Public Speaking – Tips & Techniques to Improve Speech Skills

What is Public Speaking? 

Anytime you need to share information in front of a group of people, you are practicing the art of public speaking. The size of the crowd doesn’t necessarily define the public speaking experience. This can range from a small team meeting to a large auditorium. Public speaking is a live presentation given to any audience. This can now even be online or remote public speaking on platforms such as Teams, Zoom, etc.

Your audience may be people you know already. Alternatively, you may need to present to a room of strangers. Also, public speaking topics will range depending on your area of expertise. Regardless of all this, public speaking is loved by some but dreaded by most.  Here, we will look at different public speaking tips, techniques, and best practices.  

Why is Public Speaking Important? 

In any role, in any company, you will need public speaking skills. If you are in front-line roles, your customers want confident speakers to share information and answer questions. If you have any leadership role, public speaking skills will be important. Perhaps for running meetings or conducting training sessions. Even, for presenting departmental results to stakeholders.

Everyone, even on rare occasions, will need to speak in public. First, you need to work on your level of self-confidence. Also, you will need to consider the crowd or audience size. Many aspects of planning and preparation go into effective public speaking, regardless of your role.

Two metal gates chained together to keep closed representing barriers to effective communication
Barriers to public speaking can ruin the event

What are the Barriers to Public Speaking? 

There are many barriers people face when public speaking responsibilities come around. Here we look at 5 key barriers in public speaking.  

Nerves 

Nerves are natural, especially for those who are not familiar with public speaking. While you should expect them, you should have personal ways of dealing with them. Your nerves should never get the better of you. Anxiety from public speaking can be a real concern, however, you can manage it. Remember, with nerves, you need to control them; they should not control you. But also consider, when you have nerves, it means you care about the outcome of the public speaking experience.

Find your own techniques that work best for you. Some like to take deep breaths. Others prefer to have some private time before the big moment. Another option is getting tested on your topic by a colleague or friend. Personally, I like to walk the room and check my setup and slides one last time.    

Lack of Preparation 

One of the biggest downfalls to public speaking is a lack of proper preparation. That is the fault of the speaker. On the rare occasion when you are instantly put on the spot to speak, most public speaking occasions are advised ahead of time. Lack of preparation is simply not acceptable for any public speaker to use as an excuse. Use every minute possible to prepare and be ready for any public speaking responsibility your role requires. Read further to get more tips about preparation for public speaking.   

Lack of Interest 

Another barrier to public speaking is a lack of interest from the speaker. If the speaker doesn’t care, how will the audience? This lack of interest will be clear in terms of communication skills, tone, and body language. Many traits will show the audience that the speaker has no real interest in what they are talking about. Be sure to find some way to create that interest in yourself, even for boring or mundane topics.   

Other People’s Material 

Speechwriters are for the famous, like politicians and royalty. When you are delivering someone else’s material, it is harder to deliver it with passion or enthusiasm. For business, most of the material we speak about will be ours to create and develop. When delivering corporate messages or material from senior management or other departments, be sure that you know it.

You need to believe the message to share it effectively. Writing your own material will help with this. Reviewing other people’s material, with proper care and attention will help you better prepare.    

The Setting 

The location for your public speaking venture can help or hinder your result. Conducting meetings or training sessions where constant interruptions or noise will distract need to be avoided. Many public speaking enterprises fail because of acoustics in the room. Perhaps the speaker can’t be heard properly. Also, it could be because of technical problems that presentations fail.

Therefore, know your setting and check it beforehand. Also, make sure all technical equipment is tested before the event. Additionally, remove as many distractions as possible. One common example is speakers asking their audience to put their mobiles on silent at the start of the event. 

How Can You Improve Your Public Speaking? 

There are many public speaking tips and techniques that can help you improve. Some people ask: what are the 3 Ps of public speaking? Sometimes, what are the 4 Ps of public speaking? Even, what are the 5 Ps of public speaking? So, I challenge those with the 6 Ps of public speaking. In each of these sections, there are multiple tips and techniques to focus on that can help.  

The 6 Ps of Public Speaking  

Helium balloon in the number six
There are 6 P’s to follow during public speaking

No. 1: Purpose 

Point

So what is the purpose or point of your speech? What information are you sharing? Is it a sales pitch? Perhaps it is training. Or is it the monthly departmental meeting? Maybe it’s the P&L report that is being presented? Before you start planning on what to speak about, know the purpose of the public speaking venture. Understand the main point of the event or meeting. This is the best starting point for all your preparation.  

