Elevate Your Public Speaking Skills

You’re up on stage, mic in-hand or hands on the podium, looking out at a sea of expectant faces. You feel the nervousness in your stomach. Your heart pounds quickly. The impression you first make on this audience, the way you engage them throughout the presentation, the impact of your words after the presentation ends – all of these factors tie into more than just your subject matter.

Are you the effective public speaker you need to be?

Wednesday, GovLoop hosted the online training “Becoming an Effective Public Speaker” to help you transform your public speaking skills to connect with an audience.

People form a first impression in mere seconds, according to Deb Sofield, Executive Speech Coach. This depends on how you look, how you sound and what you say.

“What you say is important, but if you don’t look the part and sound the part, your audience won’t pay attention,” Sofield said. “You are the person your audience is looking to for leadership.”

Positive presence can lead to better public speaking outcomes. You should be cognizant of how you walk, your facial expressions, your gestures, the way you maintain eye contact, your energy and your overall likeability.

It starts when you walk into the venue: when you walk in with confidence, your audience has confidence in you. “Deep within you is a core of excellence, and that’s what you’re going to let shine,” Sofield stated.

Body language is key. “Simply holding your head level may seem trivial or insignificant, but it can make or break someone’s confidence in you,” Sofield said.

You also have to speak to show agreement and not fall prey to head-bobbing syndrome, which would result in a body movement dictating your answer. You should not give your answer away without thinking by bobbing your head up and down. Then, you lose people’s confidence, and you could be giving an answer that you don’t agree with.

Our culture expects people to display levelheadedness in the clarity and rationality of their thoughts, and truth through their gazes. If you struggle with maintaining eye contact, look at the forehead, nose, or upper lip. If you look at people in the face, you indicate that you value them as a person.

Additionally, make sure to take up space. Spread out, move your hands away from your ribcage, and make open-palm gestures with your fingers together. “Powerful people take up physical space,” Sofield said. They also work at sounding believable and conversational while maintaining their cool through a calm and even delivery.

Your speech should be crafted around your audience, but regardless of the demographics, you should work on keeping your talk short and interesting. Home in on a single concept that the audience can easily take away when they try to recall what your speech was about. “If you want to be a leader, you are the captain of the ship, the shepherd of the flock,” Sofield explained. “If you’re fearful, remember that it’s not about you. It’s about your message.”

So where does confidence come from? According to Chris O’Neil, President of the National Association of Government Communicators and Chief of Media Relations for the National Transportation Safety Board, there are four main areas:

  1. Knowing your material, or the preparation you work on prior to the speech.
  2. Knowing your audience.
  3. Knowing your communication goal.
  4. Getting comfortable with the butterflies.

Presentations and speeches both require you to speak in front of an audience, but presentations may require visual elements, while speeches do not. Speeches also tend to be more formal and broader in scope than presentations, with a larger audience.

“Organizing your presentation and practicing beforehand will help build your confidence,” O’Neil said. He then pointed to a simple, proven format for speeches and presentations:

  • Introduction
  • Tell them what you’re going to tell them
  • Tell them in no more than five key points.
  • Tell them what you told them
  • Conclusion

O’Neil also highlighted Toastmasters International, Joan Detz International Speechwriting/Coaching, Sims Wyeth, and Decker Communications for tools you can use to further your public speaking skills.

What are some of your concerns with public speaking? Let us know in the comments below.


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Avatar photo Blake Martin

This was such a helpful online training, and this article makes it even simpler to take these tips and put them to practice. Preparation is key to building confidence in your public speaking skills, and I can’t wait to try out the outline that Chris proposed.