6 great methods to improve public speaking skills

6 great methods to improve public speaking skills

You may be the only man in the world who knows the subject of your speech, but there’s a question you’ve been asking yourself… „What if something goes wrong?“ The less public speaking experience you have, the more you think about failing.

How to improve your public speaking skills? The best method to improve your public speaking skills is to make as many speeches as possible. There’re plenty of ways to do so – at work (meetings), among family (birthdays and anniversaries) and friends (cheers).

Today’s blog post is about 6 great methods to improve your public speaking skills. If you use them, you’ll see that achieving success is easier than you think.

Method #1: Believe you’re a better speaker than you think you are

A bit of a cliché, but everything begins with believing in oneself. I’ll go in more detail in the next chapters, but everything you do on stage comes back at you. If you wish to improve your public speaking skills, you should start with yourself in the first place.

Story #1: When I was about five, I wasn’t afraid of mice, rats, and the like. Everything changed the day I came back home and couldn’t find my mom. I looked around and saw a big mouse hole in the kitchen, with a mouse trapped in a mousetrap nearby.

But that’s just a mouse! I went to the kitchen, took the most adorable creature in my hands, and headed to the bedroom where my mom was hiding waiting for someone to get rid of the mouse. Surprisingly, my mom’s reaction was quite the opposite of what I expected. She started to panic! Well, I forgot to mention that my mom’s fear of mice is so strong that she’s even afraid of dead mice.

It came as a shock to me and turned me into a person who’s afraid of mice the moment I had another look at the dead mouse in the mousetrap. From then on, I was convinced mice are terrible creatures to be afraid of, even if they’re dead.

How is the fear of mice connected with the fear of public speaking?

These days, I treat mice as most people treat public speaking. In other words, if there’s a slightest chance to see mice somewhere, I choose to stay away from that place.

For example, if I’m walking down the hall and see a mouse, basically, I have two options:

  1. Deal with the issue. Even if I pass the mouse calmly, that’s dealing with the issues.
  2. I can see that room no. 24 is open, so I step in, close the door, and wait for the issue to disappear.

Of course, I’ll choose the second option. This means that if there’s a mouse in a mousetrap in my house, and you’re visiting, I’ll ask you to remove the mouse from the mousetrap. I could also wait for my wife to get home and deal with the issue.

The fear of public speaking is an acquired fear

You must’ve realized that the fear of mice is an acquired fear. Thank you, mom, now it runs in the family! :)

In analogy to the fear of mice (spiders and other creatures), the fear of public speaking is also an acquired fear.

For example, children who attend kindergartens, perform with great pleasure. Do you remember telling your parents something like „Daddy, daddy, we got to sing and dance today!“ Please note that not all children perform voluntarily, but most of them do!

Then, we go to school… where we learn pretty quickly that making a speech is a very bad thing. If you don’t believe me, try to remember going to the blackboard to solve a complex equation. Apparently, the student being called doesn’t pay enough attention, that’s why the result is often unsatisfactory. What did the (bad) teacher do? „How come you didn’t get it? I was just explaining it for half an hour!“

What were the fellow students doing? Giggling, making it very clear to the poor student that failing in class is something to laugh at. Long story short, public speaking is a terrible experience!

PS! The giggling fellow students got the exact same message, by the way.

What does this mean for you personally?

As long as you do nothing to overcome the fear of public speaking, nothing will change. The more experience you get and the more situations you handle, the more confident you become.

The main reasons why you are a much better speaker than you think

In the next chapter (Changing Your Attitude), I’ll highlight the things you should change. If you manage to do that, it will be easier for you to relate to the issue in question:

  • Listeners don’t realize how nervous you are
  • Mostly, listeners don’t realise you messed up
  • Listeners don’t realise if you leave something out, running out of time
  • You’re well-prepared and know the subject
  • You have decent notes to use when making a speech
  • You have a plan B if anything goes wrong
  • You realize that even if you make the worst speech ever, nothing bad will happen. You’ll learn from your mistakes and contribute to your future successes.

Remember that worrying too much is just like sitting in a rocking chair. It gives you something to do but doesn’t take you far. If you wish to improve your public speaking skills, start by believing in yourself.