Message

Now you know the point of the public speaking event, you need to make sure you have a clear message to share. Your message needs to have a flow. Look at the introduction, main content, and conclusion carefully. Keep key speaking points clear and repeat them as required. Share anecdotes and real-life examples to further strengthen your message. Also, make the topic relatable and easily understood by your target audience.  

Knowledge

So, you need to talk with confidence about a topic. First, check that you are comfortable with it. if not, then knowledge enhancement may be necessary if the topic is something new or less familiar. Be ready to ask others for clarification or assistance. For example, for P&L reports, can you explain each purchase and sale? Also, is this a topic you have experience in, or will you need advice from others before speaking?  

Interactive v Lecture

There are many different types of public speaking situations. Speeches, training, meetings, etc. So, is the purpose of your speech to provide one-way information, like a lecture? Or will this session be interactive with questions and answers? Regardless of which it is, be ready for questions either way. The reason this is important is that, if you have not prepared for questions, you may be caught off guard.

This would undo any positive impression you had created during your speech by making you look unprepared. So, even if you are told it is a lecture-style event, be ready for questions ahead of time. 

No. 2: People 

Audience

Public speaking is about the audience, not the speaker. When planning your material, you must think about them. Firstly, they are the reason you are speaking in the first place. Secondly, if you lose the audience, you lose the purpose of speaking at all. Finally, the audience will decide if your public speaking has had the desired effect.  

Eye contact

When thinking of your audience, think of how you can engage with them. Making natural eye contact shows you are speaking to them. They want you to see them, speak to them, not to a screen or the back wall. Remember, whatever the topic or purpose of the event, your audience is key.   

Questions

People in the audience will be interested in asking questions. These might be to create clarity. Also, to ask for additional information. As the speaker, you decide when questions will be taken and inform at the start about when questions will happen. Be prepared for questions.

Plan for possible questions they might ask and prepare the answers. Thank your audience for the questions they ask. Remember, if you don’t know the answer, don’t bluff. Simply explain that you will check and get back to them. Even turn it over to the audience to answer, as a way of interacting with them.   

Setting

You need to know how the area will be laid out. Is it standing room only? Are you on a stage in front of a large crowd? Is everyone sitting boardroom style? Know this so you can better prepare how you will address and interact with the people in the room.

Woman practising a presentation in front of no audience
Practice is essential for great public speaking

No. 3: Preparation 

Practice

This seems like an obvious step, but it is often not given the right amount of attention. Firstly, practice the length of the speech. Secondly, practice the possible questions and answers. Next, practice for others where possible. Also, practice your stories and anecdotes.

Finally, practice your stage or room presence. So, in other words, practice, practice, practice – as much as possible. Not only will this help with your nerves, but it will show in your presentation and delivery when you are in front of the audience. Remember, it takes practice to be confident in public speaking.  

Research

As part of your preparation, do your homework. If you are using sources from outside your company, make sure the resource is reliable. Within the company, double-check with others to be sure the information is correct. For product presentation, make sure you know how it works. Try it yourself in advance. Do test runs.   

Data

Use relevant data, figures, and statistics without overloading your audience. Statistics can really reinforce your main talking points. Public speaking can really make an impact with data that catches the audiences’ attention.   

No. 4: Presentation 

Communication skills

Once it comes time to present, strong communication skills will be imperative. Can you be heard by all in the room? Are you speaking at a reasonable pace? How is your tone? Have you chosen words that will catch your audience’s attention? Do you have mannerisms that distract from your overall message? All of these and more need to be considered. So, let’s look at these.  

Volume

You want to be heard without seeming to shout. Use projection effectively to make sure nobody misses what you have to say. When using microphones, practice in advance if you are not used to them. Know where best to hold to mic so you don’t cause interference or distortions in the sound. Test the volume and your comfort level holding or wearing the mic.  

Pace

Make sure your pace is even. Anything too fast and you will sound rushed or in a panic. Too slow and you will simply bore the audience. Adjust your speed to show excitement about interesting points. Take time and stress any important keywords or phrases.  

Word Choice

Remember your audience. Write your content to accommodate them. Watch out that you do not overcomplicate your message with the words you use. Avoid using slang or jargon. Again, thinking of your audience, be sure to avoid any terms or phrases that could cause insult or embarrassment.  

Many biscuits in the shape of letters
Your word choice is key to engaging your audience when public speaking
Mannerisms

Many public speakers have verbal or physical mannerisms that can greatly distract from how they present. Years ago, I remember standing at the back of our conference room with over 200 people in attendance, listening to a speech. Unfortunately, I can’t tell you what it was about. Why? Simple, my colleague and I spent the 40 minutes counting the numbers of time the speaker said “OK so” in the presentation. By the way, it was 67! Be aware of these mannerisms and find ways of varying any verbal tics by using other words with similar meanings.

