5 tips for relaxed, effective public speaking

Good news for anyone who’d gladly choose hiding under their desk over speaking in front of an audience. Going from sweaty palms to “no sweat” is easier than you think.

While speaking to groups of people is a crucial leadership skill – it can help you lead your team, your department, and even your organization – mastering it is easier than you might think. In fact, the secrets to effective public speaking aren’t secrets at all. They’re simple things you’re already accustomed to doing – you just need to put them all together.

Here are five tips that will help you be more effective – whether you’re making a major presentation, speaking to a small group of colleagues, or going on an interview:

  1. Eye contact doesn’t have to be awkward. It’s no secret that eye contact builds trust and conveys honesty. Those are crucial aspects of effective speaking, but it makes many presenters uncomfortable. Here’s the fix. Move your gaze to a new person in the room every time you pause for a comma or between sentences. This will not only make you more comfortable with eye contact, it will make everyone in the room feel included.
  2. Make the most of nonverbal communication. In other words, use body language to your advantage. When you look at different people in the room, don’t just move your head. Turn your body slightly to face that person as well. Remember to stand up straight, and avoid leaning your weight on one foot. This will help you achieve a calm, assertive presence.
  3. Slow it down. It’s natural to be nervous in front of an audience. Even experienced speakers’ heart rates tend to speed up. Your natural reaction is to speed up your speech too. Make a conscious effort to slow your speech, and to incorporate pauses. This is one of those things you’ll just need to keep reminding yourself of, but it will go a long way towards helping your audience follow you and stay engaged.
  4. Keep it conversational. In decades past, professionals were coached to affect a formal, even rigid tone of voice. We now know that’s not effective. Keeping your tone conversational will help you appear approachable and build rapport with your audience.
  5. Calm those nerves. The best way to be less nervous in front of a group is to be really well prepared. If you have great ideas to present, you’re going to be confident. If you take extra time to become very familiar with your material, likewise. Review your presentation the night before – and even bringing note cards just in case – will go a long way toward alleviating anxiety.

As with most things, practice makes perfect. The more speaking appearances you get under your belt, the easier it will become. Soon, you may even have the odd sensation of enjoying it. Who knew?

One final piece of good news. Since so many professionals are white-knuckle terrified of public speaking, the vast majority of them shy away from it. That’s an opportunity for you. Effective speaking is one of those leadership skills that can differentiate you from your colleagues – and can definitely advance your career.

These public speaking tips come to you from Gonzaga University’s Communication and Leadership Studies program (COML), where leadership, communication, and critical thinking skills are creating effective, ethical leaders for the organizations of tomorrow.

The M.A. in Communication and Leadership Studies program equips you with the skills needed to advance your career. For information on courses, class profile, concentrations and study abroad options, click here.

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