10 Public Speaking Tips To Help You Face That (Common) Fear

While many people are afraid of spiders, rats, and high places, one of the most common shared fears among all people is public speaking, and it’s understandable. It mixes a bunch of other deep-seated fears, like a fear of failure or a fear of disappointing other people. Unfortunately, whether you have to give a class presentation or speak up in a meeting, you’re probably going to have to talk in public or to a large group at some point in your life, so how are you going to swallow your nerves and improve your public speaking skills?

woman standing at microphone with list of four public speaking tips from the article woman standing at microphone with list of four public speaking tips from the article
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Glossophobia: You’re Not Alone in Your Fear

The fear of public speaking is common and widespread enough that it has an actual medical term: glossophobia (glaws-oh-foh-bee-uh). The exact effects of this fear can vary. Some people might just get nervous or sweaty about speaking in front of a crowd, while others may experience a full-blown panic attack.

Glossophobia comes from the combination of the Greek root glosso- (meaning “tongue”) and phobia, meaning “an irrational fear or aversion.” Phobia also comes from the Greek word phobos, which initially meant “flight” before evolving to mean “fear or terror.”

How To Improve Your Public Speaking Skills

Unfortunately, there’s no magic pill you can take that will suddenly make you an amazing public speaker. It takes a lot of time, patience, and practice, but you can eventually give speeches like the best of them.

Plan and Prepare and Prepare More

The key to any good speech is preparation. Make sure you understand your subject like the back of your hand. You should know every single part of your presentation, including the contents of every single slide and what you want to say.

It’s normal to have notecards, but try to get to a point where you don’t even need those notecards.

Build Silences Into Your Presentation

A lot of public speakers get the wrong idea that silences are bad, which can lead to people rambling their way through what would be a natural pause in a normal conversation.

Most silences aren’t awkward, but if you’re really worried about it, fold natural silences and pauses into your presentation. Have places where you can take a breath and gather your thoughts. Transitions between sections are a great place for those silences.

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Practice With Real People

You know your subject, and you have a solid handle on your presentation. Now it’s time to practice. You can start by giving your presentation or speech to an empty room, or even recording yourself on TikTok or Instagram. But try your best to get some reps in with an actual human being, whether that’s your parents or your best friend. Talking to a wall or camera is infinitely different from talking to someone in the same room as you.

Practice helps you figure out all the details of actually giving a speech, like your rhythm, intonation, volume, and the specific words you want to say. It also gives you a chance to get all those mistakes and stumbles out of the way. Most importantly, you can get feedback from others, which can help you adjust your speech and/or the contents of your presentation.

Make Eye Contact (or Forehead Contact)

Eye contact tends to help in a few different ways. For one, you automatically build engagement by looking someone in the eyes. There’s a ton of psychology involved with it, but basically, making eye contact helps to build empathy between parties.

On a practical level, maintaining eye contact also forces you to keep your head up, allowing you to project your voice more naturally. You don’t want to talk to the floor or your feet, which aims your voice down and makes it harder for others to understand.

Of course, prolonged eye contact can be off-putting or downright intimidating, so move your gaze around from person to person. However, if you feel uncomfortable, you can also cheat a little bit by staring at people’s foreheads instead of their eyes. Similarly, if it’s a large enough group in a big space, imagine talking to the back of the room.

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Show Your Personality

It can be so easy to think of speeches and presentations as these strict, buttoned-up, serious things. Even in settings where that is the case, you can and should still show some of your personality. Add some humor, tell pertinent anecdotes, and do your best not to sound like a robot repeating a script.

Use Your Notes as a Reminder, Not a Script

Notecards and outlines are great tools, but try not to rely on them. Think of them as reminders that you can glance at to jog your memory and keep yourself organized. Ideally, someone could walk up to you, knock the notes out of your hands, and you’d be perfectly fine (albeit a little confused).

Staring at your notes breaks eye contact mentioned above, and reading off of your note cards or your presentation will naturally make you seem disengaged from your audience.

Don’t Make Your Body Language a Big Deal

Public speaking experts will talk for ages about power poses and body language. As much as you might want to control all of that, there are just a lot of unconscious things that you’ll naturally do with your body when you talk. For the most part, they’re perfectly harmless.

Don’t overthink your body language. Doing so can lead to you standing awkwardly or smiling unnaturally, neither of which will boost your confidence. The only real consideration you need to make is to avoid touching your face or covering your mouth, and only because it might stifle your voice.

Set a Timer While You Present

Most student presentations have a time limit, but even if your presentation isn’t timed, it’s a good idea to have a timer, watch, or clock to glance at. You don’t want to find yourself nine minutes into a presentation and still trying to discuss introductory topics. 

Use the timer as an extra failsafe to keep your presentation organized and on track. For example, maybe you want to make sure that you’re in part two of your presentation by the first minute.

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Get Your Audience Invested by Being Interested in Your Topic

If you’re bored about your topic, your audience will absolutely pick up on it, and they’ll be bored, too. Hopefully, you get to choose your topic, but even if you’re assigned the topic, try to find an angle that touches on your own interests. For example, if you have to give a presentation on the biography of someone, consider their early life, why they even matter historically, and how that affects your personal life.

Don’t Get Too Caught Up on Grammar Rules

As much as we all might want to speak in perfect grammar all the time, most of us just don’t. That’s one of the beautiful things about spoken language; we can often understand each other even without following perfect grammar rules. In some cases, you do want to use a double negative or a sentence fragment to convey your point better.

Words To Use in Public Speaking

While you should generally feel free to use whatever words are necessary to get your point across, certain words can help you better connect with your audience.

"You," "We," and "Us"

Pronouns like you, we, and us help to bring your audience closer to the subject of your speech or presentation and create a sense of inclusion to get them invested. By comparison, first-person pronouns like I and me can make the audience feel like the presentation is only about you. The one exception: introductory speeches or presentations that are specifically about you.

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"Because" and "As a Result"

Because, as a result, and other words that denote cause and effect are essential for any speech. They help you answer the simple question “Why?” Why does the subject of your speech matter? Why are you giving the speech in the first place?

"Amazing," "Surprising," and "Astonishing"

Whether it’s an unexpected free pizza or surprising new information, people love to be surprised or experience surprise secondhand. Amazing, surprising, astonishing, and other words of surprise can keep the audience on their toes, which also means more engagement.

"For Instance" and "For Example"

Illustrating your idea with an example is a great way to connect with your audience and prove your point. For instance, for example, let me illustrate this, and other phrases help to transition into these examples directly.

"Essentially" and "Fundamentally"

Words like essentially and fundamentally help to point out specifically important, cogent points. To the audience, these words signal that they should pay a little extra attention to what you’re about to say.

Words Not To Use in Public Speaking

Some words and phrases can definitely detract from your speech, disengage the audience, or otherwise make things harder for you to say the right words.

Curse Words

Listen, curse words are an amazing invention of language that add that extra zest to conversation, but they have their proper time and place. Unless you are giving a talk on the history of your favorite four-letter word, keep the curse words out of your speech.

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Filler Words

Filler words, which include um, uh, so, and like, can be a bit of a contentious topic. Using them once or twice in your speech isn’t the end of the world, and they do afford you a few seconds of thought. However, excessive um's in your presentation can get really distracting for your audience. They can also make you seem unprepared and more nervous than you actually are.

"Sorry"

No matter how insecure you might feel, you simply don’t have to apologize in the middle of your presentation. It puts both you and your audience in a weird space, and more often than not, the thing you’re apologizing for probably isn’t something that the audience even noticed. So why bring attention to a non-mistake in the first place?