Taking a public speaking class. Working as a radio and television anchor and reporter. Enrolling in a persuasive writing. These were by far the most painful growing pains I endured, and yet, they were the most freeing because I found my voice and realized I can do hard things.
Brigham Young University professor Steve Fidel said, “People have good ideas, but they don’t always have the skills to communicate them. People might not share it if they feel they can’t share it well. They self-censor. In effect, lack of communication skills silences the people.”
When you speak well in public, people care more about your message and are not hung up on your performance or lack thereof. Public speaking is a skill everyone needs and is one that anyone can improve on. As you become more competent, you will be more empowered to speak up and speak often. The world needs your voice!
Avoid common speech offenders.
One of my journalism professors gave us an assignment to, respectfully, count how many times we heard a cliché in a church talk. When we came back the following week, each of us had heard between 100-200 clichés and overused phrases between 3-4 people! Just because you see or hear something at the podium or on a stage, does not always mean it works well.
The following faux pas discredit you and your message. If you do any of these, it does not enhance your message, and people can end up tuning you out and not giving you respect. Will you please make a serious, personal promise that you will avoid indulging the following?
- Your dislike for public speaking
- Clichés and overused phrases
- Filler words (um, like, kinda, well, hmm, k’, etc.)
- Your procrastination putting together your message
- Long introductions that bring unnecessary attention towards you
- The last time you spoke
- How you tried to fly under the radar to avoid giving a speech
- Anything that brings unnecessary attention or that will embarrass whoever assigned you to give a talk or speech
- Apologizing for crying
Be organized with an outline.
Using an outline will help you organize your thoughts, guide your audience, keep you on topic and not ramble, and allow you to edit it for time crunches. This will also help you find your place if you can’t find your place during the speech. I have provided an outline below that I use frequently and have been able to use in many formats. In addition to speeches or talks, this outline can also be applied to writing papers!
You should approach this outline, however, by the following order. Renowned writers Malcom Gladwell and R.L. Stine both start with the ending/closing first when they write because it help anchors their writing and they don’t spend unnecessary time on the introduction.
Use active voice over passive voice.
Using active voice over passive voice allows you to communicate with impact and clarity and reduces the amount of words you use. Passive voice isn’t grammatically incorrect, but it is generally weak and wordy. Sometimes you need them! Here’s a list of common passive voice words to help you fine tune your speeches.
Don’t be a second-rate version of someone great. Be a platinum version of you!
You should not try to copy how someone else talks because it is inauthentic and it comes out fake. Take Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Oprah, Steve Jobs, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Malcom Gladwell, or former U.S. President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama. All great public speakers but none of them talk like each other, and that is great! Start with what you have and enunciate, enunciate, enunciate!
Read it out loud.
Never give a speech without reading it out loud first. You catch more errors that way without having to stare at pages into oblivion. It also takes off any anxiety you feel before giving your speech. You get a sense for timing and determine if you need to cut back or add more to your speech.
Have someone serve as the “filler word police.”
Ask a parent, friend, or someone who will be honest with you and ask them to clap their hands once each time you use a filler while you read them your speech. This activity cuts down your use of filler words and makes you more aware of how you speak.
Vary your pacing and volume.
Even the most suave speakers do not speak at one volume or one speed. Don’t assume that pausing is bad. Pausing or speaking slowly can be used to bring attention to the idea you’re presenting. When you switch up the speed and volume, you can emphasize the most important aspects of your message.
One look, one thought.
To engage with the audience with conviction, look at one person or one section in the audience and say a sentence’s worth before looking somewhere else. Don’t focus on one person the entire time during your whole speech. This also helps you not to use filler words.
Arms at side and stand up straight.
Whether speaking with or without a podium, keep your arms and hands relaxed at your side. It is fine to use some arm or hand movements. Putting your arms in front or crossing them comes across as defensive, anxious, less confident, or less secure. Crossing your legs occasionally also sends this message; therefore, keep your legs straight. Just remember not to lock your knees! Putting your arms behind you comes across as secretive, less formal, and you will tend to swing them. Be mindful of any nervous habits you have while speaking.
Add some TV magic
Good television anchors make it look like they’re not relying on notes but rather having a conversation with you. I always number my pages to keep me on track and prevent me from losing my place in the moment. Rather than turning the pages of your speech, slide the top page to the right. You distract your audience when you turn pages, and this insinuates that a long speech is ahead of them.