Speak Up: Three Public Speaking Tips

Tip One:

Use the microphone. I know you hate it. I know you’re scared of it. I know it want to press it to your breastbone instead of holding it up like you’re Britney Spears. You need to be closer than you think and you need to speak more slowly than you think. In the end, this doesn’t just help the people who need you to use the microphone so they can hear–it helps the people who can’t hear you because you’re not using the microphone.

Tip Two:

Don’t ask for screaming or cheering. I can’t tell you how often school visitors tell groups of kids they want to HEAR THEM–and then they don’t understand why those same kids won’t settle down and listen to the presentation. Very few presenters are good enough to pull those reins back in after the yelling. Kids get a lot of mixed signals about how to be a good listener or audience member, and it’s likely that their teacher has been working on those skills, too, so that those kids know how to show the presenter and each other respect. There are lots of great ways to keep your audience engaged that don’t involve asking the audience to Kermit-flail for you…but that’s for another post.

Tip Three:

If you hate public speaking, or you don’t feel that you’re very good at it, write down what you want to say, and practice reading rather than speaking. To help with speaking, consider joining Toastmasters. I thought this was some sort of organization sort of like the Elks or whatever until my employer started a chapter. Basically, you meet with other people who probably don’t or didn’t like speaking, and participate as much or as little as you like. The meetings are very structured and fast-paced, and consist of opportunities to give short prepared speeches (like 4-6 minutes’ worth) or answer extemporaneous questions, as well as to speak briefly to run the meeting. I’ve watched people go from shaking like a leaf (literally) to composed and confident (outwardly, at least) in a just a few weeks; all they needed was some practice. (Obviously, some folks may need more than practice, like counseling or medication to help anxiety, and Toastmasters might not be enough in that situation.) At any rate, I recommend this resource.

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