Practices to improve your public speaking

Public speaking is often associated with fear, anxiety and stress. On the flip side it is associated with confidence, leadership and opportunity.

Here are a few tools, tips and habits you can use to improve your public speaking efficacy:

Use the power of story. Story has been used to convey teachings since the dawn of Man. The Bible is full of stories. The stories of Aesop still flourish today. George Lucas incited generations through the story of Luke Skywalker. Stories move people and create memories. Shorter stories work better than longer ones when used in a presentation.

Introduce yourself and your subject. It's amazing how many people forget this action. What is the subject you are addressing? What is the topic you are sharing with your audience? State your subject explicitly. Examples are: "I'd like to talk with you about the importance of recycling." Or, "I'm going to share with you the differences between a Mac and a PC." This is also where you tell your audience who you are, unless you were formally introduced. Even if you are formally introduced, you can still share with your audience more about who you are and why you are qualified to speak on the subject.

Let your purpose be known. Why are you speaking? What is your intent? State your purpose to your audience. Tell the audience why you are speaking to them. If your subject is the importance of recycling, your purpose may be stated as, "I'd like to share with you why and how you can recycle so we can save the planet." This tells the audience what you want to achieve as a result of your presentation. Perhaps that is why Groucho Marx proclaimed, "Before I speak, I have something important to say."

Join a public speaking group. Toastmaster International is among the most prominent public speaking organizations. It offers a safe place to learn how to enhance your speaking skill set. Most cities have several different chapters. The cost is nominal and includes all workbook materials. You can learn more and find a group near you by visiting You can also join other public speaking training and coaching forums that are offered through private training companies. Or, take speech classes at your local community college or university.

Use statistics and facts. Interject logic into your presentation. Back your main points with empirical data, research studies, polls, and the like. People tend to embrace what is said when it appeals to both emotion, and logic.

Create and share your credibility. Listeners will be most influenced by a person whom they perceive is knowledgeable and qualified. You are more likely to take financial advice from a millionaire than you are from a street-corner bum. Make your credentials known with such things as academic degrees, awards or successful experiences. You can do this in your introduction as well as throughout your presentation. You can also show the disadvantages of your point of view to demonstrate your ability to see it as it is. Another way to create credibility is to demonstrate your confidence, enthusiasm and sincerity when speaking.

Improve your voice inflection. Inflection is the peaks and valleys in your voice that let whomever you are talking to know that you are interested or uninterested in what is being said. If you feel that your voice inflection needs improvement here are a few things you can do: Smile when talking, practice stressing words, slightly exaggerate your tone. Remember that too much inflection is just as bad as too little.

Eliminate filler words. Filler words are the words we utter that add nothing. Some filler words are um, so, ah, and a, OK, you know, like. Most people are unaware of how often they use filler words. This type of communication conveys that you are unsure of yourself. Powerful language is relatively brief and straightforward, whereas less powerful speech is full of terms that suggest uncertainty or lack of self-confidence. Or, filler words have just become a bad habit.

Draw on your personal experiences. When you speak from experience you are not reciting words, you instead are recalling a memory. People like to hear experiences and stories from other people's lives. Make sure that the experiences you share relate to your content.

Use emotional appeals. Advertisements use emotional appeals to persuade their audiences. They involve the audience by associating a positive feeling toward buying and using their product or service. The key is to appeal to the emotions. Useful examples that promote an emotional appeal could be: "Imagine how that would make you feel if..." and "If that happened to you..." Here are some emotions you can tap into when addressing an audience: love, fear, guilt, joy, excitement, pride, hope, and gratitude. Stuart Elliot was right when he wrote, "The only way to get people to remember what you've said is to make them feel."

Practice, practice, practice! Mark Twain remarked, "It usually takes me more than three weeks to prepare a good impromptu speech." You can practice your presentation while driving in the car, while standing in front of a mirror, while walking down the street, whenever. Grab a small group of friends, family members or coworkers and practice with them. Practice conversationally with one person (after all, there is little difference than doing it in public, just a few more people). Proper practice is really the only way to get better, and of course, just giving the presentation is a form of practice. The more times you do it the easier it gets.

Certainly there are many more ways to improve your public speaking skills, but this is a great list to conquer. If you want to make a difference in your quality of communication, get started today.

Best of success to you!

Jeffrey Benjamin is the co-author of "Real Life Habits for Success‚ "and the founder of Breakthrough Training. He hosts Breakthrough Radio every Sunday at 9:30am on 99.1 FM Talk. Contact him through


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