Image: Kimberly Brown/The Well (Jopwell)
Even if you don’t consider yourself a public speaker, knowing how to articulate your ideas in a group setting and communicate effectively is crucial in nearly job.
The good news is that you’re probably already practicing. Have you ever given a presentation at a meeting? Led a college tour or group discussion? Taught a class? Yep, that all counts.
Here are five tips to help you take your public speaking skills to the next level:
Don’t watch hours of YouTube videos to pick up someone else’s mannerisms or gestures. Instead, start speaking aloud in front of an audience (or even a mirror). Think of each of your speaking experiences as an opportunities to introduce your most authentic self. You will never be Oprah or Tony Robbins – they’ve got that covered – but with practice you can get really good at channeling the ultimate version of yourself.
Many public speakers simply show up when it’s their turn to take the stage. Whenever your schedule allows for it, though, make a point to get to your gig early; it can pay to spend some time studying and getting to know your audience before you start formally speaking to them. Take note of the setting and context. Is it formal? What’s the mood in the room? How are people engaging with other speakers? Your observations and insights can help inform your own presentation.
This is especially true when speaking to smaller audiences. While you’re the featured speaker, someone in the audience may feel the need to chime in. Especially if your presentation is conversational and interactive, people may not even wait for questions at the end. Always thank people for their participation. Don’t let anything – even a slightly off topic or rude comment – ruffle you. Smile, carry on with your talk, and make the audience wonder how you fielded that obnoxious interaction without so much as breaking a sweat.
Learning to engage with and command authority over an audience takes practice. Remember: You’re in charge, so if you see people starting to doze off or fidget with their phones, you’re allowed to try something new. Have people stand up and stretch. Start asking them questions. Prompt them to start small group discussions.
You can never count on a presentation going exactly as you planned – no matter how many times you rehearsed. Maybe your slides won’t load or the venue will be experiencing AV issues. Maybe the fire alarm goes off. Anything could be thrown your way once you’re on stage, so knowing how to improvise is essential. Google your local community center or a theater group in your city to see if they have an improv class you can sign up for. It’ll help you practice keeping your cool under pressure and shifting gears mid-presentation. I’ve found these classes to be really valuable (and a lot of fun, too).