Method #2: Changing Your Attitude

Truth is, if you ask somebody if they like to do public speaking, they’ll say no. If you ask more questions, they’ll tell you that public speaking causes a lot of discomforts. Asking further, you’ll get no precise answer as to what does exactly, it turns out they just don’t like it.

This attitude doesn’t help. On the contrary, this is exactly what creates the fear of public speaking. If you wish to improve your public speaking skills, you need to start with changing your attitude.

Change your attitude to public speaking

Remember that there’s no such thing as a perfect speech

At least, not for the speaker. My public speaking training sessions often show that speakers are never satisfied with their speeches.

As a speaker, you pay attention to even the tiniest blips. You remember what you left unsaid, etc. However, when asking the audience about how a speech went, the answer is mostly very positive and encouraging. Thus, don’t focus on making a perfect speech! You are already better than you think. Check out a story here.

Remember that everything is in your hands

If you prepare, you need to believe in yourself. If you work, you get paid. In this context, a good speech is your pay.

If you’re well-prepared, which includes audience analysis, you should know very well what your listeners are expecting of you to be able to satisfy their needs.

Change your attitude to your listeners

Everything you do on stage will come back at you. Thus, if you have a certain attitude to the way you make your speech, it’s time to change your attitude to your listeners.

Listeners don’t realize you’re nervous

Think about the symptoms that may occur when making a speech, and you’ll see that they mostly manifest on the inside. In other words, if you feel that your body is suffering on the inside, your listeners don’t realize that.

There’s no point worrying that your listeners may notice you being nervous, trembling, etc. – they won’t! Even if they do, nothing will happen. Equally important, don’t start your speech by apologizing for being nervous.

Speakers tend to believe that the audience wants you to fail. Quite the contrary, they’re your biggest allies. If you fail, so will they.

Don’t believe me? Think about it… how many events have you attended, thinking, „I really hope it sucks! I hope they’ll be showing us PowerPoint slides for two hours! Oh, joy!“

Nope! These days, we’re so used to listening to bad speeches that we pray to God that the next one is much better. We couldn’t ask for more.

Keep in mind that your listeners want you to succeed, not fail. This alone should make you more confident. The listeners are looking at you because they find you interesting, so take it as a compliment!

PS! I know there are exceptions. If you represent a political party X and your listeners support a political party Y, you’re in for an argument. In this case, however, you shouldn’t be surprised.

Treat your listeners as old friends

I strongly advise you to arrive at least an hour before your presentation and get acquainted with the audience. Talk to them before your speech (e.g., small talk). Treating your audience in a hostile way won’t do you any good. The cooler you are, the better for you.

Don’t try to impress your audience

If you try too hard, you’ll be focussing on the wrong thing. Your objective is to make sure that your message is received for the listeners to make use of it.

If you focus on making an impression, you’ll be focussing on yourself, paying attention to even the tiniest things no-one else notices. This is exactly what causes doubt.

Method #3: Know the background of your audience

We’ve all seen speakers who are almost impossible to understand. In other words, their speech was too complicated.

There’re also speakers who choose to communicate at such an elementary level that their speech is nothing but plain boring. In the worst-case scenario, the speaker is talking about something no-one in the audience cares about.

Audience analysis allows you to gather as much information about the background of your future audience as possible. This way, you’re able to prepare a speech based on the interests, demands, and expectations of your listeners. If you wish to improve your public speaking skills, you must remember that proper preparation includes knowing your audience background.

Audience analysis

Here’re some of the things you should find out about your audience:

  • Their age
  • How many men and women there will be
  • If they know each other
  • If there are any leaders in the group
  • The attitude of your audience (to you, your topic, or your organization)
  • If the audience volunteered to attend
  • If the listeners know the topic well
  • If there are experts
  • If the listeners understand the specialty language
  • The cultural background of the audience

These are just some questions to answer when analyzing your audience. I’ve published a more detailed article on audience analysis here.

If you wish to improve your public speaking skills and become a better speaker, you need to keep in mind that only he who works and practices, achieves success.

