5 Tips to Improve Public Speaking

Here are five tips to improve public speaking: take a class, present on a subject that interests you, look for opportunities to practice, give instructions to your audience, and, if you still have difficulties, determine the cause of your public speaking anxiety.

  1. Take a class. You can find classes on public speaking at your local community college, or even find seminars, free or low cost, available through your local library or community group. You should look for classes that are not about teaching you how to speak in public, but on actually speaking in public, so when you call to register, make sure that active learning with in-class assignments is part of your course. You can also take a class from public speaking experts, such as Toastmasters or the Dale Carnegie Schools.

  2. Present on a subject that interests you. When you presented on topics in school and college, you probably were only mildly interested in the topics that you were told to present on. You were probably also very anxious that an expert, the professor, was analyzing your presentation, both content and delivery. Now you have the freedom to pick your topic: if you are interested in animal welfare, ask if you can teach a class at the local humane society. If you are interested in Jane Austen, there are hundreds of clubs that come together to discuss the author's work in a public setting, and they do look for presenters--though these groups can be pickier than your professor. The interest that you express in your subject matter will come through in your presentation manner. You will also feel more confident talking about a subject that you know a great deal about to an uncritical audience.

  3. Look for opportunities to practice. Some people overcome their anxiety about public speaking by doing it over and over again, so that familiarity will overcome anxiety. In Toastmasters, you will have many opportunities to present in public. You can also look for volunteer opportunities, such as teaching English as a Second Language or diabetes prevention education, so you can repeatedly get up in front of an audience. Many of the volunteer groups that need public speakers will offer you basic training and some support before going into the venue to speak.

  4. Give instructions to your audience. Sometimes nervous public speakers are too focused on one aspect of their presentation; for example, they are afraid they speak too quietly. You can ask someone in the back of the audience to give you a signal if they can't hear you. This also means that if your voice becomes too quiet, you won't be startled or distracted from your topic when someone yells to speak up. With few exceptions, audiences are usually kind and they are willing to collaborate with the speaker to improve the quality of the session.

  5. Determine the cause of your anxiety. It would make sense to put this step first; however, this step requires speaking with a psychologist or counselor to determine if you are shy or have social anxiety. You may be able to improve your public speaking without the assistance of a professional by following the first four tips, which is why this one is placed last. If the other four tips don't work for you, or you are too anxious to make an attempt, a psychologist can give you exercises or provide you with techniques to deal with shyness and social anxiety. Once you are diagnosed and given some tools, try at least one of the other four steps to make sure your anxiety is under control.