Being an effective public speaker

Last week, I attended a week-long series of career workshops in California. I really dislike the cheerleading and false enthusiasm that always seems to accompany HR related events, however, the public speaking seminar was moderately useful.

making a speech

Photo Credit: tedxsomerville via flickr

Public speaking is a task that many people dislike. A good number of people actually dread it. For me, public speaking makes me nervous, but I usually manage. Most of us have to speak in a public or semi-public manner at some point.  It might not be on stage in front of a crowd, but it might be during a meeting with important colleagues or a presentation to another department. During the seminar, I picked up a few good tips to be a better and more confident public speaker.


Put authority into your posture

Many people don’t know what to do with themselves when they are the focus of attention. Instead of pacing the stage or room aimlessly, stand tall with your feet hip width apart, shoulders relaxed, and your hands at your sides. That’s it! As you grow more confident in that simple pose, try turning your body to the left or right, occasionally, to make eye contact with both sides of a room. Finally, try taking a few measured steps, again, only occasionally, from one side to the other while speaking. Do not pace!


Be aware of your hands

Hand gestures can add emphasis to a conversation, but fiddling should be avoided.  If you find that you fiddle with a ring or a pen while speaking, just avoid wearing a ring or holding objects when you’re in the spotlight.  Instead, use your hands sparingly and only to emphasis a point.  When in doubt, just keep your arms at your sides in a relaxed position.


Speak with passion and emphasis

Speaking in a monotone is a sure way to bore your audience quickly and efficiently.  So don’t do it.  During my public speaking seminars, we practiced speaking passionately using nursery rhymes.  Try it!  Pick a story that you know well and don’t think too much about what you’re saying.  Instead, focus on just saying those words with emphasis.

We practiced using “Mary Had a Little Lamb” and, ridiculous as it was, it did provide a useful way work on speaking with emphasis.


Use tone carefully

When we are uncertain, we often let our voice rise at the end of sentences.  This has the unfortunate effect of making our words seem questioning rather than confident.  See this exchange between Leonard and Sheldon regarding noble gases.

Instead, when we want to appear confident, we should let your voice drop slightly in tone at the end.  A good tip to remind yourself to do this is to nod your head slightly at the end of a sentence and drop your tone.  We tried this again using “Mary Had a Little Lamb”.  Try it yourself!

Do you have any public speaking tips?  Do you enjoy public speaking, or dread it?

Posted in: Career and Work

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