woman speaking to team of colleagues
From practicing your speech extensively to making sure you craft your speech contents to your audience, there are several ways to master public speaking. — Getty Images/piranka

Whether you need to give a presentation at work to executives, deliver a eulogy at a funeral or you one day want to perform a TED Talk, there are many situations where it helps to be a great public speaker. However, few people are naturally gifted public speakers and, as such, this is a skill you must hone if you want to excel in both work and personal situations.

While many people fear public speaking, mastering it can help you transform your career and improve your future potential. Here are seven easy ways to improve your public speaking skills.

Take an online public speaking class

The first and perhaps easiest way to boost your public speaking skills is to take an online class where you can learn all the fundamentals. Almost all major online course providers offer popular paid classes on public speaking, including a Coursera class from the University of Washington, an edX class from Harvard University, a Udemy class on improving presentations and public speaking and a Skillshare class on 5-minute speeches. Taking one of these classes can force you to engage in a more formal way with public speaking, but it also will cost you more than simply refining your skills on your own.

Practice, practice and more practice

Outside of taking a class, the most important thing that can help you take your public speaking skills to a new level is to practice frequently. If you know you need to give a presentation to a large group in a few weeks, for example, use that time to prepare and test your speech on yourself and others. Try out different versions of the same speech and gather feedback. You can also record yourself on your phone or computer and then make adjustments as you notice anything that looks or sounds incorrect.

Make every word count

If you know how long your speech should ideally be, record it to see exactly how long or short you run on average. Take into account that the average English speaker in the U.S. talks at a rate between 110 and 150 words per minute, and then use this metric to help plan out your speech. For example, if you know your speech should run five minutes, then you only have 750 words to work with, assuming 150 words per minute over 5 minutes. Know that 750 words is the length of a short online blog post and use this to help you think about structure and how you will include the most important or compelling information.

As you craft your speech outline, think about who you are delivering the speech to and keep that in mind as you write. You are delivering the speech for them, not for you.

Work from a detailed outline

While it might sound easier to write out your full speech and read it word-for-word, this actually works against most public speakers. Instead, you are better off writing an outline and speaking about the topic from the outline, which will help you look more confident. “It allows the language you use to be more natural, it allows your voice to be much more natural and eye contact is better,” Marjorie L. North, a speech pathologist and lecturer at Harvard University, told NBC News.

Start strong

If you are able to start your talk by immediately gaining the audience’s favor, there’s a good chance they will like you throughout the whole speech. So, it’s vital to spend time developing a hook to get them interested quickly. In fact, researcher Vanessa Van Edwards reviewed some of the most popular TED Talks and found that if the audience liked the first seven seconds, they were then predisposed to like the entire talk.

“We found that the ratings overall — who people liked overall and who they didn’t like — matched, whether they’d watched the first seven seconds or the full talk,” Van Edwards told TED. “We think that the brain actually decides as soon as that person takes the stage and begins speaking, ‘You know what? I’m gonna like this talk.’”

Know your audience

As you craft your speech outline, think about who you are delivering the speech to and keep that in mind as you write. You are delivering the speech for them, not for you. For example, if your audience is in attendance to hear a short, informative and professional presentation, save long-winded anecdotes and storytelling for another time. Additionally, you can also solicit feedback from your audience after a presentation in order to improve future speeches.

Make eye contact

Finally, as simple as it sounds, maintain eye contact throughout your speech. Don’t spend much time looking at your outline or looking away from the audience. They will be more engaged if you are looking at them and be more invested in your talk. If you are speaking to an audience online, this can be important, too, so look directly at your webcam to simulate the appearance of making eye contact with viewers.

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