6 great methods to improve public speaking skills

Method #4: Be friendly and cheerful when making a speech

…even if you think something didn’t go as planned. If it happened, make a good joke, and the audience will laugh with you. Making a joke about a blip gives you extra points. A good speaker can adjust even to the worst circumstances and use them to their advantage.

Story #2: A high school student had to make a speech in front of the entire school. Standing behind the mic, delivering his speech, he found himself in a situation when he didn’t remember anything, except for one thing, „What was I supposed to say next?“

As being blank is two completely different things for the speaker and for the audience, the moment felt like an eternity. One moment, he thought there was no point trying to remember any longer and took a step back from the mic. Shortly before that, he heard himself saying „Dammit!“

The next moment, he was thinking, „Oh no, they were not supposed to hear that!“ What was the reaction of the audience? They laughed! He thought, „They’re laughing, I still have a chance!“  He then took the floor again, apologizing for what happened. After the speech, even the teachers came to pat him on the shoulder, saying it was a speech well-saved.

So, if you wish to improve your public speaking skills, remember that if things go wrong, make a joke, and the audience will laugh with you. If you act like a Terminator, looking around with a cold gaze, the audience will behave the same cold way.

Method #5: Find ways to go on stage and make as many speeches as possible

Have you got your driving license? If you have, try to remember your first car ride ever.

Do you remember the overwhelming confusion of dealing with the wheel and the gearbox and the switches for the first time? As if that wasn’t enough, there are three-foot pedals that have to work at the same time. Remember the first time you tried to start the car, but the car stopped as you messed with the clutch? Damn!

So, you had to practice in a special area, adding one thing at a time (parking elements, etc.). When you were satisfied with yourself, you were allowed to drive in town for the first time… where you were confused again. Why? You had to watch pedestrians, commuters, and many other things.

Do you remember how nervous you were just starting? I do!

What do experienced drivers do when driving?

  • talking
  • talking on the phone
  • doing make-up
  • smoking
  • listening to music
  • arguing with other commuters
  • taking care of the child in the back seat
  • and many other things…

Sounds familiar? If you’re a driver, I bet you do some of those things from time to time.

What is it that you don’t do? You don’t think about things like:

  • …the car may die
  • …I forgot to switch gears and been driving like that for the last four kilometers
  • … which one’s the turning light?
  • … damn, it’s a crutch, not brakes
  • … what does THIS sign mean?
  • …what do other commuters think of me?

Do you know why you no longer think about those things and can do a dozen different things at once? Easy! Depending on your experience, of course, you now have many hours of driving experience. You’ve been in many situations, which have all made you a better driver… hopefully!

How are my driving license and the fear of public speaking connected?

I’m often asked at my public speaking training sessions, „Janek, how do you manage to stay calm and notice everything going on in the room?“ It’s the same with driving, really. Everything comes from experience, here, hours of doing public speaking. In other words, the more public speaking you do, the calmer you are.

I did some calculations, and it turned out that in the period of 2007-2018, I did 5,000 hours of public speaking during my training sessions alone! I have enough experience to be able to overcome the issues related to the fear of public speaking and share some of my thoughts with you.

How are the driving experience and the fear of public speaking connected?

Not directly. The previous story was just an example. A novice speaker is just like a novice driver – nervous due to lack of experience.

In 2013, I wrote a Master’s thesis on the different issues related to the fear of public speaking. One of the aspects I studied was the relationship between the frequency of public speaking (i.e., experience) and the level of the fear of public speaking. To be able to assess the level, I did a test which can be found here (James McCroskey PRSPA).

Comparing the relationship between the frequency of public speaking and the level of the fear of public speaking, I found that people who do public speaking 1-2 times a week show a low or below-average level of the fear of public speaking in 70.7% of all cases in the group. An average level occurred in 18.5% of all cases, and an above-average level, only in 4.7% of all cases. A high level of the fear of public speaking was found in 6.1% of all cases.

As to those who do public speaking 1-2 times a month, the results were as follows: a low or below average level – 52.2% of all cases in the group; an average level – 17.4% of all cases; an above-average level – 6.4% of all cases, and a high level – 24% of all cases.

