Improve Your Public Speaking With Five Easy Steps

Many people find the thought of giving a presentation in front of an audience to be a daunting one. There is even a recognized phobia of speaking in front of an audience, gossophobia. For others, public speaking is commonplace and simply a matter of routine. Regardless of your experience (or lack thereof) these five steps can help you nail your next speaking engagement.


Step 1. Turn Your Research Up A Notch 

The first step is obvious: do your homework. Knowing the material is an important first step, but many presenters do not go far enough with their studies. Don't settle for knowing enough to be comfortable. Comfort is not the same as confidence. The more you know about the topic that you are presenting on, the more confident you will be in communicating it to others. Dig deep when doing research. Even if you don't end up needing all the material in your presentation, you will feel like an expert on the topic and you will be able to talk about it more naturally. Further, most presentations have some form of "Q&A" afterwards and the more you know, the better equipped you will be to respond to the inquiries of your audience. 

Action Step: Go to Wikipedia and type in your topic. Click 30 hyperlinks related to your primary subject and read each page in full.



Step 2. Internalize 

Now that you are an expert on your subject, the next step is to internalize the information. Knowing everything about a subject won't profit you anything if you cannot remember what you've learned. There are many ways to internalize material, but there are some proven methods that will drive it down deep into your memory. With information that is purely factual such as dates, numbers, or vocabulary, try making a stack of flash cards and color code them to help you remember. We are very visual learners. Even if we cannot recall an exact date or word, we can remember that it belonged to the blue stack of flashcards. If you want to really boost your memory, try using fragrances or sounds as well. The more senses you can engage the better. One way that has proven very helpful to internalize information is to defend a point or try to persuade someone of your views.

Action Step: If your topic is given to controversy, find a friend who disagrees with you or go to a web forum and start an argument about it. Try to persuade them to see things your way. 

Recommended Resource: Made to Stick


3. Teach Someone The Material

It has been rightly said that you don't truly know something until you can teach it to someone else. This is a helpful insight that we can benefit from. Find someone who you can teach about the subject. The less they know the better. You will find that explaining the material to someone one on one is very easy to do and you will gain valuable insight into how to best present the information. Encourage your student to ask lots of questions. Each time your student asks a question you are forced to find a clearer way of presenting the material. Write what you say down or record it so you can add it into your presentation later.  

Action Step: Find someone to teach your subject to. If willing students are difficult to find, try coercing a  friend or a stranger at the coffee shop to become your student test subject. Most people are willing to learn something for a free cup of coffee. 

Recommended Resource: Enchantment: The Art of Changing Hearts, Minds, and Actions


4. Practice Out Loud Without Notes

Despite what some have said, practicing your presentation while referring to your notes can do more harm than good if you want to sound natural and confident while presenting. The best presenters rarely if ever reference their notes. This gives the appearance that they know the material being presented intimately and the audience appears more authoritative as a result.  One of the best methods to learn to speak about a topic without notes is to practice without them. It may seem very difficult at first, but once you've begun you will realize just how simple  it is (not to mention far more fun than memorizing lines of text). 

Action Step: Condense your presentation into bullet points. Try to stick to three main points that you want your audience to remember. Start a timer and begin speaking. If you stumble across an awkward patch, talk through it, then start over at the top. By the time you are comfortable with what you are going to say, you will have said it many times and it will be easy to talk about without referring to notes.


5. Trim Your Presentation

Audiences have amazing "fluff" detectors. They know when you are trying to kill time or scraping the bottom of the barrel for material. Time is a valuable commodity and it is a matter of respect not to waste the time of your audience. If you are presenting something, you want it to make an impact. One of the best ways to make sure that your speech or presentation packs a punch is to over-prepare and then condense your material. This will focus your points and force you to pick the most interesting and relevant information to present. 

Action Step: Prepare to speak for one and a half times as long as you have to. If you have a 30 minute window to present, prepare for a 45 minute speech. Once you've done so, start slicing out any and all material that isn't vital to making your points. Do this until your speech is down to 30 minutes. By doing so you are loading your presentation with rich and relevant content for your audience to enjoy and benefit from and you won't have to fear running out of important things to say.