public speaking

How to Master Public Speaking

Written By:

Lynn Whitbeck

Moving to the front of the boardroom, classroom, auditorium, etc., to give a presentation – the nightmare. Your hands are shaking, you’ve got cotton mouth, and you’re strangely pale. The words stick in your throat, you stutter, you forget your place. The audience is staring, waiting for you to make your point, and you just wish the floor would open up and swallow you whole. This was me when I was presenting my idea for my master’s dissertation to my peers. It went over so well that I completely changed my topic and methodology. How can I get better at public speaking so I don’t have another meltdown? – Shaking in My Boots

Dear Shaking,

Public speaking is a difficult task for so many of us. We get nervous and let our insecurities manifest in ways like the ones you described. As with all skills, practice makes perfect. Here are some ways for you to flex your public speaking skills.

1. Start Small

You don’t need to begin your public speaking career by presenting new and innovative findings to a theater filled with hundreds of people. Instead, start by speaking in front of small groups. Interject during a meeting with a question or an idea. Ask to present a few slides on your project during a departmental meeting. Get accustomed to speaking in front of small groups with small presentations or unplanned contributions. This will make speaking to larger groups easier to transition to.

2. Give Directions

Presentations tend to be about your own ideas and work, but you can build up to that kind of content, too. Volunteer at a local organization, for your company picnic, or at another activity to direct co-workers to the activities. This will give you experience in speaking to large groups, but the task will be relatively simple. You were learn how to command attention and speak clearly while pointing out the various stations and briefly mentioning what happens at each. The casual setting of a company picnic will likely make you feel a bit safer than standing at the front of the boardroom.

3. Present Again and Again

Once you’re ready, make a formal presentation within your departmental meeting. These are the people that you work most closely with, so the familiar faces and the lack of pressure to prove your competence (they already know) will give you good practice for less friendly audiences. Stand as you are presenting, just like if this was an executive meeting. Keep doing these presentations – repetition will make it easier each time, preparing you incrementally for company-wide or conference presentations.

These three environments can be perfect for strengthening your confidence in public speaking. You can gain access to podcasts and webinars addressing this topic and others by becoming a member of Practical Wisdoms at Work. I hope this helps. – Lynn

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