How to Improve Your Public Speaking: 27 Tips, Tricks, and Tutorials

Updated: March 18, 2010

Would you rather die than give a eulogy? You're not alone. Public speaking is rated as the number one fear by over 40 percent of people in the world. Calm your nerves and capture the attention of your audience by following these effective tips and tricks.

1. Know your audience and occasion: Long before you set foot on the stage, lay the groundwork for your speech. The first step is to learn something about the audience that you will face. Prepare an address that is understood and appreciated by those listening. Consider the occasion: should you be casual or serious?

2. Choose the right topic: Pick something you are comfortable with. If you have to speak on an unfamiliar subject, do your homework and research it thoroughly. You'll want to be informed and able to answer questions from the audience.

3. Don't memorize: Being familiar with your speech is a necessity, but memorizing or reading from written material is not. It's easy to lose your place and very difficult to get back on track after a lapse. Instead, concentrate on modulating your tone and voice to the response of your audience.

4. Personalize your speech: Pepper your material with small personal anecdotes or other stories that will hold the attention of the audience. Everyone loves a good story. Most people will relate and respond better to your speech when you combine the facts with a collection of interesting tales and examples.

5. Practice 'til you're perfect: Practice at home in front of a mirror. Record and time yourself: do whatever it takes to become comfortable with what you have to say. Fine-tune your mannerisms and body language. Repeated trials will help make you less nervous on stage.

6. Stick to time limits: Nothing is worse than having to stop your speech short. Make allowances for occurrences such as audience interaction or technical difficulties. If you find yourself running late, know beforehand what you can afford to omit. In case you run short, be prepared with additional material that goes with the flow of your speech.

7. Relax before you get on stage: It's easier said than done, but make an attempt to relax before your speech. Practice breathing techniques and think positive thoughts.

8. Rely on mnemonics: Instead of keeping your whole speech on the podium with you, make a list of points that will remind you of each subject that you plan to cover. Your list should consist of one or two-word phrases that jog your memory for each part of your speech. This method is more visually appealing than rifling through sheets of paper.

9. Make a strong start: Start off on the right foot with your very first words and you'll find that it's easy to hold on to your audience's attention for the rest of the speech. Raise your listeners' curiosity, provoke their interests, even be a little controversial. Do whatever it takes to grab their attention from the beginning.

10. Watch your body language: It's what you don't say that tells the most about you. The way you stand and what you do with your hands can give away more than you care to reveal. Nervousness is easily read if you fidget or avoid eye contact.

11. Maintain eye contact: Look at your audience, not through or beyond them when you talk. If you're nervous, focus on a friendly face for a while. Move on to others once you're comfortable. Remember that all eyes are on you, so return that contact with as many people as you can.

12. Pace yourself: Speak slowly and steadily so that you are understood. When speech is hurried, there is a tendency to scramble words and overlap one with the next. Speed does not bode well here: your audience will sense that you're nervous and trying to get the speech over with.

13. Interact with the audience: The best way to get your audience involved in your speech is to interact with them. Ask them questions and invite them to ask some of you. Make them feel they're a part of your address.

14. Be prepared for the audience: An interactive audience is great, but be prepared for what they will ask of you. Anticipate common questions and have answers ready. If you're caught off guard, try to answer confidently with the best of your ability. It's not wise to bluff, however. Know when to refer to someone with more knowledge than yourself.

15. Don't lecture: Talk, don't instruct. Use language that the audience will understand instead of trying to sound important with jargon and fancy words.

16. Don't waste time arguing: If there's a troublemaker in the crowd who's bent on arguing with you, don't get sucked in. Arguing with one individual to make a point is a waste of time. The others in the audience will become restless and your speech will lose its effectiveness. Ask the troublemaker for a discussion after the speech is over.

17. Use peripherals effectively: PowerPoint presentations and other visual effects should augment your words, not overpower them. A speech that relies completely on visual aids turns attention away from the speaker and reduces the impact of the spoken word. Use them for technical details or things you cannot explain easily with words.

18. Keep it short: You want your speech to wow your audience, not have them checking the time. Gauge their reaction: if they're restless, wind it up.

19. Don't apologize for mistakes: It's alright to slip up or mispronounce a few words. Pick up promptly after such lapses and continue with your speech without further distracting the audience. A quick "sorry" or "excuse me" will suffice.

20. A few moments of silence is not a crime: You don't have to fill every second with words. It's acceptable to pause and gather your thoughts or sip water before you resume speaking.

21. Don't shout: Make sure that you are audible to the farthest person in the room, but don't hurt your audience's ears. If it's a large hall, you're sure to be provided with a microphone. Speak softly and clearly, taking into account the echo characteristics of the hall. If possible, test your voice before your audience gets in so you can see how it carries.

22. Work on your tone and delivery: The key to a powerful speech lies in the modulation of your voice. Know when to raise and lower your tone as well as which words to stress. Your energy is infectious and your audience will react to it. Use the tone of your voice to grab their attention and hold it.

23. Regain attention midway: Murmurs in the audience and members talking amongst themselves are signs that your speech is lagging. Be flexible enough to throw in an attention-grabbing story or joke.

24. Focus on your positives: Don't attempt to be a master at public speaking. Concentrate on your strengths and divert attention away from your negatives. If comedy is your strong point, play it up. If body language is your weakness, stay behind the podium and use the power of your voice to captivate your audience.

25. Finish well: Work on a good closing; a perfect finish should not be abrupt or leave the audience wondering if there's more to come. Try to end on a high note so that the crowd will remember you long after the room is empty.

26. Look good: Dressing well gives you an added dose of confidence. When you know you look good, you feel as if you can take on the world. You don't have to wear expensive clothes or a designer outfit; it's enough to dress neatly and feel comfortable.

27. Get more exposure: The best way to get over your fear of public speaking is to get more exposure. Every mistake makes you realize your weak points and helps you avoid them for next time. Remember, practice makes perfect.

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