By Dr. Jarrod Sadulski  |  02/29/2024


public speaking skills

 

At this stage in my career, I have been in various public speaking events throughout the United States, Europe, and Central America. I have spoken to thousands of audience members over the past 10 years. I have also carefully studied other public speakers to learn speaking tips from people who possess strong public speaking skills.

Public speaking skills can be developed and strengthened over time. The first step for anyone who plans to provide a presentation to an audience is to address their public speaking anxiety.

This fear is something most people experience, but it can be overcome. Remember that it’s normal to feel nervous.

Preparation is key when it comes to conquering public speaking anxiety. It’s essential to prepare the presentation, rehearse it, and develop the mental preparation to speak in front of a group.

Mental preparedness can help increase your confidence. The more confident you feel, the less anxiety you will have about speaking in front of a crowd.

Before you begin your presentation, draw one or two deep breaths and then practice calm breathing. Calm breathing is simply maintaining a normal breathing pattern. This type of breathing is especially important when you are a new public speaker, because it will help to prevent you from feeling nervous and hyperventilating.

A nervous public speaker is easy to spot and is distracting to the audience. The most common mistake an uneasy speaker makes is talking too quickly, which does not create a good impression.

Most public speaking events typically have a set time frame for each presentation. When you are presenting, it is equally as important to avoid ending your prepared speech too early as it is to avoid exceeding the allotted time.

There are a few additional measures you can take as you work to improve public speaking skills:

  • Pause before transitioning to a new discussion point, taking a few seconds to enable the content to sink in with the audience
  • Remain on topic

I also recommend beginning each public speaking engagement with something that captures the audience's attention. Usually, I begin my speech with a brief story that I believe will resonate with listeners. This tip is just one of the many public speaking tips I have picked up along the way.

 

How to Strengthen Public Speaking Skills

In developing good public speaking skills, body language, eye contact, a sense of audience engagement, and practice are essential. The more comfortable you become in front of a live audience, the better a speaker you will be.

For new speakers, it is useful to take advantage of every opportunity to gain experience. For instance, consider taking a public speaking class or speaking at a friend's wedding.

Taking a public speaking class can be advantageous, because you will receive feedback from an instructor and other students. This feedback can help you improve your presentation and communication skills.

Furthermore, the more you talk in public speaking classes, the more confident you will feel as the result of regular practice. Eventually, you can even overcome your anxiety about public speaking entirely.

Public speaking courses provide the opportunity to practice communication with a group while you provide important points. As you learn how to connect with the people listening to you, you can continue to improve your public speaking skills.

Besides taking classes to become a better public speaker, another option is to practice delivering a speech in front of a family member. Request constructive feedback from your listener; the advice you receive might further help you to overcome the anxiety related to public speaking.

You can also improve your public speaking by reviewing videos of yourself giving a presentation in front of a group. When you watch with a critical eye or listen to those videos, you will probably recognize areas for improvement.

Even when speaking confidently is no longer a challenge, you may still notice subtle ways to make your audience feel more engaged when you review recordings of yourself presenting. That may involve making a stronger effort to maintain eye contact and developing a more direct connection with your listeners.

I have used this strategy in several public speaking courses. As a result, I have found new ways to improve my public speaking skills and body language.

Watching or listening to recordings of yourself is also helpful for recognizing mistakes you may make during your presentation. One common mistake a lot of nervous public speakers is repeatedly saying “um” without realizing it. Having a recording you can easily see again is an effective way to find out if you make this mistake, too.

Some people also find that their palms sweat as the result of fear when they give presentations. This fear can also be overcome with more practice speaking in front of crowds.

The more you talk, the more likely you are to gain confidence and provide an effective speech. When you can speak in front of a crowd calmly and with confidence, you will create a strong impression as a seasoned speaker.

 

Use a Visual Aid

When you speak in front of an audience, people tend to remain focused on your eye contact, body language, your hands, and your posture. For speakers who are still developing their public speaking skills, just knowing the audience’s full attention is on them creates pressure and may even further increase the fear of public speaking.

Using a visual aid, however, can alleviate some of that anxiety. Visual aids also add valuable supplementary information to oral presentations. If desired, speakers may opt to use projectors to share their photographs with audiences.

Most commonly, however, public speakers incorporate PowerPoint® slideshows. A PowerPoint presentation can provide context to a speaker’s words. This context may include anything from statistics that support the speaker’s main points to short videos, images, and bullet points that help the speaker stay on topic.

 

Advice for Using PowerPoint

But when you present a PowerPoint during a speech, it is important that your slideshow does not completely distract the audience from what you are saying. This distraction can occur if there is too much content on the slides.

When adding text to your PowerPoint, for instance, arrange your ideas into brief bullet points, rather than paragraphs. These bullets should serve as talking points on which you elaborate as you speak.

A PowerPoint presentation should never be the main component of any event. The speaker is the “main act,” and the PowerPoint is only a visual aid. It is there to help the speaker remain on track and add relevant imagery where appropriate.

A seasoned public speaker also knows better than to read from a slideshow. PowerPoint presentation notes are not necessary.

Any speaker should be well-prepared and capable of delivering the speech without relying on PowerPoint for anything other than the value it adds as a visual aid to increase audience engagement and interest.

