How to Get Better at Public Speaking (Start Today!)

How to Get Better at Public Speaking

Glossophobia is a modern-day scourge. In fact, it’s one of the most common phobias in the world, according to research (and Jerry Seinfeld).

What is it? It’s the fear of public speaking. You might even suffer from it yourself (or know someone who does). If so, this week’s roundup is for you.

We’ve gathered the best articles on how to get better at public speaking and delivering presentations: how to calm your jitters, improve your delivery style, engage your audience — and even how to read your speech effectively, if that’s how you need to deliver it.

If you’re facing an upcoming presentation — even if it’s just delivering the Q3 numbers to the board — these articles can up your game. Ready to get better at public speaking? Your transformation begins here:

Improve Your Public Speaking Mindset

Why do things seem so different the minute we step in front of a large group? Stories that flow effortlessly in smaller groups suddenly seem stiff and preachy. Or, we find we can focus on our talking-points, or the audience, but not both. If this sounds familiar, presentation coach Jeff Davenport has a remedy.

In his article for Medium, Presenting Like You’re Not There to Present,” Davenport proposes that, when it comes to giving presentations that are a cut above, perspective is everything.

First, as presenters, we need to recognize that we are in the persuasion business, says Davenport. Even when closing a sale isn’t the specific goal, we are selling our idea and persuading our audience to believe it and act on it.

And if that’s so, Davenport continues, if we’re preoccupied by anything, it should be our audience — not our presentation slides or our sweaty palms. Once we can shift our focus to our audience, things start to fall into place.

Davenport spends the balance of the article showing us the steps to make this shift take place, and how to let our understanding of our audience shape our content and our delivery. He’s quick to also illustrate some of the pitfalls if we continue to focus on ourselves.

As he winds up his article, he circles back to the title. If we’re “presenting like we’re not there to present,” what are we actually there to do? Have a read to find out.

Discover How to Talk About Data

Data-driven presentations. These days, we need to consider them a fact of business life. The benefit of using data is clear: conclusions are more compelling when they’re backed by numbers. But when the numbers start to take over the presentation? Cue the yawns (and the groans).

But it doesn’t have to be that way, argues author and researcher Alexandra Samuel. Her article How to Give a Data-Heavy Presentation for Harvard Business Review is a saving grace for those of us who want to harness the power of data in presentations.

The key? It’s not simply “less is more” — although that helps.

“You’re not trying to subdue your enemy through the sheer volume of data you can bring to bear on your argument,” advises Samuel. It’s having the data you do use tell a compelling story.

She calls these “data stories” — emphasizing their narrative component — and provides specific examples of how to build one. She also advises occasionally taking a break from the data to weave in a specific human example that illustrates important points.

She rounds out her article with advice on visuals, pacing, and use of handouts. It’s a great primer for all of us who want to serve up more compelling presentations, whether we’re presenting Q3 revenue or unraveling the results of user research.

Find Out How to Read Your Speech (And Still Ace It)

At the main TED conference in Vancouver in March 2015, writer Suki Kim gave a speech about her experiences as a teacher in North Korea. Most of us are familiar with the popular TED talks, but Kim’s talk was different than most: She read it entirely from her notes.

Many people — speakers and audience alike — think that reading a speech is a cardinal sin. Kim’s talk shows us emphatically that it’s not necessarily the case. And if you’re one of the ones who like to rely on written notes during your own presentations — read on.

In his article critiquing Suki Kim’s speech for his blog, award-winning public speaker Andrew Dlugan not only dissects Kim’s speech and the techniques she uses to rivet her audience, he describes the practices that make this speech so successful. (The speech is embedded in his article, so you can listen yourself.)

Dlugan plucks out four lessons and illustrates them fully with examples from the speech. He highlights how techniques — like mastering pauses between words and between sentences — are so key to making such a speech successful. He even points out the advantages of reading a speech, and how you can make sure you reap the benefits as you craft your next one.

Many of us rely heavily on written notes when we speak to an audience. Dlugan — and Kim herself — present a way for us to convert a practice that’s often viewed as a liability into a captivating, memorable and powerful speech.

Remember That It’s About the Audience

Yoda taught us more than how to wield a lightsaber — he taught us the secret to compelling presentations. Don’t believe it? Check out Like Yoda You Must Be by presentation maven Nancy Duarte.

Now, Duarte has analyzed a speech or two (she has three bestsellers on the subject) and she finds that one of the most common mistakes in speechmaking isn’t technique, it’s perspective.

Too often she sees speakers who make themselves the hero of their story. She cautions that although it may be important to share credentials and position ourselves as experts, all this speaker-centric content can make audiences tune out.

Audience-centric content, on the other hand, puts them in the heart of the action, and highlights their journey and struggles. When we position our main idea as a way for our listeners to improve or overcome their obstacles, Duarte advises, our audience sees themselves taking action, and our message becomes all the more persuasive.

How do we craft a speech that does this? Duarte offers specific examples that work for a range of presentation topics, from training topics to sales pitches. She uses Yoda — and the concept of the hero’s journey — to walk us through how to see our message through the eyes of our audience.

Yoda used his brilliance to mentor his pupils and to equip them to succeed at their own heroic destinies. Be like Yoda. Duarte shows you how.

Manage Your Public Speaking Anxiety

Anxiety over public speaking affects nearly all of us — our pulses quicken, our mouths go dry — no matter how well prepared we might be.

Speech anxiety is also well-studied by social scientists and recent research has produced some new approaches to managing the stress. In Fight Your Fear of Public Speaking,” Leslie Belknap, content strategist for Ethos3, presents four unconventional solutions that might help dispel your dread.

Two of the four tips rely on reframing the physical stress we feel as a positive thing. For instance, repeating I am excited before a speech can coax your mind into believing this is indeed the case because the physical sensations are similar.

Belknap explains, “When you tell yourself that you’re excited, your mind can easily switch from anxiety to enthusiasm,” which can then serve to convert your nervousness into a passionate performance.

The other two approaches focus right on those nerves and fears. It seems that when we get specific about our worries, we drain them of their power — and instead of spending energy fretting, we take the opportunity to brainstorm all the possible solutions we could employ if they ever do come to pass.

So rather than trying to put them out of our minds, Belknap walks us through having our worries make us stronger.

We can have our jitters work for us rather than against us? Since our anxiety isn’t going anywhere, this is the next best thing. Belknap does us a service in helping us harnessing our anxieties and be better for it.