Now, those who do public speaking a couple of times a quarter: a low or below average level – 28.5% of all the cases in the group; an average level – 24.2% of all cases; an above-average level – 8.8% of all cases, and a high level – 38.5% of all cases (N = 35).

Finally, those who do public speaking a couple of times a year: a low or below average level – 18.3% of all cases in the group; an average level – 15.4% of all cases; an above-average level – 14.4% of all cases, and a high level – 51.9% of all cases.

For those who perform less than a few times a year, the results were as follows: a low or below average level – 7.8% of all cases in the group; an average level – 17.2% of all cases; an above-average level – 17.2% of all cases, and a high level – 57.8% of all cases (N = 37).

One picture says more than a hundred words, so have a look at the picture below. The poorer the experience in public speaking, the higher the level of the fear of public speaking.

What does this mean for me personally?

I have a relative who’s had his driving license for about nine years now, never ever driving in a car on her own. Several months ago, she tried again and found driving just as shocking as back then. She didn’t get any better at driving in the past nine years, that’s why the experience was just as bad.

Just as a driving license doesn’t make you a decent driver, your presentation materials won’t make you a good speaker. To overcome the fear of public speaking, you need experience. Go on stage! The more speeches you make, the more different situations you’ll be able to handle.

Go on stage, grabbing any opportunity

So, next time your boss asks, „Who would like to volunteer to present our company with a 20-minute speech?“, you volunteer (even if no-one else does). If there’re more volunteers, don’t be shy and insist on making the speech.

After every presentation, think about what went really well and what wasn’t so good. Then, you learn from your mistakes and go on stage again. After about a dozen speeches, you’ll see how your fears of public speaking have disappeared into the blue.

And what’s really cool – your listeners will like what you’ll be doing on stage.

Here are just some ways how to do public speaking:

  • At work (meetings, seminars, etc.). If your company organizes internal training for the employees, volunteer as a speaker
  • Volunteer as a public speaker at seminars and conferences
  • Volunteer to talk about your topic at schools
  • Join Toastmasters. You can find the nearest club location and contacts here
  • Volunteer to talk about an exciting topic at the church
  • Make a speech at an important event of a relative or friend (e.g., birthday party)

Method #6: Find out why you’re afraid of public speaking and then deal with the cause

Have you ever wondered what the most feared thing about public speaking is? Usually, when I ask someone if they are afraid of public speaking, the answer is „yes“. If I ask what it is they are afraid of, they shrug their shoulders and say, „Well… everything!“

Later, giving it a little thought, many different reasons are named, and one of them is „I’m afraid of being in the center of attention, everyone’s looking at me, and I feel discomfort“.

If you see your doctor having a fever, a good one will treat the reason behind it. They do not cure the symptoms. The same applies here: if you can think of the main reasons for the occurrence of discomfort, you’ll be able to overcome it by changing your way of thinking (see Method #1 and Method #2 above). So, if you want to improve your public speaking skills, you also need to be able to cope with the fear of public speaking.

The main causes of the fear of public speaking and how to overcome them

Have you ever wondered what the most feared thing about public speaking is? Usually, when I ask someone if they are afraid of public speaking, the answer is „yes“. If I ask what it is they are afraid of, they shrug their shoulders and say, „Well… everything!“

Fear of being in the spotlight („They’re looking at me!“)

Now think, what’s worse – your listeners looking at you or not looking at you? Do you choose the latter? This means that you must be doing something wrong…

Today, there’s no better compliment than your listeners actually looking at you and following you – it shows you managed to grab their attention.

If that’s the case, congratulations! You should now be feeling much more confident. By the way, who else is there to look at? Just stay positive, that alone will make you a better speaker.

Fear of failure

Now, this may sound like a cliché, but proper preparation is the key to success. If you do it properly, your success is imminent. The more decent your preparation is, the less you fear your upcoming speech. Also, please read the chapter above about why you already are a much better speaker than you think.

Instead of thinking about what happens if you fail, think that you’ll do great as you’re well-prepared.

Being an employee, you expect a salary. In terms of public speaking, it means that if you’re well-prepared, you’ll make a brilliant speech. Don’t let the negative thoughts influence you, but be positive and stay encouraged! Otherwise, you’ll fail even before going on stage.

