Public speaking is a very common fear. Few people actually enjoy and feel comfortable doing it. Add in the fact that English is not your native language, and speaking in front of others can start to seem like an impossible task. But there are times when you will be called upon to do it, whether at a work meeting or a family gathering. Here are 7 ways you can improve public speaking skills and shine in front of an audience!
Everyone tends to speak too quickly when they are nervous, so make a conscious effort to slow down your speaking rate. However, don’t slow down too much, or you’ll sound like a robot, or a toy with dying batteries. Make sure you can enunciate each word clearly, but not exaggeratedly.
It’s also OK to speed up a little bit if you’re trying to build excitement in your audience at a specific time in your speech. Just remember to slow back down. Varying your speed keeps listeners interested. Build in planned breathing breaks or take a sip of water after long or complicated sentences or ideas, to let you reset and prepare for the next section.
In some languages speaking in a monotone is the norm. (I’m looking at you, Finnish.) In others, intonation can be intense and varied (hi, Italian!). English falls somewhere in the middle: native speakers tend to vary their intonation based on the idea being conveyed; for example, the voice tends to rise at the end of a question and lower if telling something confidential or serious. Keep this in mind as you prepare; you can even make notes that say things like “let your voice get higher on this word” or “drop your voice down lower here.” Use initiation cleverly and you will improve public speaking skills significantly.
There’s no need to speak for 15 minutes when five will get the point across nicely. People will remember and appreciate a short, well-edited speech more than a long and overly-detailed one. If you have a time limit, ask someone to time you while you practice, to ensure you stay within it.
Now is not the time to throw around big words to try and impress your listeners. It’s much better to use simple language: you’ll feel more comfortable saying the words, and your audience will understand you more easily. Rely on words and phrases you know well and they’ll trip off your tongue smoothly and convincingly.
Have you ever listened to a speaker apologize repeatedly for being nervous or messing up? Equally annoying is the complainer, who whines that he didn’t get enough time to prepare, or wanted to talk about something else. Don’t do any of that – your audience is ready to listen, so give them your best effort, and if you miss a word or stumble, simply pause, take a breath, and begin again at the start of the sentence.
There’s no need to apologize; we’re all human and we all make mistakes. If you smile, pause, and then continue, your audience will empathize with you and continue to pay attention. If you get flustered, chances are good they’ll disengage and listen less closely. Hold their attention by focusing on what you came to say. They’ll be impressed with your poise and determination.
This is the only way you’ll truly improve public speaking skills. Once you’ve got the speech written, perform it over and over again until you nearly have it memorized and you can get through it smoothly, with no stumbling. Practice your intonation, your facial expression, your breathing breaks and pauses for effect, and even your hand and body movements. Try not to cling to a podium or table; it looks awkward and might make you even more nervous. But don’t pace around, either. That makes it hard for people to focus on what you’re saying. Stand up straight but try to stay loose and relaxed. Then practice the speech a few more times. Ask a friend, family member, or your Skype English teacher to watch and listen, and provide their feedback. They may comment on things you never would have thought of or noticed.
If you don’t have anyone to help you out with your practice, record yourself on your phone or with a camera, then play it back and see what you’d like to do differently. Record and watch it again, until you feel you’ve got it nailed.
Unless you’re someone who never, ever gets nervous, public speaking is always going to be a challenge. Using these tips should make it a little bit easier to get through without running away or having to start over. If you are an advanced English student who wants to improve public speaking skills, we welcome you to sign up for one of our trial lessons to see how we can streamline your skills further.