Here are 10 strategies to improve your public speaking skills, whether you are presenting at work, giving a toast at a wedding or receiving an award. And these strategies apply for in-person and virtual presentations.
1. Have a Message
What is the one thing that you want the audience to remember from your presentation? Put it into one sentence and you have your message – the whole point. Say it clearly and repeat it so the audience remembers it. And make sure that every example, story and statistic relates to it.
2. Focus on Your Audience
Why should the audience care about what you are saying? Think about your message from the audience's point of view and then target your presentation to their needs. Remember, it's not all about you – it's about them.
3. Organize Your Material
One of the easiest ways to improve your presentation skills is to organize your material clearly. Your presentation should have an introduction, body and conclusion. The body, or main part of your presentation, should consist of related material arranged according to some organizational principle, such as a number of points, chronology, pros and cons, etc. Be sure to have a clear transition from one section of the body to the next.
4. Slides May Not Be Necessary
Too many presentations are full of crowded, hard-to-read slides with too much disorganized information thrown onto them. Before you create slides, think about whether they're really necessary. How will slides make your presentation better? You are the presentation and the slides are just the visual aid.
5. Watch Your Time
One of my clients was scheduled to speak at a retirement dinner for a colleague. The first speaker went over his allotted time limit by twenty minutes, which bored the audience and left my client with very little time to present. Never go over your time limit. No one will complain if you finish a few minutes early but things go downhill very fast once you go one minute beyond your time limit.
6. Make Eye Contact
When you're speaking, make eye contact with everyone in the audience – or if it’s a very large group, with all sections of the audience. It helps you connect to the audience, engage them and gauge their reaction. Hold eye contact for three to give seconds and then move onto another person.
7. Use Non-Verbals
Non-verbal communication includes elements such as facial expression, voice, eye contact, gestures, posture and movement. The key is for your non-verbals to match the message you are conveying or it will confuse the audience and distract from your message. So if you want to convey a message with confidence, stand up straight with your shoulders back and your weight evenly distribute on both feet, smile, make eye contact with the audience and speak in a loud, clear voice.
Facial expressions fall under non-verbals but a smile deserves its own category. Smiling can relax you, which in turn, can relax the audience and help you be more engaging. In most public speaking situations, a smile is appropriate, but nerves or a misplaced sense of seriousness prevent speakers from smiling; instead, they look gloomy or bored. (Exceptions to the smile-is-appropriate rule would include, for example, announcing layoffs.)
9. Be Confident
If you are nervous about public speaking, join the club – Toastmasters, that is. Toastmasters International is an organization which helps thousands of people in clubs around the world improve their public speaking skills through regular meetings of prepared and extemporaneous speeches. The practice and the feedback that you'll receive will help you overcome your fear.
There is no substitute for practice. If you're not used to public speaking, it's going to be almost impossible to be as good as you could be without practice. How should you practice? Say the words out loud, in as close to the real environment as possible, with particular focus on your opening, closing and key points. It's also helpful to record yourself or get feedback from trusted colleagues.
Public speaking is a skill that you can practice and improve. Following these 10 strategies will help you learn to be a more effective speaker.