If you wish to improve your public speaking skills, remember that every good speaker has failed at least once in their life. More than once, I bet. Unlike bad speakers, the good ones are brave, willing to learn from their mistakes and use failure to their advantage.

Very few people realize that failure is a valuable piece of negative information, which brings you closer to your goal. Failure is never a step back, but a leap forward. It is important to take the next step and analyze what went wrong and what you could do better next time. Thus, be ready to fail and learn from it.

Watch the video with Nick Vujicic and what he thinks of failure. Nick Vujicic was born without arms or legs, but managed to inspire thousands of people around the globe!

Fear of audience („What do they think of me?“)

If you’re worried about what other people may think of you, you’re focussing on the wrong thing. Focus on what others think of your speech. Nobody cares about what you’re wearing (unless it’s really bad and drives attention away from you) or if you’re tall, short, plumpy, or skinny.

The listeners are only interested in learning something useful. If you take time to analyze the needs of your audience, you’ll be able to do that.

Have you ever seen your friend or acquaintance make a speech? Have you ever seen them make a speech poorly? You were just sitting there, bored, wasting your time. Do you now treat your friend differently? Of course, not. They are your friend still, although the speech was crap.

It’s because you expressed your opinion about the quality of the speech, not about the person. The quality of the speech can easily be improved through proper preparation.

What do you think of yourself?

To be honest, most of the reasons for the fear of public speaking can be overcome through proper preparation and positive thinking. The question of what others think of you is wrong in its nature because the only thing that really matters is what YOU think of yourself. If you don’t believe in yourself and don’t feel confident, this will definitely show.

„Don’t worry about what other people think of you. They’re too busy worrying over what you think of them.“ – Murphy’s Law

Fear of masses („Why are there so many of them?“)

For some speakers, a hundred listeners are too much, for others, just five. If you have the there-are-too-many-of-them concern, here are my two tips:

  • Talk to one person at a time. This means, look at a person and imagine there’s no-one else in the room. Look at them for 4-5 seconds to understand how they’re perceiving your message. Then, move on to the next listener. NB! Don’t gawk at the same person for too long!
  • Get acquainted with the audience. Small talk will help you see you’re dealing with a bunch of nice people. Remember the people you talk to before the speech and establish eye contact with them at the beginning of your presentation. They’re your „old friends“, after all.

Also, keep in mind that in a crowd, people don’t realize who you’re looking at. You may be looking at a lovely lady in the 12th row, and about 20 people from the same zone will think you’re looking at them. The moral of the story is to establish eye contact with the people who you think are most positive, whatever the zone.

In conclusion: How to improve public speaking skills

Public speaking is just like any other area of life – before you see the results, you have to do some work. Achieving success is in your hands, and the harder you try, the better the results will be. If you let yourself be disturbed by your (or others’) failure, guess what? You’re on the wrong track.

Be sure to use my tips to improve your public speaking skills, and you’ll see the fruits of your success pretty soon!

Related questions

How to write a speech? It depends on many factors. For example, type of event (official or unofficial), listeners (acquaintances or strangers), time (short or long speech), etc. Read a thorogh article about it here.

What is a good speech introduction? A good speech introduction draws the audience’s attention to you, raises interest and tells the listeners that something exciting is coming. (full article here)

How to practice a speech? A well-prepared speech means practicing. The poorer your preparation is and the less work you do, the greater the probability that no-one can relate to your speech, in a way that will make the audience forget you already during your presentation. (full article here)

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Who is Janek Tuttar?

My name is Janek Tuttar, and I am the founder and author of Speak and Conquer website.

I have been teaching public speaking at Estonian Entrepreneurship University of Applied Sciences

Here, I am sharing the wisdom of how to cope in different public speaking situations.

More information about Janek »

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Janek Tuttar

Hi! My name is Janek Tuttar, and I am the founder and author of SpeakAndConquer.com.

I have been teaching and blogging about public speaking since spring 2007. Here, I am sharing the wisdom of how to cope in different public speaking situations.

Send me an e-mail: info@speakandconquer.com


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