How ANYBODY Can Become a Great Public Speaker
distinctly remember how nervous I was as a child when my mom asked me to go up to the side of a stage to take a picture of my dad speaking.
I was so nervous, in fact, that I refused. She got mad. We didn't get a picture of my dad speaking. Years later, it would be ME speaking in front of crowds as large as 10,000 effortlessly.
I love public speaking. There, I said it. I'm not ashamed of it, and I can't trace the roots of why I love it, but I do. There's just something so exciting about being able to educate or inspire a group of people with your words. Sometimes public speaking is as little as changing the way a person goes about with the rest of their day; other times, your words as a public speaker change the way a person goes about with the rest of their life. I find either option equally rewarding. However, most people would say they don't know how to do public speaking.
We all have the ability to do it. That's a firm belief of mine. We can all do it. It just takes a little reframing, guidance, and practice.
Step 1: Identify role models
Step 2: Emulate
Step 3: Know the perspective
Step 4: Practice!
in becoming a confident public speaker is to identify a handful of people who you wish you could speak like. For me, it was mostly President Barack Obama, but also a mix of those wildly engaging TedX speakers and YouTubers. I know the latter two aren't technically a singular person, but we've all seen those TedX presentations and YouTubers where the person is overly animated, practically runs back and forth across the stage, and finds ways to make the audience laugh. See, by watching those speakers and dissecting what it is that I enjoy about them, I started to better understand how I wanted to be, too. To emulate the TedX speakers and YouTubers, I would need to let the crazy side of me out, to consciously move while on stage, and to sprinkle humor into my words. To emulate Barack Obama, I had to dissect a little further. He is exceptional at varying his tone and speed which makes his speaking pattern, well, there is no pattern! His style of speaking is somewhat random in rhythm which is powerful because it forces a person to pay attention. It's different. And in public speaking, different is often good.
So, there's the first step. Identify speakers you admire, dissect why you admire them, and write those qualities down.
might feel weird, but I promise you this will help. Find your favorite speech of all time, and I want you to literally give it in tandem with the original. Mimic it as closely as you can both in the way they speak and the way that they move. Then, do it again until you could practically take the person's spot. Again, I know this is weird. But, what this will do for you is you will start to get the feeling of what it's like to speak like them. It's like if you were first learning to swing a baseball bat. You have to actually swing it a few times to get a feeling for the weight and balance of the bat. To learn to speak well in the style of people you admire, you have practice what it feels like to talk like them.
As you start to do this with a few different people, you'll start to develop your own peculiar style of speaking thanks to the various styles meshing together. It will feel silly at first, but it will boost your confidence like crazy.
is about starting to build the actual confidence. Anybody can give a speech in the privacy of their home. Not everybody can just go up and do the same in front of 100, 1,000, or 10,000 people. Still, I believe everyone is capable of it. Here are a few secrets about public speaking from the perspective of someone who is pretty darn good at it:
- You're only ever talking to one person in the audience at a time. There could literally be thousands of people in the room, but your eyes can seriously only look at one person at a time. What I like to do is practice making eye contact or looking at just one particular spot for at least 3 seconds at a time before moving to a different person or spot. When you're practicing in the comfort of your home, choose a few different objects around the room, and practice looking at each object for a few seconds at a time before moving onto the next one. This takes practice as well, because you can't be going from the far left to the far right sides of the room sporadically all of the time. You have to practice gradually making your way around the room, and occasionally doing the full room sweep.
- It's like talking to your best friend, only a little more polished. If you can talk to your audience the way you openly talk to your best friend, the audience will feel more engaged and you will automatically appear confident. Think about it: when you listen to an outstanding public speaker, it feels like they're talking only to you. That's intentional. When you realize you sound like a robot while trying to do public speaking, take a moment to pretend like you're just talking words to your best friend.
- You own the room. Nobody can tell you what to do. Usually, nobody will interrupt you. And, when you're the speaker, you are the person the room is looking to as the leading figure. You have the power and influence in the room. Use these facts to boost your confidence.
You have to know these things to be a confident public speaker. I remind myself of these three elements before stepping up to speak to a group whether it's 30 people or 1,000.
is to practice! Obviously, practicing in front of a real audience is the best kind of practice. But, how can you practice before you have a real audience? Here is the absolutely best way to get better:
- Set up a camera. Find a room to practice in, and set up a camera on the opposite side of the room that you'll be speaking from. Start the camera, and then go through practicing a speech. Pretend like you're speaking in front of a real group of people. Once you've finished, go back and watch the video without sound first. This will be HUGE for crucially examining your body language. By watching the video without sound, you can focus on any awkward mannerisms and be aware of those for next time. THEN, go back and watch it with audio. This will feel super awkward and you will want to nitpick every little thing you do or say, but this is ultimately one of the very best ways to improve your public speaking. Once you've taken notes of what you want to improve, go again and repeat this process.
The first time I did this was in my second year at Ohio State. The professor's assignment was literally to give a 5-minute speech to the class, which would be recorded. The second part of the task was to then go through and watch it. It was my idea to watch it silently first before watching it with the audio (when he learned that I did this, he began making that part of the assignment for all future classes). From this, I learned that I use too much hand movement, I walk around the room too frequently (as opposed to walking to one side, planting myself for a few sentences, and then moving again, planting myself again, and repeating), I spoke too fast, and I used a lot of filler words (uh, um, like, so, etc.) This one exercise improved my public speaking tremendously.
Public speaking is only hard if you haven't practiced it. Sometimes, public speaking is just talking to the group you're in a meeting with. Other times, it's being on the mainstage of a 10,000-person event. The principles of every scenario are relatively the same. If you can follow these four steps, I guarantee you will become a better, more confident public speaker, and you will experience the power or being able to change a person's day, or even their entire life outlook. This is only the beginning, and the more you practice, the more you will learn.