Learn how to speak with confidence. Public speaking tips and techniques
There’s nothing like that gut-wrenching feeling of hearing the words “Welcome on stage…” followed by your own name, is there? Public speaking can be a daunting prospect for many of us, in fact as much as 73% of the US population* struggles with a fear of public speaking.
However, mastering the skill of capturing the attention of a room of people and effectively delivering your message is a core expertise for business and can help you make headway in your career. One study* found that lacking public speaking skills can reduce your chance of achieving a promotion by as much as 15%.
The good news is that it is a skill that anyone can learn. Steady implementation of the public speaking techniques explained here, combined with consistent practical experience, will help you identify and develop your own authentic style.
We’ll cover public speaking tips on how to project your voice, how to use your voice to convince others, and even when not speaking has a bigger impact than speaking! Once accomplished, the ability to speak with confidence in public is a skill that will benefit you in both your personal and professional life.
What is Public Speaking? When Do We Need It?
Public speaking is a broad term that covers a wide range of situations where verbal communication to an audience is required. It is also known as Oratory or Oration.
Effective public speaking occurs when the speaker can communicate in a clear, confident and amicable way that convinces the audience of his or her competence in the subject.
Public speakers have three main motivations:
Often all three aims are combined in order to achieve the speaker’s communication goals.
Which situations require Public Speaking?
Let’s look at two common situations where you might encounter public speaking.
- Business pitch: Speaking in front of a group of clients is an example of public speaking in a professional setting. You can use oration to capture their attention, convey the information that assures them of your company’s competency and convince them to hire you. In this situation, the main aims of the pitch would be to inform and to persuade.
- Best Man’s Speech: Your friend has asked you to be the Best Man at his wedding, which of course entails you delivering the quintessential Best Man’s Speech. Your job is to use humour and wit to entertain the wedding guests while helping them get to know the groom better. The main aims here would be to entertain and inform.
Of course, there are hundreds of other examples where you might be required to speak in public, each having its own aims and requirements. We’ll look at a range of the most effective public speaking techniques that can be adjusted and applied in different situations.
What is important to consider when public speaking?
Public speaking differs greatly to normal conversation between one or two speakers in a non-public setting because public speaking is a monologue instead of being a dialogue.
Warning! Don’t get fixated on the term ‘monologue’. This conjures up images of a lengthy soliloquy that doesn’t capture the audience’s attention or even could bore them.
In order to avoid the monologue trap, we can focus on different areas of our speech to pep it up and mimic the dynamic nature of an interesting and captivating exchange.
The key areas and most essential public speaking techniques are:
- Voice control
- Non-verbal behavior
We’ll go through each of these focus areas and share handy public speaking tips and techniques for each so you can master the art of public speaking for yourself.
Public Speaking Tips – 3 Techniques
Let’s examine Preparation, Voice Control and Non-Verbal Behaviour and how we can maximize on each aspect to create a strong performance when public speaking.
1. Preparation Tips & Techniques
You wouldn’t walk onto a stage to perform a play without spending time learning your lines and perfecting your performance, and the same is required for a public speaking appearance. Let’s break this down further into smaller areas to focus on.
Know your subject matter inside out
Whatever it is you are going to be talking about while public speaking, it is really key that you know your subject matter inside out. The best way to do this is to do all the necessary research and then formulate your thoughts on each topic in bullet list form on paper.
Now practice speaking about your topic in a structured manner, simply by referring intermittently to the bullets you’ve jotted down.
It’s really important that you don’t try and “learn your lines” in the classic sense, or worse attempt to read your presentation word-for-word from a sheet of paper as this will come across as dull and you will struggle to maintain the audience’s attention.
Consider potential questions that the audience might have and try to incorporate answers to them in your preparation. In fact, a rhetorical question is a great writing technique, the power of which you can also harness in your speech to grab the listeners’ attention!
