Unless you are a professional speaker, you could probably use some help with speaking skills. Public speaking can be very rewarding, but it requires confidence and practice to be successful.

Being able to speak well in front of a crowd is a good skill to have and one that most people have not fully developed. With just a few tips and tricks, it’s possible to be more eloquent and professional than you might imagine. Practice is also a good idea, if you want to be good at getting your point across, as well as plenty of preparation.

1. Practice, Practice, Practice

The absolute best way to improve your skills as a public speaker is to get plenty of practice. While trying out speeches in front of the mirror is one method, you’ll find that actually speaking in front of people is the best way to improve. In most cases, it’s easiest to start out with a small group and work your way up to larger ones.

A few ideas as to how you can practice:

  • Teach Sunday School
  • Volunteer to give a presentation at your child’s school
  • Volunteer to head up a meeting at work
  • Join Toastmasters
  • Take a public speaking class

There are many options for practicing your public speaking skills and as this is the best way to improve, it should be the first thing on your list.

2. Research Your Audience

What is appropriate for an adult audience will not be appropriate for a group of second graders, so knowing your audience is important. Of course, it isn’t just about age. If you are speaking on a rather technical topic, keep in mind that those involved in the industry will be able to follow your technical jargon, but if you are speaking to a group of housewives or plumbers, they won’t necessarily understand everything you talk about in a speech about routers, for example.

The venue where you will be speaking should give you a good idea as to who will attend, but you can also speak with the organizers of the event to find out who the target audience is. Then you can tailor your presentation to fit their needs. Consider the following factors:

  • Age
  • Interests (how will they use your information?)
  • Attention span
  • Worries

If you can address their concerns and give people something useful that they will take away with them, you will be successful.

3. Be Passionate

You really cannot go wrong if you are passionate about your topic. Whether you’re passionate about preventing drunk driving or building SEO into your business, if you love your topic, it will show. The best speakers are able to add a special touch to any topic they speak on, but you’ll always do best if you can choose something you are already interested in.

Even if the topic assigned isn’t something you are terribly interested in, you can still build up some enthusiasm. The trick lies in finding something about it that interests you. This may take a little research, but that’s part of our next tip.

4. Research Your Topic

You may be able to give a 30 minute speech on your given topic, but it can help to have some background information, as well. When you fully understand what you are talking about, it makes it much easier to expound. This also gives you a cushion if you speak faster when nervous, as most people do . . . you will still have more to talk about should you finish early.

The additional bonus of doing research is that you’ll be able to learn new things. Giving the same speech over and over can get a little boring, but if you take the time to learn a new tidbit, it becomes interesting all over again. You may also find something that you can share with your audience to make it more interesting.

5. Include a Case Study

This can be a personal anecdote or you may borrow from someone else, but it’s important to include a human element in your speeches. Rather than talk about the history of elephants, share a story about how a skeleton was found or how a specific elephant helped a village back in the day and you will instantly grab your audience’s attention.

People love stories and it can make a dry topic into something more interesting when you share a personal story. It’s also an excellent way to break the ice in a room, or to illustrate a point that may not be understood otherwise.

While all of these tips can help you improve your speaking, there are some things that should always be kept in mind when preparing to give a speech. First, keep in mind that it is very important to plan it out. Know what point you want to get across and how to do that. Write notes . . . you may not need them, but it’s best to have them just in case something happens and you draw a blank.

Many a speech has been destroyed by technical glitches, so ensure that you test your equipment thoroughly ahead of time and have a backup idea if things fail. Careful preparation of your speech and presentation and plenty of practice are key to becoming a top speaker.

Photo credit - krystleblair @ flickr