People who are visual learners (as opposed to auditory learners) will benefit from the inclusion of a PowerPoint slideshow in a speech. While I prefer to give speeches without it, I use PowerPoint occasionally to help engage all audience members.

Also, I ensure the font remains the same on each slide and there isn’t too much content provided. That way, the slideshow does not become the main focus of a presentation.

 

Additional Tips for Presenting with Slideshows

The worst presentations I have attended all involved speakers depending solely on their PowerPoints, reading from individual slides instead of talking about their own knowledge. Speakers who read word for word from slides forfeit the ability to maintain eye contact with audience members.

Reading also adversely impacts body language, because the speaker cannot face attendees. Ultimately, reading from slides indicates a lack of experience and a fear of public speaking.

 

Tools for Creating a Presentation

There are additional presentation tools aside from PowerPoint. Some tools include:

  • Prezi®
  • Apple Keynote®
  • Google Slides®
  • Canva®
  • LibreOffice®

I don’t believe that there is a major advantage to one tool over the other. The “right” software comes down to what tool provides the most comfort and ease of use for the presenter.

What matters to presentation attendees is that a slide deck is professional-looking, and it has graphics and content that foster audience engagement. It should contain a limited number of words and graphics to prevent audience distraction.

 

Connecting with Your Audience

While presentations should be professional, they should also include a personal touch to which that audiences can relate. A good speech is one that remains on topic, while still allowing the speaker to discuss personal experience relevant to its content.

Whenever I present at an event, I always reflect on my presentation afterwards. I believe getting feedback from colleagues or family members who attend speaking events is important for improving public speaking skills.

I also watch my recordings multiple times. I like to take note of what I did well and identify areas for improvement. As I review the footage, I pay attention to my voice inflection, body language, and eye contact, so I can continue to strengthen my oral communication skills.

When you are willing to watch yourself present material, there are behaviors you will notice that others may not. Ideally, avoid being too critical or harsh of yourself when critiquing your own performance. I am a firm believer that practice is the key to effective public speaking, along with researching and following public speaking tips from experienced presenters.

 

Gaining Experience to Improve Your Public Speaking

I first began speaking in public as a college professor. Talking in front of students was a great way for me to get experience speaking in front of a crowd. I would prepare and practice before getting in front of a class.

I found that relating the presentation content to life events was effective for holding students’ attention and becoming a better speaker. Before long, I became engaged in academic scholarship work, which involves conducting research and presenting the findings to others, typically at academic conferences. Becoming a scholar who gave presentations also provided valuable experience.

I participated in public speaking events around the country, presenting my research to different attendees. During each event, I would record the presentations and subsequently critique them later.

As I continued to practice, I became more aware of the presentation style that works best for me. After speaking in front of attendees at academic conferences, I got invitations to events in different parts of the world.

For instance, I spoke at a conference in Europe on local law enforcement’s response to domestic terrorism. At that talk, the attendees included intelligence experts from over 10 different nations.

I also spoke in Central America to large audiences of various government agencies. I used the presentation to offer training on countering human trafficking and narcotics trafficking.

Talking to an international audience is much different than talking to a U.S. audience and requires a different type of preparation. For example, there are cultural differences in communication. It is crucial to research your international audience well before any presentation.

There are certain customs that you’ll need to know to ensure that each point in your message is received properly. Depending on the geographical location of the event, you may need to adjust your communication approach and style to create an effective presentation.

Speaking internationally helped to strengthen my public speaking skills, because I had to find multiple ways to deliver the same message and ensure a good delivery. Otherwise, I risked being misunderstood or poorly received.

Also, I had to overcome language and accent barriers. That was helpful for me because it strengthened my skills in attendee engagement.

In addition to being able to relate life experience to the presentation topic, I believe engaging attendees is key to delivering an effective presentation. Engagement involves getting members of the audience to participate by asking questions and sharing their own relevant knowledge, which keep everyone’s attention focused on your topic of discussion.

Engaging people in this way is not as difficult as it sounds. With powerful delivery, thorough knowledge of the content on which you are speaking, and an awareness of the attendees’ own unique perspectives, you can inspire a meaningful conversation with your audience.

Ultimately, becoming an effective speaker begins with overcoming fear. The best speakers know the importance of understanding their audiences and have a sense of what interests them most.

Effective speakers bring real-world experience and examples to the content delivered to foster engagement and further reflection. With practice, you, too, can overcome fear, become a better speaker, and deliver presentations that resonate with audiences worldwide.

PowerPoint is a registered trademark of the Microsoft Corporation.
Prezi is a registered trademark of Prezi, inc.
Apple Keynote is a registered trademark of Apple, Inc.
Google Slides is a registered trademark of Google, LLC.
Canva is a registered trademark of Canva Proprietary, Ltd.
LibreOffice is a registered trademark of The Document Foundation.


About the Author
Dr. Jarrod Sadulski

Dr. Sadulski is an Associate Professor within our School of Security and Global Studies. He has over two decades in the field of criminal justice. His expertise includes training on countering human trafficking, maritime security, effective stress management in policing and narcotics trafficking trends in Latin America. Jarrod frequently conducts in-country research and consultant work in Central and South America on human trafficking and current trends in narcotics trafficking. He also has a background in business development. Jarrod can be reached through his website at www.Sadulski.com for more information.

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