Guide to Public Speaking

To an extent, public speaking is something that comes naturally to some and is a real challenge for others. Regardless of which camp you fall in, there is always work you can do to become a better speaker. There are some commonalities between what even the greatest orators did, so whether you find public speaking to be a walk through the park or a slog through the mud, take note of some of these common dos and don’ts of public speaking, and you’ll be speaking like a pro in no time.

Do: Practice

It might seem obvious, but learning to speak well is no different from learning any other discipline. Practice your breathing, your enunciation, your projection. Practice by reading the great speeches of Churchill, Martin Luther King Jr., and Teddy Roosevelt. Practice by imitating the mannerisms of some of your favorite actors in their most iconic moments. Practice in front of the mirror, in front of some friends, family, whoever will listen. This will give you the opportunity to practice speaking in front of people, which often is the biggest hurdle for people who fear public speaking. If you find the public to be the most worrisome part of public speaking, this is a great strategy. Not only will you get practice in front of live people, but those people will be able to give you advice on how to improve.

Don’t: Read Your Presentation

This is where practice really comes in. The fact is, if you are speaking in front of the public, you have a responsibility to your audience to be engaging, and there is nothing more boring than to watch someone read off a piece of paper or a PowerPoint presentation. Remember, people know how to read. If they just wanted to read what you wrote, they’d do that. They want to hear something they don’t know, and they want it delivered in a way that keeps their attention. You know what you want to say, and if someone asked you to give a presentation on it, you know what you’re talking about. This is something that is important to remember as well. Much like the musician that plays a wrong note and keeps going as though nothing happened, you have to keep in mind that no one knows what you were going to say or how you were going to say it. Give yourself some freedom by writing notes to remind you of what you want to say, but leave it at that. This isn’t a book reading, so don’t make it one.

Do: Move Around

The second you start speaking in public, whatever you’re presenting about becomes as much about what you know as it is about how you speak about it. Your expertise is only slightly more important than your performance, and while this does not mean that you have to act, it does mean that you need to move in order to engage. Remember, just like how people would read what you wrote if that’s all they wanted, they would listen to a recording of your presentation if that’s all they cared about. They came not to just learn something new, but to be engaged by someone who could teach them.

To that end, teaching becomes much easier when the people you’re attempting to teach feel like you’re passionate about your subject. Moving around makes that message much easier to convey. This is something that, again, comes naturally to some people and not to others, so it is definitely something to practice. Further, if it something you have difficulty with, thinking about can often make things worse. You can overthink yourself to the point of paralysis, and nobody wants that. A great way to start is to simply imitate great speakers doing their greatest speeches. Do this enough and muscle memory will start to take over.

Don’t: Let Nerves Defeat You

If you speak to some of the world’s greatest performances, many of them will tell you that they still get nervous when they’re about to perform. This isn’t because they don’t know what they’re doing. They’ve performed thousands of times. For many of these types of people, the pressure of living up to the expectations of their audience makes them nervous. Nerves are to be expected, regardless of talent, but what separates the wheat from the chaff of public speakers is that the greatest in the discipline use that nervousness as motivation and those that continue to struggle allow the nerves to convince them that public speaking is something to remain afraid of.

Of course there are other things to keep in mind when you start public speaking, but by keeping these basics in mind, you’ll gain a skill no one can take away from you. Public speaking is like a trade. It is a skill that can come in handy in a multitude of professions and circumstances. You’re as likely to be asked to give a presentation on your professional skill set as you are to be asked to speak at a wedding or other ceremony, so don’t let a fear you can easily tackle stop you from participating in these meaningful events.