I am an awkward turtle and by no means the best public speaker you’ll come across, but in my former lines of employment, speaking in front of an audience was something I had to do regularly. Right after graduating from university, I joined a local bank as a corporate trainer where I conducted language and induction courses for bank staff. After two years, I left the bank and became an Economics lecturer in a nearby college.
These experiences have taught me some valuable lessons in public speaking. Before we get started though, allow me to debunk a common misconception that introverts are no good at public speaking. I completely disagree! I’ve seen some introverted personalities totally light up the stage! Just because you’re an introvert doesn’t mean you can’t speak confidently in front of an audience. You can still rock it!
As an introvert myself, I was rather hesitant to become a corporate trainer. I treated my introverted nature as a shortcoming for so long, but ultimately I realised that the nerves and jitters you get before speaking in front of others are natural. Everyone gets them to some degree. I just had to believe in myself and deliver the material in my own way.
Now that we’ve cleared that up, let’s get started. Here are 5 tips on how to improve your public speaking skills:
1. Get as much practice as you can
The best way to get more comfortable with public speaking is to do it as much you can. I was fortunate that my high school and university had clubs that I could join to improve my public speaking. In university, for example, I joined Toastmasters which is an international network of clubs that helps members to improve their communication skills. During club meetings, you can present prepared speeches on topics of your choice in front of other members and guests. At the end, you’ll receive constructive feedback from the appointed evaluators.
The best thing about Toastmasters is the positive, encouraging environment it provides to all of us who want to improve our public speaking skills. No one is ridiculed, no one is made fun of and all feedback is delivered with encouraging words. It was a common practice in our Toastmasters club to give first-time speakers a standing ovation; a practice that is testament to how uplifting this club can be.
If you’re looking to improve your public speaking skills, I urge you to find a Toastmasters club near you and sign up for it.
2. Add a personal touch
Try to recall your schooling days. Do you remember feeling bored during lessons in school? What happened when your teacher turned away from the textbook and started sharing some personal stories instead? That usually piqued our interest. Stories and analogies are powerful tools that you can use to deliver your message to the audience.
A few years ago, I conducted an induction course for newly recruited staff, and we were on the topic of customer service. Smile, be courteous, offer to help, that sort of thing. Listing down good customer service practices with examples is great, but it was post-lunch time and I could sense that I was slowly losing the audience. So, I decided to share stories of my own experiences with poor customer service and asked everyone what they would have done differently instead. Depending on your audience, this could lead to an interesting discussion or sharing of ideas that makes your presentation more lively.
Truth is, more often than not, people tend to forget facts and figures, but they rarely forget an interesting story. The right story that ties back to your main point can leave a great impression.
3. Be conscious of your body language
Body language is a very important component of communication. A large part of what we’re saying isn’t through our words, it’s through our body language. Everything from how we stand, whether we make eye contact to what we do with our hands sends a message to the audience.
So, it’s important to be conscious of our body language. You want your body language to convey that you’re confident, but warm and friendly. Standing up straight, making eye contact with members of the audience and smiling can help with this.
Sometimes we’re so nervous that we fidget with our hands or hunch our shoulders subconsciously without even realising. This is where practice can really help. In a setting like Toastmasters where you receive constructive feedback, you become more aware of what to focus and improve on in future presentations.
Also, avoid reading directly off your notes. Having cue cards is perfectly alright, you can refer to them for guidance, but try not to read off the cards word for word as this may convey the message that you’re either unprepared or lacking confidence. To avoid this, it’s best to prepare ahead of time and become very familiar with your talking points.
4. Keep your visual aids simple and brief
If you’re using visual aids such as slides in your presentation, try to keep them brief. If your slides are too wordy, they can be quite distracting. The audience might try to read all the words and lose focus on what you’re saying.
Also, choose a neutral background for your slides and ensure the words can be easily read. If possible, test out your slides ahead of time to ensure that everything works well and looks good.
5. Engage your audience
When it comes to public speaking, I’m a big believer in getting the audience involved. I like asking questions or playing small games with the audience. When you get the audience involved in your speech or presentation, they’re likely to be more invested in you and what you say.
There are so many tools available online to increase audience engagement. Apps that record and tabulate audience responses such as Kahoot! and Slido are a speaker’s dream come true! Explore some of these apps to make your presentation more fun and memorable. These apps would require your audience to have devices with which they can submit their responses. If this poses difficulties, no worries! Go for the old school, yet effective, “Can I have a show of hands, how many of you…? What about…?”
Whatever approach you take, the important thing is to get your audience involved one way or another. A passive audience is likely to lose interest and focus, so it’s best to keep them actively engaged.
I hope these tips are helpful. Before we part, I just want to say: it’s okay to be nervous about public speaking, but do it anyway! Your future self will thank you for it.