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Mastering Public Speaking in 15 Steps

By Clédia Caberlon
November 5, 2020
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By Master Trainer Cledia Caberlon

Public speaking comes up frequently in our personal and professional lives, from giving a toast at a wedding, to giving a presentation to co-workers or classmates. This task also comes with numerous benefits, such as influencing people, confidence when speaking out or asking questions, as well as getting ahead at work. Despite the possible advances this skill may bring, nearly 25% of Americans are afraid of public speaking, making this one of the most common fears (Ingraham, 2014).

Man standing in front of audience

One might think that to master the skill of public speaking, we should eliminate the fear, but according to Friman (2014), one should instead learn to speak well in front of the room despite the fear. How could we possibly speak publicly if we’re afraid? The author gives us 15-steps to follow on how to master public speaking even if we’re scared.

How to Master Public Speaking
  1. Practice!
  2. Watch good speakers.
  3. Check out the room.
  4. Get the audience's attention.
  5. Enter with purpose.
  6. Introduction not needed.
  7. Dress up.
  8. Body language matters
  9. Your voice has many functions.
  10. Be present.
  11. Don't assume technology will work.
  12. Slides are supplemental.
  13. Get their attention back.
  14. I got their attention, now what?
  15. Timing is everything.

Practice!

Preparation is essential to give a good presentation, and practicing is at its core because it results in fluency. Specifically, practicing the first 5 minutes of a presentation because this is where the speaker is very nervous, and the last 5 minutes since this is when the presentation has the most important points.

Watch good speakers.

Pick a presenter you enjoy and watch their presentation, taking notes on how they present their material, then try to replicate it.

Check out the room.

Before your presentation, go to the room where it will take place, and rearrange the furniture how you like it. While there, make your way to the front of the room, and as you visualize the audience give the room the first 5 minutes of your presentation. If you plan on using any technology (microphone, projector, video) during your presentation, this is a good time to test it.

Get the audience’s attention.

In today’s fast-paced society, people’s attention should not be taken for granted, therefore get their attention early as this can set the tone for your talk.

Enter with purpose

As you make your way to the front of the room to start your presentation, do so with intent, grabbing people’s attention as you do. Bring this attention with you to the front of the room and use a strategy to get everyone’s eyes to you before starting. You can find your own approach or state something like “can I please have your attention”.

Introduction not needed.

It is customary to have someone introduce the speaker, but this can sometimes put them in an uncomfortable position. Long introductions may also take up some of your valuable time, so if possible, ask to do your own introduction or if that is not an option, ask that the introduction be short.

Dress up.

This will aid the audience in viewing the speaker with a superior role during the presentation. Ideally, the speaker should be dressed somewhat more than the typical audience member. On the other hand, don’t dress up too much that the audience is focused on your clothes rather than the presentation.

Body language matters.

Good posture goes a long way and communicates confidence as well as respect. Smiling will also help your presentation, as it can reduce your anxiety about being in front of the room, and makes the speaker seem more approachable.

Your voice has many functions.

Think of tempo, volume, and tone as opportunities to emphasize important points and gain the audiences’ attention. We have all attended a talk where the presenter did not have variations in tone, volume, and/or tempo, and in doing so, lost some of the member’s attention.

Be present.

This is your presentation so be fully in the moment, available, and prepared for the talk. Sometimes speakers tend to become self-conscious about their presentation, rather, consciousness should be focused on the material which is being presented.

Don’t assume technology will work.

If you plan on using technology for your presentation, such as audio, video, PowerPoint, then it’s important to have a Plan-B in case those do not function properly. If you’re using audio, have a script for what you’ll say in it’s place, if you’re using slides, print them out so that you’ll have a copy in case the projector doesn’t work. Assume that whatever can go wrong will and develop backups for any technologies you plan to use.

Slides are supplemental.

Use slides to your advantage, but don’t read off of them; the audience has the ability to read, and they are here for your presentation, not just a PowerPoint. In addition, if your slides are well created there should not be enough information on them for you to read. The author recommends having more pictures than words on slides.

Get their attention back.

The audience’s attention will naturally drift, and it’s the speaker’s role to get it back. There are numerous ways to accomplish this, for instance, you can tell a personal story, allow for a brief silence, change the topic, give a relevant example, or ask if there are questions.

I got their attention, now what?

While preparing for your presentation, be clear on what your fundamental point is, or what you want the audience to leave with. When you get their attention, refer to your fundamental message, which is the most important point you can make. Awareness of your fundamental message will also help if you draw a blank during your presentation; focusing on it can get you back on track.

Timing is everything.

Be prepared enough so that you do not go over your allotted time, and always time yourself when practicing your presentation. Be respectful of the next speaker by not running into their time or making your audience late to their next meeting.

The last suggestion Friman gives us is to get your feet wet, begin practicing right away and present whenever you can. There will be plenty of opportunities as there is a constant need for public speakers. Whatever it is that you want to accomplish, personal or professional, mastering the front of the room will only benefit your future endeavors. Remember that the key is to learn to talk in front of a group of people while nervous, not to eliminate the nervousness. 

References

Friman, P. C. (2014). Behavior Analyst to the front! A 15-step tutorial on public speaking. Behavior Analyst, 37, 109-118.

Ingraham, C. (2014). America’s top fears: Public speaking, heights and bugs. The Washington Post. Retrieved from https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/wonk/wp/2014/10/30.

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