Public Speaking 101
Imagine being able to stand in front of any crowd at any time and know your audience understands you and your message perfectly. Well, most people have a long way to go before achieving that level of confidence in public speaking. Nobody enjoys the nervous anticipation that builds up right before having to speak in front of an audience or the thoughts that race through your mind: “What if I forget what I want to say?” “What if the audience doesn’t understand?” “What if my nerves get the best of me?” We have all experienced these fears when it comes to public speaking. Whether it’s in front of a small class, a large audience, or a room full of professionals, it can be daunting! Unfortunately, public speaking is a fear that must be overcome to be successful. Being able to present information to others is a very important skill to have in order to convey messages in a professional manner. Luckily, I am here for you! Keep reading for my guide to successful public speaking to discover tips to get over the pre-speech butterflies.
1. Take a Deep Breath We have all heard the classic line “picture everyone in their underwear.” It sounds silly, but if it works for you, then why not! Like I said, public speaking is scary, so first things first: take a deep breath. Calm yourself right before you begin by focusing on your material, not the audience. Remember, being nervous is normal! However, the goal is to convert nerves into positive energy. Find what works for you. Some people use the underwear strategy, others have motivational quotes they can refer to, or you can give yourself a pep talk in the mirror. If possible, get to the presentation room early and picture yourself giving your presentation. Walk around, check out the configuration and size of the space and get acquainted with the set-up. Try to get a goodnight’s rest the night before so you don’t oversleep and eat a good meal, that way you’ll be energized and ready to deliver an impactful message!
2. Develop Talking Points Talking points are like a mental to-do list. They provide a quick way to stay on track and avoid going off on a tangent mid-presentation. To create a list of talking points, start by identifying your main message, then come up with a few points to support your message A great way to do this is to consider the “rule of three.” The rule of three means structuring your talking points around the three most important ideas you want to highlight. Think of talking points as elevator pitches, they should be made up of keywords or short sentences. Don’t make them too long, as talking points are meant to be remembered at a quick glance. Providing specific examples that are personal and impactful will also support your talking points and be more memorable for you and the audience.
3. Express Excitement If you’re enthusiastic throughout your presentation, your energy will transfer to your audience and they will be more likely to fully engage in what you have to say. Get excited about your topic through research and facts that you are eager to share with others. Share your passion by using inclusive language. For example instead of saying “I,” use “we” to integrate the audience into your ideas. You’re speaking to inform, persuade, and motivate. If you make your speech come alive, you will be more persuasive and motivational and, overall, a more interesting speaker.
4. Master Body Language Using your body and facial expressions while presenting can allow you to convey your message successfully and with confidence, if done right. Putting your hands in your pockets or fidgeting with them may display your nervousness and can be distracting to the audience. Try to keep your arms in front of you and emphasize words with hand gestures when making an important point. If information is attached to a movement, the audience will better remember it. Leg movement is also important to control. Try not to move your legs restlessly as this gives away feeling nervous. Posture is very important. Stand up tall and confidently as if a string is connecting your head to the ceiling. This will make you appear much more professional than if you were to slouch. Making controlled, concise movements will convey that you are a natural presenter and will keep the audience more engaged, than if you were to stand in one position. Lastly, don’t forget to smile! Smiling will engage the audience, reduce your own nerves, and make everyone involved more comfortable.
5. Practice Makes Perfect As Virginia Tech students, we are lucky to be surrounded by available resources to help improve our public speaking skills. Start by asking professors for feedback after a presentation. They will be more than happy to critique you and give advice or tips. Another excellent resource on campus is the CommLab, located on the second floor of Newman Library. The CommLab has undergraduate and graduate students trained in public speaking and groupwork ready to coach students through the speech-making process from topic selection to speech delivery. Although appointments are highly encouraged, a visit to the CommLab could make all the difference in your presentation! There are also clubs that you can join that will help you develop public speaking skills. One is Toastmasters, a club operating worldwide for the purpose of promoting communication and public speaking skills. Toastmasters Blacksburg is open to anyone and meets on the first and third Thursdays of each month at 7:00 pm in the VT Language and Culture Institute, as well as the second and fourth Fridays of each month at 12:00 pm in Room 2034 of Newman Library. Although Toastmasters has a $20 membership fee, it offers another great way to improve your public speaking skills outside of a classroom setting, both here in Blacksburg and beyond. Finally, utilize your CWIB resources! Reach out to upperclassmen who have had more experience public speaking for advice or constructive criticism. Attend workshops relevant to presenting yourself in the best light in front of peers, professors, and future employers. If you’re still working up the courage to take advantage of these resources, another great way to build confidence is practicing in front of friends and family first.
The most important thing is to have confidence in yourself, if you don’t believe you can successfully public speak, then it will be much more challenging to improve. Constantly ask yourself “what can I do better?”. Self assessment following each presentation will help guide you in further growth. I hope this guide has put you in the right direction to learning how to become more confident in your public speaking skills as well as made you feel more prepared for upcoming presentations. Through practice and experience, it will slowly get easier and more natural. Good luck everyone!