Public speaking is now one of the most important skills in today’s job market. According to LinkedIn.com in a 2019 analysis, persuasion ranks second in soft skills that companies are looking for the most. Employers hire people with strong public speaking skills because they know that if they ever need someone to give a presentation, to lead a meeting, and so on that they have an employee with strong communication skills to do that. However, being a confident public speaker is a difficult skill to grasp. According to the National Social Anxiety Center in 2017, 73% of the population suffers from public speaking anxiety. So, how can you reduce your public speaking anxiety and become a better communicator?
First, plan ahead and get organized. Organizing your speech the night before will only cause you to stress. Try to write your outline at least five days before your presentation that way you are prepared on what you are going to say, and practice. While planning, take time to do an audience analysis. Public speaking is not about you, it is about your audience. Take some time to do an audience analysis and ask yourself: “What is the age range of my audience,” “How do I help them to care about what I am talking about”, “Where and when will I be speaking, and how does that influence my audience”? Questions like these can help you to focus more on your audience and less on yourself. Once you have planned out what you are going to say, make sure to practice. Make sure to stand up tall and pretend like you’re actually speaking to a group of people. Practicing can help you to better understand what parts you’re struggling at, if you need to add or delete parts of your speech, or if your speech is under or over time.
Second, during the speech, make eye contact with your audience. No, don’t look over their heads at the wall behind them or simply stare down at your notecards. Making eye contact with people may seem intimidating, but it actually helps you to gauge your audience’s reactions. You will be able to tell if they’re interested in what you’re saying, or if you’ve lost them as they will have glossed over eyes. Maintaining eye contact also helps to improve your confidence, and therefore, improve your audience’s confidence in you. When making eye contact, though, don’t stare at one person in the room for the entire time. Scan the audience and let them know that you are paying attention to everyone in the room.
Lastly, after your speech, perform a self-reflection. How did you do? What did you do well, and what do you need to improve on? Being aware of your strengths and weaknesses allows you the opportunity to not only improve on your weaknesses, but also gives you the opportunity to change things prior to your next speech, presentation, or talk. I know it’s tempting to put your presentation out of mind immediately after you’re done, but being aware of what you need to work on is extremely beneficial to improving your public speaking abilities.