How to Improve Your Public Speaking Skills

Public speaking: it ranks high on the list of most people’s nightmares, right up there with having to repeat high school, jumping off a high cliff, or showing up naked in public.

Public speaking, though, doesn’t have to be something you dread. And anyone can improve, no matter where they’re starting from. With practice, tips, and the opportunity to get more comfortable in front of crowds, you can master public speaking. Here’s how.

What are public speaking skills?

Public speaking skills go beyond what comes out of your mouth. The ability to communicate a complicated idea to an audience is an art. This includes structuring your presentation as well as polishing your delivery, from confident body language to clear pronunciation and the right volume and pace. Good public speakers also develop the ability to remain calm and centered while the focus of a group—and to handle unexpected developments like pointed questions and tech hiccups.

Why do good public speaking skills matter?

Even those of us who aren’t going to be emceeing high-profile events or traveling the speaker circuit can benefit from bettering our public speaking skills. Boosting these communication skills can help you in a variety of situations, from nailing a job interview and leading a meeting to makeyour case for a budget increase from your boss or board. With more confidence and experience, you’ll find your public speaking skills can open doors to opportunities that strengthen your resume and build your connections professionally and personally. In addition, good public speaking skills can come in handy in non-work-related situations—like giving a toast at a wedding or retirement party.

Public speaking…in public and in virtual environments

Today, public speaking isn’t always about showing up in an event hall or boardroom. Public speaking also includes delivering public presentations in a virtual format, like via Zoom or WebEx. In this environment, some of the same principles of good public speaking apply—but there are new challenges to address, like lighting, screen-sharing, and managing breakout rooms and chat, for example.

Even when live events return to being the norm, it’s likely virtual and hybrid events will still be offered. We’ve learned over the last two years virtual and hybrid events open opportunities for attendance to those who have geographic or schedule constraints. As a result, it will be important to master public speaking skills for both in-person and virtual environments.

Tips to improve your public speaking skills

Now that you know why developing good public speaking skills matters, what can you do to improve? According to experts, good practice really comes down to these five things:

  • Prepare. It’s so much easier to feel confident when you know your material well. Take the time to research, prepare, and organize your presentation. Many people find writing out their points or creating bullets to guide their presentation can help them stay on topic and adhere to any time constraints.
  • Practice. Preparation also includes practicing your material. Take the time to practice—perhaps first by yourself and then for an audience of family, friends, or trusted colleagues.
  • Make eye contact. We’ve all seen people read a presentation—and it isn’t fun. Be sure to engage the audience through eye contact. This can be trickier on videoconferencing platforms like Zoom, where you’ll have to remember to look into the camera rather than at the screen. You can toggle participant view, especially if you’re screen-sharing so you are able to see and engage participants and appear that you are making eye contact.
  • Examine body language. A strong stance with your torso centered over your hips and knees can help you feel confident, even if you have butterflies inside. Ask someone to video record you while you practice so you can see your body language and movement patterns. This can help you reduce or eliminate any distracting gestures.
  • Ask for feedback. Knowing what to focus on can help you improve faster. Solicit honest feedback from trusted colleagues, and look for common themes, like volume, diction, pace, and body language.

Looking for opportunities to improve your public speaking skills? Membership in an association like DallasHR and attendance at industry events like HRSWC can give you the chance to be in front of an audience—and to practice your public speaking skills. 

DallasHR is the third-largest SHRM affiliate chapter in the nation. With more than 2,000 engaged HR professionals, the Chapter has been Advancing the Value of HR since 1939 through innovative education, valuable networking events and providing opportunities to share best practices with others in the field of HR. The HRSouthwest Conference powered by DallasHR, is the official Texas SHRM conference and one of the largest regional HR events in the U.S. Visit us, and follow us at #dallashr, #hrswc.