For physical tics, such as touching your face or licking your lips, very often we don’t realise we’re doing it. This is where practice in front of others or a mirror will help identify them. Once you know what they are, you can work on controlling them.    

Pauses

One key practice that many will recommend for public speaking is the effective use of pauses. Effective use of pauses in public speaking creates emphasis on a particular point that needs to be made. Pauses help you read the room and gauge the audience’s reactions.

Pausing allows you to catch your breath before moving on. Pausing allows your audience to absorb your points and reflect on them. Pauses can have dramatic effects during public speaking. When asking questions of the audience, pause to get their answers.  

Slides and Props

Your presentation skills very often include your use of slide shows or props. Here we are back to practice again. Practice the whole flow, using the slides and props as needed, ahead of time. Know the sequence of the slides, match your points to what you are presenting visually, and use props appropriately. Never overuse the slides or props. Remember, you, the speaker, are the main attraction the audience needs to see and hear. Slides and props are your support materials, not the main event.    

Body Language

Where do you stand? How do you use your hands? If seated, can everyone see you? Your body language will also share a message, make sure it supports your verbal message. When someone asks a question, even what seems to be a silly one, never roll your eyes. Try to avoid folding your arms.  

Position 

For effective public speaking, you need to ensure you are positioned well. As there are different types of public speaking, you need to get the best results for the type you are doing. When seated in a meeting, make sure everyone can see you, your presentation, and any materials you have. If standing at a podium, make sure you can be seen, especially if you are short, like me.

Don’t be shy about using a step or stool. It’s more important to be seen. For public speaking at the front of a room or on stage, use the space. You don’t need to be stationary. However, don’t overdo the movement either. You want your movement to be natural and graceful, so glide.

No. 5: Personality  

Humour 

While adding humour to your public speaking is recommended, be sure not to overdo it. Always make sure your jokes are related to the topic. Also, make sure they are appropriate in terms of content. From experience, I can recommend adding humourous stories and anecdotes. Share funny, real-life experiences that the audience can relate to. Please be sure that nobody can take offense to the joke being shared. Famous public speakers will very often make jokes about themselves, which usually works. Don’t be afraid to make yourself the punch-line.

Experience

Your audience will relate to you as a speaker best if they can understand shared experiences. If you have been in their positions before, share that. This connection adds to the effectiveness of the public speaking experience. As mentioned above, it can be a funny anecdote. Alternatively, it may be a serious event that teaches a lesson. Either way, audiences will appreciate it as they will see it as something that you have in common.   

Storytelling

In public speaking, we are very much storytellers. As with humour and experience, make sure the story is on topic. Also, make sure the story is something you have actually been through. Telling other peoples’ stories will always be less effective. Speaking from memory adds a natural flow to the delivery. As mentioned above, be sure it is appropriate in terms of content. No offensive or disrespectful language or subject matter should be included. Storytelling can include how you tried and tested a new product.

It could be about a customer service experience. Or it could be focused on a leadership skill you are developing in others. Storytelling is a powerful tool to use and can be very effective in any public speaking setting. 

Young girl in glasses reading a story
Storytelling will engage your audience and enable you to weave in humour and experience

No. 6: Passion 

Create Interest

By showing your passion for the topic, you will create interest for the audience. So, your talking point could be very boring, but that doesn’t mean the delivery has to be. As you add your personality to the overall presentation, your level of interest should be obvious. This can be shown through your tone as well as your facial expressions. Also, it can happen through audience participation and interaction.  

Inspire

Your passion for a topic can inspire others. Public speaking gives you that opportunity, to share your passion and inspire others to action, to change, or to improve. Regardless of your topic, you have the chance to be that inspiration for others, so don’t waste it. People are inspired in different ways, therefore try different approaches to inspire multiple audience members. 

Conclusion

So, as a recap, for effective public speaking, remember to SPEAK! 

S – Scrutinise your content. That means, check it, again and again, to make it work. Nothing offensive or inappropriate.

P – Preparation is key. Do your homework, do the research, and know your audience. And don’t forget to PRACTICE!

E – Edgy? Everyone gets nervous. Know what works for you to overcome your nerves.

A – Audience is key. Engage with them. Relate the topic to them. Public speaking is about them not you.

K – Keep on topic. Through jokes, experiences, and storytelling, all should focus on the main topic.

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