A word on Powerpoint
Will you be using a Powerpoint presentation while public speaking? Don’t skip this. Powerpoint is a really popular tool used to assist when public speaking with visual representations. Unfortunately, it is often misused as has been found in studies*.
Research has shown that audiences don’t find presentations with visual aids any more informative than presentations without visual aids. There is a very simple reason for this: your audience can’t effectively read a screen and listen to you at the same time.
So by packing your slides full of detailed written content, you are actually asking your audience to stop listening to you. Now that’s not what you’re spending all this time learning public speaking skills for is it?
When using Powerpoint, remember that it is just there to support you and not to do the communication for you. Keep your slides simple with just a single image or graph and use the power of your voice to engage the audience in the topic.
One tip: if you find that your audience is staring at the screen rather than listening to you, there is a button on every projector pointer that is your new best friend.
The ‘blank screen’ button will temporarily turn your PowerPoint presentation off. This will have the direct effect of your audience’s attention immediately returning with full focus to what you are saying.
Don’t be afraid to use the button!
Prepare your voice
When we do public speaking we use our voice in a very different way to how we would in day-to-day life and conversations. For this reason, it’s important to prime your voice ready for the event and give your vocal cords a chance to warm up.
To make sure you can achieve the required volume, pitch and diction when public speaking, it’s worth spending a few minutes warming up immediately before your speech.
The best way to warm up your voice is to make some humming noises that grow steadily louder, as if you are working your way up a musical scale. Repeat this with the sound “mamamamama”.
In addition, you can gently massage your lower face and jaw and then try some ‘Lip Buzzing’. Put your lips together, but don’t purse them too tightly, then exhale and vibrate your lips. This could also be explained as doing a sort of horse noise impression.
Prepare your body
Now that your brain and your voice have been prepped, it’s time to turn your attention to your body.
This is one of the public speaking techniques that many overlook, thinking that it’s not an important part of the presentation. But priming your body for public speaking will benefit your overall stage presence and therefore the quality of your appearance.
As you did with your vocal warm-up, take a few seconds to try out an exercise that will help your body portray a confident appearance, even if you are feeling less-than-confident.
A popular technique is to strike the Power Pose. This involves standing with your feet apart and your hands on your hips, looking straight ahead. Imagine you are Superman with a cape flowing behind you and the ability to excel at anything you set out to do.
This method uses a posture that we mentally associate with the feeling of being powerful to encourage us to have self-confidence.
A good maxim to remember when it comes to public speaking is “Fake it ’til you make it.” The Power Pose technique builds on this idea by starting with telling your body physically that you can do it, which will then translate into the psychological belief that you can do it.
2. Voice Control Techniques
Now we’ve prepared our mind, voice and body for the task of public speaking, it’s time to look at how we can use our voice during a speech or presentation for maximum effect.
Speed – Speak slowly
The speed at which we talk is one of the most important public speaking techniques. The tendency for almost everyone who tries their hand at public speaking is to talk too fast.
This can happen for several reasons:
- We want the speech to be over as soon as possible.
- We speak quickly to ensure we don’t forget anything.
- We forget that our audience is hearing it for the first time.
- We worry that what we are saying isn’t interesting so rush through our material.
When practising public speaking, make a conscious decision to speak slightly more slowly than you normally would, without dragging out the words artificially. It will feel unnatural at first, but the more you rehearse, the sooner you will find your ideal speaking speed.
You can also record yourself and watch it back to gauge whether you are speaking too fast or too slowly. Keep in mind at all times that the audience is there to listen to what you have to say, and you owe it to them to give them time to take it all in.
Volume – Adapt your voice
Much like the speed at which you speak, the volume of your voice is integral to successful public speaking. There is no set rule about how loudly you should speak, but you rather need to learn how to adapt the volume for different environments.
If you are in a small room, you will need to take into account any background noise or chatter coming from the audience before deciding how loudly to speak.
If you are in a large room, auditorium or speaking to a large audience, it is likely that you will have a microphone. In this instance, you will need to regulate your voice to accommodate the power of the microphone.
