Read Guide to Public Speaking. Our guide aims to help you overcome common fear so you can look and sound like a confident professional.
If speaking in front of 30 peers and a rubric-clad professor gives you butterflies, sweats, or yo-yo-ing nausea spells, you’re in good company!
More than 70% of people absolutely dread public speaking.
The racing thoughts: What if I stumble over my words?
The shaky confidence: Do I know the material well enough?
The doomsday mindset: Is there something between my teeth?
Public speaking weaves its way into nearly every career path and will rear its ugly head in every collegiate course … for better or for worse.
Here’s a student’s guide to conquering that public speaking anxiety and delivering an unforgettable presentation. Read full Guide to Public Speaking below.
Get Out There and Expand Your Circle
Often, the “mental block” before a speech isn’t the crowd itself, but rather who’s in it:
The fear of back-of-the-room snickering, yawning, or grimacing can tank your confidence and trigger an off-the-rails speech. Your audience won’t always be supportive allies or friends from your major.
Get out there and expand your network!
Take any opportunity to meet and talk to strangers, like at or on the:
- Supermarket, corner store, or coffee shop
- Subway, train, bus, or shuttle
- Club meetings or rec league practice
- Dorm lounge, dining hall, or floor meetings
Don’t practice your spiel on them or force them to listen to a robotic 30-minute presentation on microeconomics. But do ask questions and practice active listening.
Become an Expert
Eighteenth-century literature and European colonization probably aren’t your favorite topics to discuss outside of class. But delivering an engaging presentation means becoming comfortable with the material.
It’s time to become an expert!
- Learning what the content means before spinning it
- Focusing on the why and how, not just the who, when, and what
- Researching past the textbook (videos, studies, and documentaries)
- Making the content your own — not just rehashing the class materials!
Picture yourself as a teacher and your classmates as uninformed students. How can you explain the topic in a way they’ll understand?
If you can’t explain a slide from your presentation in layman’s terms, research it deeper and work to understand it yourself.
Predict the Audience’s Possible Questions
Most professors open up the floor to questions at the end of a presentation. That post-speech relief disappears the moment a classmate asks a question that leaves you stammering, “Umm, ahh, well …”
Mild embarrassment aside, this can crucify your project grade!
The trick is knowing your audience.
Did you have the opportunity to choose a topic? If so, assume your classmates don’t know a darn thing about it. Introduce the basics and put yourself in a true rookie’s shoes:
What would I want (or need) to know to grasp this presentation fully?
Predicting possible questions ahead of time gives you the chance to weave them into the slides and leave the audience applauding instead of inquisitively raising their hands at the end.
Practice, Practice, Practice!
Even extroverts struggle with public speaking from time to time. Sometimes it’s the complicated content that thwarts your oratory skills, not the act of standing in front of a lecture hall itself.
Practice, practice, practice! That means:
- Standing in front of your dorm mirror and running through the entire speech
- Reciting it again as you’re traversing local backroads (just pay attention!)
- Turning the radio on to rehearse with distractions (like your classmate who insists on clicking their pen)
- Calling up your mother and having her lend her ear
Even if you accidentally jumble the order halfway through, at least you know what you’re saying and how you plan to say it. Come back to it later!
Don’t Read From the Slides or Note Cards
That presentation took 15 hours to perfect and cost you plenty of sleepless nights. But if you’re reading directly from your note cards, that potentially engaging speech sounds robotic (or like you threw it together last night).
Think of the slides as nothing more than a guide.
The first trick to culling this habit is limiting how much information you put on your slides. Don’t stuff it with complete sentences or wordy clutter.
Not only will this prove distracting to an audience, but it’ll also keep your eye contact away from them. A few bullet points to remind you of what’s next is the goal. The same goes for those index cards in your pocket.
Memorize the content well enough that a brief phrase or a statistic jolts your memory. Don’t focus on how you plan to say it, or it’ll sound unnatural.
Vary Your Language and Verbal Tactics
This one can be challenging because there’s no “right” approach for all subject areas.
For example, jokes can make some presentations more entertaining. But in a slideshow about the Civil War, a joke could sound morbid or trigger uncomfortable reactions from the audience.
The “secret” is not sounding robotic or rigid. Instead, captivate your audience’s interest by:
- Including an occasional metaphor or simile (i.e., simplifying business management by comparing it to a well-greased car engine)
- Asking rhetorical questions (i.e., “Now, how does this impact the stock market as a whole?” followed by a few examples)
- Adding controversial or shocking statistics (i.e., “Over 75% of Americans are obese” or asking classmates to stand up to visualize data)
What’s even more important than what you say is what you do. Don’t forget to smile, laugh, and make eye contact to humanize yourself.
Just Be Yourself!
If you have the mouth of a sailor, are a dark humor connoisseur, or tend to be skeptical about everything, a graded presentation may not be the best time to reveal your true colors.
Yet, infusing a bit of yourself into the presentation can help you feel more comfortable (like it’s not an act) and build a connection with your audience.
If you’re passionate about climate change, get excited about cutting-edge recycling tactics.
If you’re empathetic, start by telling a story of a person negatively impacted by the Great Depression.
If you’re analytical, reveal a surprising statistic about nutrition, and then explain how it’s contributing to the obesity epidemic.
Whatever the topic, and whoever you are, find where both worlds collide!
Take It Slow
Presenting a capstone project in front of experts or delivering a speech to 500 of your peers will trigger a nervous rush. That 30-minute mandatory presentation you rehearsed suddenly ends with 13 minutes to spare!
Take a breath … and take it slow.
PowerPoint’s Presenter View feature gives a sneak peek of the elapsed time without broadcasting it over the projector. Allow a few minutes per slide, and if you’re ahead of pace, explain a statistic or discuss a story you read.
Always have more to say that you can fall back on if there’s time leftover.
It’s also crucial to take your focus off the clock and put it on what you’re saying. Pause for 1-2 seconds between sentences, look around the room, or even squeeze in a question.
If you speed-run the speech, you’ll leave the audience pretty confused.
Fake It Till You Make It
Before your confidence becomes natural, applying the age-old “fake it till you make it” will trick you into thinking, “I’ve got this.”
There are a few ways to achieve this:
- Picture the audience as beginners and you as the expert. It’s your responsibility to explain it to them (just don’t sound condescending).
- Dress the part. Don’t look like you just rolled out of bed 15 minutes earlier, and opt for the business casual look (no tux or dress needed).
- Create a mantra to repeat going into your presentation (“I can do this,” “I know all the material,” or “This is going to be my best speech yet”)
However, don’t put too much trust in the “fake it” part. Faking it doesn’t mean drawing conclusions without analyzing the data or spitting out made-up facts when you don’t know an answer.
A confident tone, standing tall, and dressing professionally will slowly seep in and build your skill from the inside out.
Perfecting your public speaking skills is a marathon, not a sprint. It could take months to recite a presentation without fighting the urge to play hooky the day of or feeling breathless by the three-minute mark.
Everyone starts somewhere.
Think about it this way:
Martin Luther King Jr., Winston Churchill, and Steve Jobs are among the most skilled and respected public speakers of the last century.
But they weren’t born with microphones in their hands or contagious confidence. They learned how to build connections with their audiences and ace the delivery.
So, commit to making each speech just a little better than the last! Hop you love reading “Guide to Public Speaking”
Adam Marshall is a freelance writer who specializes in all things apartment organization, real estate, and college advice. He currently works with Copper Beech at Ames to help them with their online marketing.
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