.
“All things being equal, your ability to communicate a message clearly and concisely, and directly to the audience that you’re speaking to, will make you stand out” in the workplace, says John Watkis, a public speaking trainer and coach at Global Public Speaking.
Carmine Gallo, keynote speaker and author of Talk Like TED: The 9 Public-Speaking Secrets of the World's Top Minds, agrees. “Strong public speaking skills set apart ‘great’ professionals from ‘good’ professionals,” he says. “They add value to any professional’s career.”
If your public speaking skills need some improvement, don’t fret—we spoke to experts to find out what steps you can take to bolster them.
Overcome stage fright
Knowing how to improve your public speaking begins with knowing how to relax. By some estimates, 75% of people suffer from speech anxiety. “Even professional speakers get nervous before they deliver a big speech,” says public speaking coach Gigi Rosenberg. Though there’s no magic pill to cure stage fright, Rosenberg says there are simple things you can do to calm your fear of public speaking. One is to focus on your breathing. “Taking a few deep breaths before you start can help you relax,” she says.
Moreover, replacing negative thoughts with positive affirmations can boost your self-confidence, says Gary Genard, a public speaking coach and author of Fearless Speaking: Beat Your Anxiety. Build Your Confidence. Change Your Life. Genard offers these examples:
- Negative thought: “I’m just not a good public speaker.”
- Positive affirmation: “I can learn to speak effectively.”
- Negative thought: “I’m going to look like a fool on stage.”
- Positive affirmation: “I’m going to focus on getting my message across, not focus on myself.”
- Negative thought: “Everyone is going to be looking at me!”
- Positive affirmation: “What a great opportunity this is, being able to present in front of a large group of people.”
Such simple shifts of thinking can effectively alter your outlook and how you approach public speaking.
Videotape yourself giving a speech
The days of rehearing speeches in front of a mirror are gone. “In the past, you needed to have professional equipment to videotape yourself,” Gallo says. “Now, you have no excuse—you can just whip out your smartphone and record yourself.”
Watching a recording of how you deliver a speech can make it easier for you to spot mistakes. “It’s a reality check for a lot of people,” Watkis says. Pay attention to your pace, eye contact, fidgeting, facial expression, and overusing “um” and “ah” to buy yourself time.
Get feedback on your performance
Ideally, you’d want to consult a public speaking coach who can give you constructive criticism on how you’re performing. If that’s not an option, though, ask a co-worker or an industry peer who is a strong public speaker to offer you feedback. Don’t ask a friend or family member to critique your performance; “You may not get honest feedback,” Watkis warns.
Zero in on your body language
Ace public speakers use their body language to get their message across and improve their stage presence, Rosenberg says.
Here are five trade secrets:
- Plant your feet. (“Shifting back and forth from one hip to another can have a hypnotic effect on an audience,” says Rosenberg.)
- Bend your elbows at about a 90-degree angle.
- Don’t cross your arms. (“It shows people you’re closed off,” Gallo says.)
- Maintain eye contact with the audience. (“You don’t want to be reading off slides or constantly looking down at your notes,” says Gallo.)
Practice, practice, practice
No one becomes a great public speaker overnight. You need to flex your public speaking muscles. Want to gain experience talking in front of large groups? Consider taking a course through Toastmasters, a national organization that offers public speaking workshops.
Quit using filler words
Many people have a tendency to use fillers, such as “um,” “like,” you know,” and “ah,” when delivering a presentation, but these words can be distracting for audiences. The good news? “Fillers are very simple to fix,” says Gallo, “you just need to practice.”
Turn to TED
Many TED Talk presenters are masters at public speaking, so study up. “My favorite TED talk of all time is from Bryan Stevenson, a human rights lawyer,” Gallo says. “If you watch his presentation, you’ll see how he uses storytelling and his body language to drive home his points.”
More ways to shine at work
Understanding how to improve your public speaking skills is a great way to develop professionally, but it’s not the only thing you’ll need to impress prospective employers. Want to know how else you can attract hiring managers? Join Monster for free today. As a member, you can get career advice, job search tips, and workplace trends delivered right to your inbox to help you stay ahead of the competitive curve. Additionally, you can can upload up to five versions of your cover letter and resume—each tailored to different types of jobs that interest you. Recruiters search Monster every day looking to fill top jobs with qualified candidates, just like you. You can learn how to talk the talk, now learn how to walk the walk.