The best way to achieve the perfect volume for any public speaking is to gain access to the room, location or space in advance, ideally testing out any equipment you will be using too.
Having a chance to practice projecting your voice in the actual environment will ensure you are able to regulate the power of your voice when it comes to the event.
As you gain more experience and confidence with public speaking you will be able to gauge the volume required much more spontaneously, so it’s worth taking every public speaking opportunity that comes your way to hone this skill!
Diction – Speak clearly
Diction is about speaking clearly. You want your audience to be able to follow every word you say and remember it after you have finished speaking too. To achieve this it is very important to practice speaking clearly.
If you know you have a tendency to mumble your words, or if you think there are certain words you are likely to either mispronounce or stumble over, take time to pay particular attention to these during your preparation phase.
Tip: Always remember that while you have heard yourself speaking on this topic several times over, your audience is hearing this for the first time. Speak evenly and clearly the whole way through.
Pauses – Take a breather
Pauses harness a special kind of power in public speaking. In fact, there are often moments where not saying anything has a much larger impact on your audience than speaking.
If you rattle through what you are presenting without taking a breath, you are going to tire yourself out very quickly, and your audience will lose interest.
As we mentioned earlier, public speaking is essentially a monologue, but you need to use a few tricks to include the audience and give it the essence of an interesting dialogue or discussion in order to engage the audience.
A conversation between two people has natural pauses between the two interlocutors speaking, or to allow for thinking time. It is vital that you build pauses into your speech. This can be done by allowing a short pause at the end of every couple of sentences.
Another very effective way of using pauses is to ask the audience a rhetorical question, and then allow a longer pause to give them time to ponder it, before finally continuing with your presentation. It is during these such pauses that you will have the audiences utmost attention, as they wait with anticipation for the flow of information to continue.
3. Non-verbal Behavior Techniques
Your body’s job during public speaking is to provide a credible appearance for the audience to observe while listening to what you are saying. While the content of your speech needs to be sound and delivered in a confident way, your non-verbal behavior also needs to project a similar confidence. There are several aspects to non-verbal behavior:
Eye Contact – Find friendly faces
It is vital to include your audience in your presentation as much as possible. The easiest way to do this is with eye contact.
You might find the idea of eye contact with an entire room full of people a strange one. After all, how is it possible to maintain eye contact with everyone all at once?
The key to good eye contact when public speaking is not trying to have eye contact with everyone, but having eye contact with several individuals in the audience.
3 effective public speaking techniques to achieve this:
- Find some friendly faces – Pick out a few faces dotted around your audience that you think you can maintain eye contact with for a few seconds at a time. Focus on telling each of these faces your story, like you would if you were telling them in a one-to-one situation.
- The ‘M’ Method – Imagine slowly drawing an M across your audience with your eyes. Start by making eye contact with someone sat at the front left of your audience, move towards the back, then diagonally back to the middle. Next, move diagonally in the other direction towards the back and then straight down to the front right of your audience. Do this very slowly and the whole audience will feel acknowledged by you, and be more inclined to focus on what you are saying.
- Every second face – A simple but very effective public speaking technique when talking to smaller groups of people is to make eye contact with every second person. Then go back the other way and make eye contact with every other second person. Again, you can do this quite slowly so that you are not frantically switching from person to person. The effect of this is that everyone feels incorporated and recognized as part of the discussion, but you are not artificially staring at each person.
Body Language – Maintain good posture
A non-verbal behavior that can really contribute to the efficacy of your public speaking is your body language. If you look disinterested or tired while speaking then your audience will certainly pick up on this.
You want to maintain good posture, so standing up straight with your shoulders back and strong body tension and positive overall expression. This doesn’t mean beaming at your audience the entire time but try and maintain a neutral to friendly facial expression, with the occasional appropriate reaction to the content of your speech.
It can be hard to know how to stand when speaking in front of a large group of people. The most important thing is that you assume a strong and confident stance. This is best achieved by planting your feet firmly on the ground, just wider than hip-width apart. If you do this you will be able to maintain your centre of gravity.
