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Improve Your Public Speaking Skills

I’m not someone who naturally loves to go up on a stage and speak in public – and that’s an understatement. One of my main challenges in 2012 was to deliver a talk for TEDx Delft Salon – and to my surprise, nobody ate me alive or ridiculed me.

When recently I came across Jenny Blake‘s brilliant article with 8 Ways to Practice and Improve your Public Speaking Skills, I found myself nodding along as I read.

In fact, I found so much value in Jenny’s article that I revisited her list of 8 ways here, and gave them an academic twist. Here is my academic view on her list:

1. Download a free recording app on your phone. When you practice a presentation, record it. Not only will you get used to the cameras at conferences (sessions often are made available as a webinar or for members of the association that organized the conference). If you listen to your recording, pay special attention to your pauses. You need to understand that the pauses in your sentences give the listener the possibility to digest what he/she just heard.

2. Take three ujayii breaths before starting. Abdominal breathing for stress-reduction: we’ve discussed this topic previously, and this technique is my single most powerful too for centering before a stressful moment.

3. Make it a challenge for yourself to bring more awareness to your speech in every day interactions. Practice makes perfect – breathe from your abdomen, release the tension in your throat and practice continuously on speaking in a calm, composed way.

4. Give yourself a rating on scale of 1-5 after every class you teach (or training, or meeting you present at). Bonus: write a blog post or diary entry to reflect on how your (conference) presentation went. Also, if a recording is available, watch it in a non-judgmental way to see how you can improve.

5. Pretend you are speaking to a non-native English speaker or a five year old. The five year old might not apply to conferences, but keep in mind that you, and only you are the real expert in your field. Take enough time to introduce your topic, and avoid unnecessary jargon.

6. Channel/observe a speaker or teacher you really respect. At a conference, do not only pay attention to the contents of the speakers, but also to the way they have structured their presentation, how they talk and how they respond to questions.

7. Probably most important: ASK FOR FEEDBACK – often! If possible, have a trial run of a presentation with your supervisor, or for a small group of peer PhD students. They can help you improve before your real gig.

8. Clench and release a muscle several times before going up to speak. Jenny introduced this method to boost adrenaline and stop shaking. Along the same lines: practice powerposes!

How do you improve your public speaking skills? Share you experiences in the comments section!

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This Post Has 3 Comments
  1. Great tips. Speakers may be interested in an iPhone app I'm launching this week called um sum to help visualize filler words and verbal pauses. Look for it on iTunes on Thursday March 7th!

  2. Love the idea of rating yourself 1-5! I mean, I have self-anxiety issues so I usually give myself a low score, but if you practice public speaking in front of family members and friends and average multiple opinions with your own that's fine. I also took some public speaking training in Boston MA last month and that helped a ton. Ultimately, the best way to nail a public speaking performance is to stop yourself from worrying beforehand. Practice, but just go in rocking and rolling and you'll nail your public speaking. Thanks for the article!

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