5 Tips for Public Speaking

Southwest Hall room 145, a site for many student presentations and speeches. Photo by Elliot Payne.

Ask most people what their biggest fear is and you’re liable to hear public speaking at the top of a number of their lists. 

Despite the prevalence of the activity, people en masse are all terrified of the prospect of talking in front of a large group of people. However, it doesn’t have to be this way. There are many ways that one can easily improve their public speaking skills relatively easily. Whether it be for a communications class, a presentation, or impressing a group of people, this selection of tips can help anyone improve their public speaking. 

  1. Organization

Before even giving any kind of speech, it is best to consider a specific pattern and organization to give the speech. This means building up the various segments that make up the presentation. Just like an essay, a speech may follow an introduction, body and conclusion pattern. What is different from an essay, however, is that a speech requires more work on the speaker to indicate to the audience that they are moving from one segment to another. It is a good idea to use transitional phrases to get from one section to the other. 

  1. Make Eye Contact

This tip is often repeated and is also one of the more intimidating parts of public speaking, but it is still very important. The reason eye contact is focused on so much is because it allows the speaker to engage with their audience. Public speaking has a major advantage over other mediums in that it allows the speaker to really connect with the people they’re presenting to in real-time. Making eye contact can make you seem more impressive and approachable, but it can also help you keep track of how your audience is responding. You obviously can’t look at everyone’s eyes all at once, so you will have to look from person to person across the room. If it is still intimidating to look directly into people’s eyes, a good trick is to look at people’s forehead. It visually looks the same to the audience!

  1. Be Still

Moving can be often incredibly distracting to an audience. This can be challenging even to experienced public speakers. It requires significant control over your body. While sometimes ticks and stims cannot be controlled, doing what you can to reduce unnecessary movements can ensure the audience is focused on the content of the speech. If you’re nervous, you’re more likely to make distracting movements such as scratching or adjusting your clothes. While these might temporarily make you more comfortable, they can harm the delivery of your speech. The best thing to do is wait until your speech is finished to get comfortable. 

  1. Move

While unintentional movements can be distracting to the audience, certain intentional movements can help keep the audience on track with your speech. One example is walking when you transition into a different point or topic. This visual cue will help your audience follow along and recall better what you’re telling. Additionally, hand gestures when used intentionally can help draw attention to certain words or phrases and can help demand the audience’s attention.

  1. Breathe

Lastly, of course, do not forget to breathe. Do this before your speech, during your speech, and after your speech. Although it seems obvious, a long, low breath can help clear your mind. Take a moment to remember speaking is something almost everyone does every day and public speaking is just an application of those pre-existing skills. Just like writing an essay, public speaking is an opportunity to open your mind to other people. Taking some time to center yourself can be a great way to mediate stress.