Take up as much room as you need to in the space, and don’t try and make yourself smaller. Women are particularly prone to doing this by standing with crossed legs or crossing our arms to reduce the amount of space taken up. Learn to own the room!
Don’t be afraid to move around the stage or space where you are speaking, if it is appropriate. While it would be counter-productive to leap around the stage, moving in a measured way is a great technique to bring energy into your public speaking.
Use strong gestures
Much like the body tension we recommend above, it is beneficial to use strong gestures. For example, if you are referring to a particular graph on your Powerpoint, use a powerful and well-tensed hand to do so. If we feel nervous it can be tempting to use weak or vague gestures, but these don’t help with giving the overall impression of authority.
Public Speaking Anxiety – 3 Tips to Overcome
So you’ve studied and practiced all of the public speaking tips and techniques we’ve covered, but you’re still fraught with nerves when it comes to speaking in front of a large group of people. Don’t worry, this is completely normal!
The fear of public speaking even has its own name: Glossophobia.
There is no magic formula to overcoming your fear of public speaking, but there are ways that you can learn to cope with your nerves. The feeling of being nervous is created by the body’s ‘Flight or Flight’ response when it detects a potentially dangerous situation. In public speaking, the perceived ‘danger’ is to your ego if you should make a mistake.
Your body’s way of dealing with this danger is to release adrenaline into your bloodstream which causes your heart rate to increase, your palms to sweat and your breathing to become faster and uneven.
You can counteract your body’s attempt to sabotage your speaking with deep breathing and focusing on the content of your presentation. There are also a number of public speaking techniques you can try to overcome your anxiety about speaking in public.
The key to a good speech is feeling calm and composed when you step on stage or face your audience.
Test out a variety of relaxation techniques such as deep breathing, meditation and visualizing positive memories in the days leading up to your public speaking event. Find which one works best for you and then employ it right before the event starts.
This will enable you to embark on your event with a positive and relaxed mindset and will set you on the path to success.
2. Visualization and Positive Affirmations
This is a trick you can try in the lead up to the day of your gig, and shortly before the presentation itself.
Visualize yourself giving a successful speech or presentation, with the audience engaged and following your every word. You remember every nugget of interesting content that you have carefully prepared, and you deliver it clearly and with confidence.
You can reinforce this with positive affirmations. Try repeating the following sentences several times each day in a confident and positive tone:
- “I am a competent and accomplished public speaker.”
- “The audience finds what I have to say interesting.”
- “I have the skills to speak clearly and communicate with ease.”
Experiment and see what works for you.
3. Find a mentor
Our final public speaking tip is to find yourself a mentor. This could be someone in your professional or personal life who you find to be an inspiring public speaker. You can ask them how they reached the level of confidence they have achieved while public speaking, and request constructive feedback on your own performance.
You can also find yourself a virtual mentor. Watch a handful of TED talks and find a speaker that you think is engaging and whose style you would like to emulate.
Then systematically watch all the talks you can find by them, and note down what it is particularly about their way of speaking that you find so effective. Do they have an interesting way of posing their questions? How do they use pauses and silence?
Whatever it is, try building their public speaking techniques into your style, and if possible record yourself to see whether the outcome is effective.
Public Speaking Tips – Conclusion
You’ve now learned the basics of public speaking, as well as taken on board some more advanced public speaking techniques that will help you on your journey to becoming a confident speaker.
You know that in order to convince your audience of your authority on the subject you are speaking about and hold their attention. You’ll need to fight the natural urge to speak too quickly, quietly and own the room.
Don’t forget that simply reading about these public speaking tips isn’t enough to turn you into the next Steve Jobs or Barack Obama. You will need to find situations where you can put what you’ve learned into practice. Why not trying Toastmasters, which is a platform to improve your communication skills with local meetups in many cities around the world.
Have you mastered the art of public speaking? What are the best public speaking tips in your opinion?