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7 Tips to Improve Your Public Speaking Skills

Just the thought of speaking before an audience makes many people get the jitters. They picture themselves standing in front of a hall populated by numerous eyes that stare back at them, and wonder how possible it would be for them to remain composed in such a situation. As far as they’re concerned, the “public speaking thing” isn’t for them.

The fear of delivering a talk or speech to an audience can, however, be conquered. It just takes some effort on the part of the would-be speakers to ready them for the stage. Whether you’re an introvert or an extrovert (some extroverts do have a phobia for making public speeches!) you can master the skills you need to successfully give a speech that captures your audience’s attention. Here are seven tips to help you do just this.

1. Prepare by practicing

It all begins here. If you’re going to be speaking to people on any topic or theme, you’ll have to be prepared for it. Draft the points you want to wrap the words of the speech around, and let them hit the target you intend to strike with the speech. Internalize what you have written, and learn to verbally reproduce the contents without constantly referring to the original script. It might not be easy at first, but if you keep at it, you’ll find that it will get easier to do with every new attempt. You can practice alone by pretending to give a speech to an imagined audience, or do so before an actual group, even if it’s a small one.

2. Know your audience

Knowing what kind of audience you’re speaking to will take off a lot of the pressure off you because you’ll know how to tailor the speech to suit them. That means you won’t have to be worried about what exactly to tell them or how to deliver the speech.

3. Be yourself

There’s the temptation for some people to practically assume a character other than their normal selves when giving a speech. This happens when they are overcome by the occasion. The tendency to ‘feign’ a character might not be conscious, but its effect is quite clearly seen- a real struggle to communicate with the audience. Instead of letting oneself get carried off into the dark path of acting out a different role on the big stage, resolve to be yourself, and to remain cool, calm and collected.

4. Think positively

Perhaps the biggest obstacle to delivering a good speech is the negative mind block. People believe (without really being conscious that they do) that there’s a greater chance of their speech going badly than there is of it being successfully delivered. Instead of thinking that you might falter while giving the speech, assure yourself that it will all go well. Positive thoughts generate positive energy; you can ride on the back of the good feeling generated by positive thoughts to give a speech that you’ll be proud of.

5. Use an attention grabbing opener

Don’t dump the topic on the audience and proceed on a dry lecture-like talk. Begin your speech with an interesting statistic, a story or a quote, just to disrupt the expectation of the audience that they’ll only be getting a regular speech. This will grab their attention and make them want to listen for more from you. Also, try to give them a good idea of where you’re going with your speech in the first few minutes, so they’ll stay with you as you go on.

6. Mind your body language

Your body language says a lot about your state of mind and how confident you are in yourself- and your audience can tell this. Fidgeting and jittery behavior will be seen as evidence that you’re probably not cut out for the speech you’re trying to deliver, so you need to take care to not show this. Take note of your usual behavior when you feel tensed up, and work to eliminate gestures and postures which might be considered awkward in a speech-giving scenario. Stand straight, smile, accompany your speech with gestures to make it lively, and walk around the stage as you speak instead of standing behind the podium.

7. Engage your audience

Your speech shouldn’t be a one-way traffic, with you as the only one truly involved. Get the audience in on it; engage them by asking questions and speaking in a manner that suggests they’re part of the whole activity. Engagement makes you feel less isolated as a speaker, and also gives the audience the idea that you’re being authentic.

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Ikenna Nwachukwu holds a bachelor's degree in Economics from the University of Nigeria, Nsukka. He loves to look at the world through multiple lenses- economic, political, religious and philosophical- and to write about what he observes in a witty, yet reflective style.

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