FEARFUL TO FEARLESS: How to Improve Your Public Speaking Skills

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One of the most challenging things to do is to express your ideas and thoughts in public. Isn’t it so easy to keep things to yourself and not share them, especially in front of strangers and that dreadful spotlight?

Why we fear public speaking

Fear of public speaking is a common form of anxiety. According to the National Institute of Mental Health public speaking anxiety, or glossophobia, affects about 73% of the population. It came from the underlying fear of judgment or negative evaluation by others, which is rooted prehistorically. As a tribe, rejection meant death. And the idea of having the audience’s attention while standing in front feels like judgment and rejection. No wonder it’s terrifying to a lot of people.

Importance of public speaking

Strong communication skills are foundational to a successful professional career or business. According to a study by the Association of American Colleges and Universities, executives and hiring managers value the ability to communicate effectively among all skills.

Most jobs require you to speak before your team, deliver a presentation, host an annual meeting and all these require confidence in public speaking. By improving your public speaking skills, you also improve teamwork, decision making and foster great engagement with everyone in the company.
Most jobs require you to speak before your team, deliver a presentation, host an annual meeting and all these require confidence in public speaking. By improving your public speaking skills, you also improve teamwork, decision making and foster great engagement with everyone in the company.

How I improved my public speaking skills

Like everyone else, I was scared of public speaking.
When I was in highschool, my first ever public speaking experience was delivering a graduation speech in front of my batchmates. There were about 1,000 students, parents and educators in the audience. It was so nerve-wracking to the point I was literally trembling while I was delivering that speech – and had to memorize everything because I was scared to make mistakes.
In college, I found myself insecure when talking to people – so I looked for opportunities to grow my skill in speaking. I started to intentionally join events and network with others. I joined student communities at our university where I got the chance to teach freshmen students about civic welfare every saturday. I stayed there for four years and that was where I started honing my skill in public speaking.
Fast forward to now, I’ve spoken in front of hundreds of people, hosted events, and coached some students to gain confidence in public speaking. If you are someone like me who is scared of public speaking and looking for ways to improve yourself, read on.

7 easy ways to improve public speaking

1. Read books (and read them aloud).

I did not grow up with books in our house – so reading was for me really challenging at the beginning. But I found that learning is reinforced when you use multiple senses, so you understand things more clearly when you read them aloud. Evidence-based benefits of reading aloud according to The Center of Teaching have been substantial to students’ learning and comprehension. If reading is not part of your daily routine yet, Good Reads have a plethora of book recommendations. It’s also a good motivation to set a goal like how many books are you reading in a month, or how many pages in a day are you intending to read. A good tracker for your reading goal is Get Bookly.

2. Build your vocabulary.

One of the easiest ways to improve your speaking skills is adding new words to your vocabulary. Whenever I’m reading a book and I don’t know the meaning of the words, I make sure I either highlight them or look for their meaning in the dictionary. You can also check the Word of the Day by Merriam Webster to learn a new word everyday. Building your vocabulary in public speaking gives you the opportunity to impress your audience, boost your power to persuade and deliver a meaningful speech.

3. Listen to audiobooks or podcasts.

According to the Audio Publishers Association, “audiobooks help build and enhance vital literacy skills such as fluency, vocabulary, language acquisition, pronunciation, and comprehension.” When you include it in your schedule to listen to an audiobook, not only are you introduced to new ideas, but you also get to hear how words are enunciated and pronounced. Podcasts are a good avenue to learning too – Spotify has over 3.6 million titles that you can choose from!

4. Start a journal.

When you start to write in English, you build a habit of thinking in English. This helps you develop your proficiency in the language. You can start by writing all your lessons, inspirations, ideas and experiences in a journal and use English as your form of expression. You can even keep a gratitude journal where you can list down all the things that you are grateful for. If you’re not yet used to writing, check out OneWord – it’s a fun online tool that prompts a single word and gives you 60 seconds to write!

5. Watch and learn from other speakers.

Watching and learning from great speakers is one of the best ways to improve public speaking skills. When you watch exceptional speakers, pay attention to their gestures, pacing, body language and how they keep the audience engaged. TED Talks has an abundant list of expert speakers on education, creativity, tech and science that you can choose from. Simon Sinek’s How Leaders Inspire Great Action has been one of the most popular TED Talks of all time. It’s a great starting point!

6. Join Toastmasters

Toastmasters International is a non-profit, educational organization that teaches public speaking and leadership skills through a worldwide network of clubs – it’s available in 149 countries and has over 300k members. I have been a member of a club called Cebu South Toastmasters Club in the Philippines where I learned foundational knowledge and skills on how to structure presentations, incorporate body language to engage the audience. Toastmasters International also provides a list of the best speakers around the world.

7. Start a vlog (video blog).

According to a study, vlogging increases talk time, helps in improving vocabulary and grammar, reduces shyness, boosts confidence and improves fluency. If you have a hobby or interest that you want to share with your audience, share that on a vlog as it also helps you improve your speaking skills. If a vlog is too much of a stretch for you, you can try doing audio journaling first!

Bonus: Helpful Mindsets in Public Speaking

There is no easy way to learn a new skill. In public speaking, you only get better when you try and practice. If you wish to improve your public speaking skills, remember these three mindsets:
  1. All great speakers suck at the beginning. Public speaking is not an inborn talent, nobody was born who knows how to speak right away. It’s a skillset, not a natural talent. So be patient with yourself and trust the process.
  2. Public speaking is more about your intention – not your perfection. The audience actually cares more about your message and not only about how perfectly you delivered the message
  3. Comparing yourself unfavorably to others isn’t helpful. When you study other great speakers, look at their presentations objectively. Speakers you perceive to be better are also more experienced than you are. Winston Churchill did not start as a good speaker – but he spent hours and hours practicing his speeches till he became one of the best!
“There are always three speeches, for every one you actually gave. The one you practiced, the one you gave, and the one you wish you gave.” – Dale Carnegie

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