woman speaking in front of audience
Preparation and practice are two key steps in the formula for a successful public speaking session. — Getty Images/sanjeri

Public speaking — the ability to connect with others and communicate your ideas — is a skill well worth perfecting. A successful public speaker appears poised and comfortable with addressing their audience, emitting qualities like professionalism, analytical thinking and leadership capabilities.

However, public speaking is also one of the largest fears nationwide: Studies have shown that public speaking anxiety, also known as glossophobia, affects approximately 73% of the population.

If you’re looking to overcome your fears and improve your skills in public speaking, here are five expert tips from respected presenters who have honed in on this skill.

Be super prepared

According to public speaking consultant Marjorie North, the anxiety associated with public speaking is natural and nearly universal. The trick to overcoming it, she says, is thorough preparation.

Become totally confident in your subject matter. Practice until you know it inside and out. Know why you are giving your talk and why your listeners should care. Practice in front of a mirror, in front of friends and family, in front of a web-cam — and then practice some more.

Cultivate your speaking voice

Delivering your talk in a clear, strong voice is essential to impactful public speaking. According to self-development author Brian Tracy, even those not born with a powerful speaking voice can develop a stronger one, with exercise and practice. Record a passage and play it back repeatedly, listening for ways to improve your inflection and articulation.

As a public speaker, your vocal cords are your tools, so take care of them. According to the National Institutes of Health, they can be negatively impacted by smoking, heartburn and mouthwash. Prepare for speaking engagements by drinking plenty of water and giving your voice sufficient rest.

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Know your venue

An early arrival is the best gift you can give the event organizers, according to Toastmasters International. It’s a gift to yourself as well — a chance to get familiar with the room and equipment. Do a sound check. Adjust the microphone height if you’ll be using a podium. If using a wireless mic, take the time to get it, and the battery pack, attached properly to your clothing.

Study the lay of the land. Know where you’ll enter and exit. Look for potential trip hazards, such as wires taped to the floor. Being comfortable in your surroundings will calm your nerves and make you a better presenter.

As a public speaker, your vocal cords are your tools, so take care of them.

Look the audience in the eye

An audience is really a collection of individual listeners. Communicate with them as you would a single person: by making eye contact. Connecting to one listener at a time will allow you to speak more naturally. Concentrating on one person, rather than 500, will ease your anxiety.

Motivational speaker Simon Sinek advises speaking directly to an engaged, attentive audience member —people he calls his ‘champions.’ Communicate one-on-one for a complete sentence or thought before moving on to someone else.

Slow down

Your goal — whether speaking to a crowd or recording a YouTube video—is to make yourself understood. Experts agree the way to do that is to speak slowly. Keynote speaker Brent Gleason says that speeding through your presentation will only serve to showcase your nervousness. To help slow your pace he suggests adding deliberate pauses — longer than feels natural — when making important points.

Simon Sinek advises putting the brakes on from the very beginning. Avoid speaking as you enter the stage, no matter how awkward it may seem. Standing silently in place for a moment before saying a word will announce to the audience that you are both confident and in charge.

Use visual aids wisely

Visual aids can add value to your presentation. Even Christopher Witt, author of “Real Leaders Don’t Do Powerpoint,” agrees that slides, when done well, have a place. If charts, maps and diagrams are necessary to make your point, by all means, fire up the laptop. But, Witt warns, don’t rely on your visual aids for motivation and inspiration. Those should come from your words.

If you do use slides, Carmine Gallo, program leader at Harvard’s Graduate School of Design, advises taking advantage of ‘picture superiority’ when producing your deck. Avoid words, he says. Your audience can’t read and listen at the same time. Pictures, however, increase content retention from 10% to 65%.

CO— aims to bring you inspiration from leading respected experts. However, before making any business decision, you should consult a professional who can advise you based on your individual situation.

Published July 12, 2019