Overview of Public Speaking Skills

Overview of Public Speaking Skills

Sabina O’Hara, Dean of the College o Agriculture, Urban Sustainability and Environmental Studies, University of the District of Columbia, October 6, 2016

Preliminary Thoughts

  • In most studies, the fear of public speaking is the #1 fear of the American people. Death is #2. As Jerry Seinfeld would say, that means that at a funeral, most people would rather be in the coffin than delivering the eulogy.
  • How many of you fear public speaking?
  • What do you do when you are nervous and you have to speak?
  • Despite your fears, all of you are going to have a speaking role in our Mock Trial and it is important that we recognize what characteristics make effective public speakers. Today, we are going to review the skills required and each of you is going to have the chance to practice using them.
  • Let’s talk about what skills are required. And it does require skills. Some of you may think that public speaking is a gift that some people have and most don’t. It isn’t. Anyone can become a good public speaker and we’re going to talk about how.  In more advanced lessons you will learn and practice these skills in much more detail

Seven Tips to help you Shine!

1. Be Prepared

  • The most important thing is to know what you are talking about.
  • Sometimes this is something in your experience and takes little effort.  
  • At other times, such as in Mock Trial, you must devote the time to learn the material.

2. Be Organized

  • Think about how you want to present the material ahead of time.
  • Organizational structures include, but are not limited to,  chronology, compare and contrast, a structured argument, cause and effect, and problem/cause/solution.
  • While learning your presentation, it is okay to use index cards to keep your thoughts straight, though when possible only use bullet points to highlight topics you can’t forget. Don’t write out your whole speech.

3. Be Clear

  • You don’t have to use big words. Think of it as a conversation between you and your audience. If they don’t know what your words mean, they won’t be able to follow you.
  • Silence is not your enemy. Pause for effect and for transitions.
  • Avoid fillers like, “uh” and “um.” Instead, take a moment to collect your thoughts and begin again. 
  • Slow down. Make sure that your audience not only understands what you are saying, but that they can follow you. 

4. Connect with your audience (eye contacta

  • Eye contact is one of the best ways to connect to your audience . Make sure you look at them. In Mock Trial, your audience may vary – sometimes it will be the jury, sometimes it will be the witness, and other times it may be the judge.
  • You don’t need to focus on them the entire time, but to follow the example used before, if you are just having a conversation with your audience, how much would you look at them?
  • Picture them naked? This is a common saying to help speakers relax. Instead just remember that they may be just as nervous public speaking as you are. They know you are nervous, but they also know that you have information that they don’t have. You are the only person who can give them that information.
  • When talking to a group, look at the whole group, not just one person.

5. Be Open (body posture)

  • Posture and body language are very important. If I talk to you with my arms crossed, what message do I project? (ask student opinion of you as a speaker with arms crossed). What if I use my hands while I speak? Does that change your impression?
  • Standing up straight and keeping your body open to your audience is really important. 
  • Don’t lean against a podium or slouch your shoulders.
  • Standing up straight portrays confidence even if you don’t feel that way.

6. Be Vocal (voice)

  • Speak up! When you get up in front of a group, make sure everyone can hear you.
  • If a listener has to strain to hear you (b/c you are too soft) or figure out what you are saying (b/c you are mumbling) they aren’t focused on what you are saying. 
  • Experiment with your deliver. Separate from the content of what you are saying your vocal tools include how loud or soft your voice is, and how quickly or slowly you talk. 

7. Be Yourself

  • There is no one perfect way to deliver an effective public speech.
  • All of you have your own ways of saying things and presenting yourself that are unique and great.
  • Your audience is sure to relate best to what you are saying when you are being yourself.