The Best Way to Improve Your Public Speaking Skills

Congratulations!

You have confronted your public speaking fears and with trembling hands and wobbly feet, you delivered three presentations. The audience applauded, the volcano did not erupt and you’re alive. Now you’re asking me “How can I be an expert speaker, just like you? How can I improve my public speaking skills?” I really admire your enthusiasm and it’s not as hard as you think.

No, it’s not by practicing, practicing, practicing. Yes that is very important but if you practice hard and you have not honed your skills a bit, you may be practicing the wrong thing. New speakers tend to think it’s by writing and delivering X-amount of speeches but not always. As for learning to tell jokes in your speech…that’s another story.

The best way to improve your public speaking skills is to (ta-de-la-la-dah) listen!

Listen to me, listening is the best way I know to improve your public speaking skills. If you read any of my previous articles, you would notice how many different types of lectures I go to. This is not because my house leaks when it rains but rather to hone my skills by listening to a wide variety of presentations.

Now that I’ve convinced you, I can hear you “how do I listen to improve my presentation skills?” stay with me and you won’t be disappointed.

  1. If you can, go to public lectures. Go to several types, technical and non-technical. Go to those delivered by men and women as well. What you’re listening for is the “confidence” in the delivery. That makes sense? Listen to who speaks with authority and who rambles through their topic. Listening to these lectures also lets me know which speakers are deaf. I mean really, if they could hear themselves, they would not be delivering such nonsense in that intellectual tone of voice.
  2. Download audio clips of speeches and stories and listen to them. Not video, you tend to be distracted by how good the man looks or if the woman is well-dressed, etc. (Well, I am anyway!) Close your eyes and listen. What you’re listening for is if the speaker uses words so effectively that you can see what s/he is talking about in your mind. Does the voice create excitement? Can you hear the enthusiasm and does the vocal variety leave you wanting more? Did you hear the pregnant pause?
  3. Listen up.No not that “listen up.” What I mean is to listen to speakers who are true experts in the public speaking field. Listen for how their voices and words set the scene. Listen to the expertise and ease with which they tell a story and deliver the punch line of a joke. Listen for the sheer sensation of a good speech on the ear.
  4. Listen down.Yes, that listen down, the one that is the opposite of the “listen up” above. Listen to speakers that are not as good as you are. Use what you learn from listening up to mentally improve their speeches and to evaluate where you are along the public speaking continuum.
  5. Listen to yourself. Record a five-minute version of yourself speaking. I remember the first time that I did that, the words were so familiar but neither me nor my darling dog recognized the voice. Again, don’t do video, you may be distracted by the size of your nose or the shape of your teeth. Listen for the tone and pitch of your voice. Is it nasal or too loud, high-pitched or barely audible? Do you speak too quickly or drag out the last word? Don’t think of adjusting the equipment, work on improving your voice.
  6. Listen to feedback. But be careful. There are some “expert speakers” whose most important speaking occasion was chasing the neighbourhood stray dog from the yard. You want to choose someone who has an understanding of the basics of public speaking, who is honest and can be trusted to tell you the truth even if it hurts your feelings. Give them a list of specifics you want them to listen for as you speak and ask them to share whatever they noticed that you didn’t list.

There you have six tips to help you improve your public speaking. They are easy, fast and if you’re really serious you can do them all in one week. Listening is really the single greatest thing you can do to improve your public speaking, so begin to do it today. Now, listen to me…did I tell you I can also cook?

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