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How to Develop Effective Public Speaking Skills

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Most people aspire to speak eloquently in front of a group, and yet very few have the skills to grab attention and involve people for a good amount of time.

There’s a difference between having a conversation with buddies and addressing a crowd with a topic on a dais. The principles remaining the same for kids and adults; conquering the fear of speaking in public is easier while growing up than in adulthood. Still, there’s no time better than now to start you on this conquest!

Basic principles of Effective Public Speaking

Command over language and subject knowledge are the foundations of a good presentation. If reading extensively or conducting thorough research is something that comes naturally, your journey is well begun. Otherwise, you’ll need to depend on life experiences to handle the topic in question. 

My public-speaking journey started during post-graduation. Rehearsing in front of a mirror, testing each other’s preparation for group presentations, set the stage (pun intended!) for skill-sharpening.

  • Familiar topic – select themes you’re acquainted with and can provide practical examples on. Even a well-researched topic without relevant instances tends to become theoretical and dull for the audience. Don’t hesitate to contact seniors/peers who are willing to support.
  • Connect with the audience – if you’re fortunate (like me), it’s always better to start with a known audience. If it’s a mixed crowd, spend the early minutes in connecting with people you know, this helps in smoothening beginner anxiety. With a completely unknown crowd, an introduction round or an icebreaker exercise is good for generating a rapport. Knowing your audience beforehand also aids in setting expectations and fulfilling requirements. 

Making mistakes is a part of the learning process; it may even hamper one’s confidence in an unfamiliar grouping. Practicing well is the only solution; persevering to move ahead, the only goal.

  • Body language – making eye contact, using hands effectively, walking up to the participants if the podium is at a height or a distance will enable better audience connection. A physical space ends up creating an actual void between the speaker and members. Comfort with yourself is seen as confidence and engages people sooner than later.
  • Awareness of the technology – one may be a good speaker but knowing the environment in which you plan to present is that much important. Get used to the mike, laptop, projector, etc., in advance. The same rules apply in a virtual session, so be aware of the features you can effectively utilize.
  • The speech – Rehearse well, even the best of presenters practice before D-day. Manage time well, incorporating scheduled breaks. Respect the audience members. Using humour is recommended if it’s subject-relevant or as a breather. The thumb rule is open well to gain focus and end with a punch for better recall. 
    Before commencing, I always take a few minutes alone to clear my thoughts, deep breathing is helpful too. 
  • Q&A – keep time to resolve audience queries. Anticipating the questions comes in handy; however, if doubts are topic-irrelevant or you’re unable to respond immediately, be sure to revert later. 
  • Honing skills – observe other inspiring speakers (e.g., TED talks), leverage diverse forums such as social media and impromptu speeches during official huddles, and so on for further skill-building.

Watching me conduct training sessions and employee engagement activities, my ex-boss was convinced I could compere. I took up the challenge (with an initial hesitation) and ended up thoroughly enjoying myself.

In pre-primary, scared to participate in the annual play, my daughter hid under the table to avoid the teacher’s gaze. Applying lessons learned, I motivated her to speak uninhibitedly in our social circle, also using these networks to give her feedback during dry-runs. From someone who flatly refused, she’s turned into a willing participant in speaking competitions, even going on to win! These satisfying experiences provided her a head start in the journey of presentations.

A critical skill to possess, you’ll find that people reach out to you for support and inspiration – so go on, set that stage on fire!

“Speakers who talk about what life has taught them will never fail to keep the attention of their listeners” – Dale Carnegie 

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Rekha Rao
Rekha is a part-time writer, full-time mom. She’s equipped with skill-sets in the areas of content writing, customer service, employee engagement, and training. One who believes learning never ends, she’s a student for life.

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