Speaking in Public – Your first Steps

public speakingDo you enjoy speaking in front of an audience?

Does the thought of being on stage fill you with excitement or fear?

Maybe you have chosen to go through life avoiding public speaking. This is not the solution. There are many occasions when speaking to a group is going to benefit your career as well as your friends and family.

Public speaking is an essential life skill especially for being a leader. In your professional life you may be asked to give a presentation at a conference. You may be asked to be the best man at a wedding which requires giving a speech. Maybe you need to give a speech at a 21st birthday party.

There are many speaking opportunities for men and women, both young and old. So how can you overcome your fears and develop these skills?

Who plays tennis? Imagine if you wanted to play tennis and didn’t know how. Do you walk onto the tennis court with your racket and just hope for the best running around the court trying to hit the ball?

tennisOf course not! Tennis players learn basic skills and practice these skills regularly. I remember the tennis lessons of my youth – being taught and drilled in forehand, backhand, and service.

Public Speaking has many component skills but you may not be aware of what they are.
There are two broad areas of public speaking – the Content and Delivery.

Content

Content is preparing the words of your speech. What do you want to say? Just because you know a lot about the topic doesn’t mean you give the audience a brain dump of everything you know.

Public speaking is communication between you and the audience. Before you begin speech writing, you need to understand who is your audience. Why should they be interested in what you have to say? What do you know about the background and experience of your audience?

Let’s say you are an Air Force Pilot. You have been asked to speak at a primary school and a Year 12 careers night. Obviously you are going to tailor your speech to the age and knowledge of your audience. 11-year-old children want to be entertained while school-leavers are interested in career options.

Once you understand your Audience you need a purpose for your communication. A question you should ask yourself is what do you want your audience to think, feel or do differently after hearing your speech. The answer to this question will guide you in the speech writing.

As a speaker, you want to take your audience on a journey. I like to structure my speeches using the tried and tested method of having a strong introduction, a body and a conclusion. In a 7 minutes speech like this one, I will just focus on just 2 or 3 main points.

Delivery

The second part of public speaking is the delivery. Now what do you think these skills are? The first is the voice – speaking so the audience can hear you clearly. There are many aspects of our speaking voices – the volume, speaking rate and pitch.

If English is not your first language you can still be understood if you speak slowly, and clearly and use plenty of pauses. A pause allows the audience to absorb what you are saying.

Another aspect of delivery is what we do with our bodies. Where should you stand? Should you move around? What about arm movement. How do I use my arms to make gestures?

We also communicate with our eyes. You can choose a few people in the audience and make eye contact for a few seconds in turn. Imagine you are like a radar scanning while you speak and making contact with the audience.

Well – there are many skills aren’t there? But how can you practice these skills so your conference presentation is a success and the party guests applaud your speech?

Wouldn’t it be great to have a public speaking coach and a safe place to learn and practice these skills just like an equivalent of my Saturday morning tennis coaching?

Toastmasters International

Toastmasters is such an environment. The organisation has been in existence for 90 years and offers an educational program for developing the skills of public speaking as well as leadership.

In Toastmasters you are provided with a learning manual called the Competent Communicator program. You prepare a speech using the information and guidelines in the manual. You present the speech at the club, then an experienced Toastmasters gives an evaluation. You learn what you did well as well as points for improvement. You can learn at your own pace and choose your own speech topics.

Toastmasters is a safe and supportive environment for you to practice the skills of public speaking.

If you want to learn tennis you have to get onto a tennis court and practice the skills. If you want to learn public speaking you need to stand up and speak and being confident knowing you will improve.

There are Toastmasters clubs in nearly every suburb of major capital cities. I suggest you visit a few then decide which club best suits your needs. [Click this link to find a club]

So what is preventing you from starting your public speaking journey?

Stand up, speak and let the world hear your voice!


This article is adapted from a speech delivered on the 26th May 2015. The objective was to deliver a goodwill speech about Toastmasters International.

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4 thoughts on “Speaking in Public – Your first Steps”

  1. Excellent way of breaking down public speaking and how to go about it with confidence, Charles. The more you know about a topic the better – that way if the audience is feeling your speech you might add in an extra point. Or you could save what you haven’t covered in your speech in the Q&A section if any.

    Personally, the thought of public speaking doesn’t entirely fill me with fear, not does it excites me. At one point it did paralyse me with fear but after giving a number of presentations at university, I realised that your audience rarely wants to eat you up. Practise is certainly key. Also, I found these tips for public speaking very applicable to writing a good article or story too. At the end of the day, writers and speakers both endeavour tot tell stories and get their points across.

    1. Thank you for your comments Mabel. You are right that these principles are relevant to writing. At least you are confident in speaking to a group!

  2. I have no fear of public speech when I’m totally familiar with the theme I want to speak about. Your tips are awesome, I like mostly the tip about making eye contact with some people. Great! Thanks for sharing.

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