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Improve your public speaking

Improve your public speakingMost people are afraid of speaking in front of a group. Improving your skills can help you beat the fear - and there are other benefits, too.

What are the benefits?

Improving your public speaking has benefits beyond any particular speech or presentation you give. These include:

  • Improved confidence: Public speaking makes people very nervous - but because of this, doing it well can boost your confidence in other areas, too.
  • Reduced stress: Knowing you have to speak can cause a lot of stress - not just when you get up to speak, but in the days and weeks leading up to it. If you know you're prepared, this stress will be much lower.
  • Getting things done: Being able to speak persuasively makes it easier to get just about anything done: you can convince people of your point of view and persuade them to help you.
  • Job interviews: Although job interviews aren't strictly public speaking, the skills and confidence you gain will give you a better chance of success.

Ways to improve

Join a club or society

Practice is a great way to improve your skills and boost your confidence - but unless you're willing to set up a soapbox in the street, it can be hard to find opportunities. Clubs and societies can help you to find organized events and competitions, as well as letting you meet other people you can learn from.

If you are at university, there will almost certainly be a public speaking or debating society that you can join. These will normally organize regular debates within the university and with visitors from elsewhere, as well as workshops to help you develop your skills.

Many schools and colleges also take part in national debating and public speaking events. If you're interested but your school isn't already taking part, an English teacher is usually the best person to talk to about getting something started.

Outside school, college and university, there are still clubs, classes and organizations that can help you, such as the Speakers Trust

Prepare carefully

Some speakers can make it look like they're making up a brilliant speech as they go along - and usually, that's because they've done even more preparation than everyone else.

  • Think carefully about the most important things you want to say.
  • Try a few different ways of writing your notes to work out which works best for you.
  • Run through your speech or presentation a few times. Ideally, do this in front of another person, or record it so that you can get a better idea of how it went.
  • Make sure your speech or presentation lasts the right amount of time. In your notes, indicate places like the half-way mark so that you can tell if you're on track.
  • If you might have to answer questions, do extra research and think about what you might be asked so you're not caught out.

Remember your nerves are in your head

If you're nervous about speaking, it feels like everybody can tell how flustered you are. This can lead to a vicious cycle: thinking everyone can see that you're nervous makes you more nervous. Luckily, your nerves really are all in your head. Research shows that audiences think speakers are much less nervous than they really are, and rate their performances higher than the speakers would rate themselves.

Better yet, speakers who know this perform much better, because they avoid the vicious cycle. So before you start speaking, remember that your audience is more likely to see you as a confident speaker than a nervous wreck.

Ask for feedback

If there is somebody you can ask for feedback after speaking, this can be extremely helpful: they may be able to pick up on things to improve that you haven't noticed. Make sure you choose someone whose opinion you trust, and who is willing to be honest with you.

It's best if you can get opinions from a few people, because everyone will respond differently. For example, one person might hate a particular habit that other people don't mind, leading you to waste your time trying to 'fix' the wrong thing.

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