Public Speaking Basics: Building confidence and competence

Most of us fear public speaking more than we fear death. Which is ironic because it’s an easy-to-learn skill that can greatly improve your life.

Strong speaking skills will enhance your career, education and relationships — almost every aspect of your life. So why do many people never learn? Because they don’t know where to start. But once you know how to get started, and which skills to focus on, it’s easy to become a competent, confident speaker.

First, learn and practice the basic skills and strategies below, adapting them to your needs and personal style. Practice and play until they feel natural.

Second, practice some more. Public speaking is a bit like tennis; the more you practice, the more frequently you’ll connect. I recommend practicing any speech or presentation at least 10 times: alone, in front of a mirror, recording yourself, and in front of various people. Even if you’re not practicing for a specific event, seize every opportunity to practice your skills; each time you speak to anyone practice being clear, friendly and brief.

4 Basic Speaking Skills

Choose one of these skills, and start with that. Focus on building one skill at a time. When it becomes natural and effective, start working on another skill. These are the 4 basic speaking skills, in no particular order:

  1. Look at your audience, and smile occasionally
  2. Speak a bit slower than usual, and pause occasionally
  3. Make your voice interesting by varying your:
    • Tone and pitch
    • Volume
    • Pace
  4. Use your body:
    • Use gestures and facial expressions to add interest and help convey your content
    • Stand upright, balanced on both feet, relaxed and breathing deeply
    • Move with purpose

3 Simple Speaking Strategies

  1. Know your audience and customise your content to their needs & interests
  2. Be clear:
    • Use simple, active sentences
    • Speak like you do in conversation, using common words and phrases  
    • Offer one idea at a time, and give sufficient background so people can understand it
  3. Be brief — leave ‘em wanting more

2 Good Ideas

  1. Seize every opportunity to speak. The more you practice public speaking, the better you’ll get. Like swimming, the only way to get competent is actually doing it.
  2. Record every presentation. Review the recording — while being very kind to yourself — and learn from your presentations. Choose one skill at a time to work on. When that skill starts to feel natural, start working on another skill.

1 Promise

I promise that if you practice your presentation at least 10 times it will be much better than if you don’t. Each practice hard-wires content in your brain, making you more likely to remember it, even when you’re nervous. You’ll be able to focus on your delivery, making you look and feel confident and skillful.

 

Good luck and happy speaking! Please visit LucindaAtwood.com for more articles on speaking and communication.

Lucinda

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Lucinda Atwood is a master teacher and coach who makes learning public speaking fun and easy. (Yes, it's possible.) She's a Communication Consultant based in beautiful Vancouver Canada.
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