Tim Truzy is a rehabilitation counselor, educator, and former dispatcher from North Carolina.
The Importance of Public Speaking
We never know when we may have to speak about a subject for a gathering of people. We are called upon to present in classes. Employers may want us to share a technique or skill with fellow workers. Family reunions may put us up on a podium to say a few words. In our religious meetings, requests may be made of us to talk about a topic or event – the possibilities are endless for public speaking.
Yet, the fear of public speaking is a common phobia held by approximately 70 percent of the population. In some instances, people have rated the fear of public speaking higher than the fear of death. Also, research from different studies has shown women have this fear in slightly greater numbers than men. Cultural factors can account for some of these differences between males and females. But regardless of the cause, fear of public speaking can be reduced or completely changed to optimism about addressing a crowd of people.
As a counselor, I was routinely asked to do presentations for groups. I developed strategies to communicate effectively with my audience. Likewise, when carrying out lessons for my students when I would teach classes, I refined those skills to deliver instruction with confidence. Below are some strategies and techniques which should help you develop your public speaking skills. Here are eleven important activities and ideas to incorporate into your skillset:
Things to Consider
- Understand others also have a fear of public speaking. Your listeners usually empathize with you. Many of your audience would dread standing before others and delivering a speech or talk on a subject. From this perspective: You can be more forgiving of yourself when you make a mistake and continue onward with your presentation.
- Be aware of your limitations and strengths. Examine the area where you will be speaking. Do you need better lighting? Are the acoustics good? Make any adjustments to the physical environment which will aid you in reaching your audience. Understand your overall discomfort with public speaking, and realize you can reach a comfort level.
Things for You to Do
- Study and prepare to talk about your topic thoroughly. Read up on the topic. Make notes. Prepare an outline to aid you with remembering points you want to mention to your audience. (Hint: If you are using slides, develop it around your points from the notes or outline to make the presentation flow easier.)
- Develop handouts. You can pass these out at the start of your speech. Use them to underscore important facts in your presentation. Added benefit: You can direct your audience’s attention to specific areas of the printed document to reduce the need to repeat statements. This keeps your speech moving forward.
- Use humor to assist you. Telling a funny story related to your topic helps to ease tensions of the audience. Humor also may assist you in relaxing during your talk. Another added benefit: A good comical story may aid the listeners in recalling what you said during your speech.
- Use your voice to keep attention. Adjust the volume of your voice as needed when delivering your speech. Show interest in your topic when you speak.
- Engage your listeners with questions. Plan to ask your listeners questions as you move through your speech. This keeps their attention on what you are saying. For instance, if your topic is the American Civil War, you may ask something about that era in history. You may ask: “Does anyone know how many states were in the Union before the war started?” You could take answers before starting your speech.
- Observe and listen to yourself before the planned date of your speech.
- Watch videos or listen to recordings of excellent speakers. Examine their body positioning. Note their tone of voice at various points in the presentation. Remember what they did to keep your attention. Recognize what would and would not work for you when talking to an audience.
- Record yourself. Make a video or audio recording of yourself presenting your speech. Watch your body language. Are you showing interest in the subject through your facial expressions? Is your voice shaky and/or sounding monotonous? (Hint: Some people stand in front of a mirror and practice reading the speech.)
- Get feedback from a friend or trusted family member. Meet a reliable person at their home or somewhere where you can give a “mock” presentation. This will provide you with solid advice from a person you trust in a safe environment. You can work to improve your presentation with constructive advice.
- Have strategies for dealing with the unexpected question. Regardless of how well you prepare, there will be unplanned questions at some point when you make presentations. There are many ways to respond which will keep your speech on track without alienating your listeners. Try them when you practice your presentation with a trusted ally.
For example, if you are lecturing on the American Civil War, someone might ask a question not relevant to the topic, or a question you are not ready to reply to. They may say: “Do you think John F. Kennedy would have rallied the troops like President Lincoln did?” You could answer several ways. You might say: “I can’t honestly answer that question. It’s not what we are discussing today.” Then, continue on with your presentation. Or you might say: “Interesting question. Unfortunately, my speech only covers the Civil War era.”
Preparing in all these ways will help you deal with the expected and the unexpected with confidence.