Whether you have to complete a debate project for your high school government class or you need to present your thesis, public speaking can be scary! Thankfully, there are ways to cut down on that anxiety and ensure you’re properly prepared. Here’s a rundown of why public speaking is so important plus some tips to become a better public speaker.
Why is Public Speaking Important?
When people think of “public speaking,” especially outside of the classroom, they usually think about major presentations in front of a room of professionals. While you might run into this in your own career, public speaking is actually more than this!
By mastering this skill, you can
- Better communicate with others, including friends, family, and peers
- Build confidence
- Learn team management skills
- Motivate others
- Influence change
- Build social connections
- Better network within your industry
- Become a stronger leader
- Develop your vocabulary
6 Public Speaking Tips for Students
Now that you know why it’s an important skill to have, we’ll cover some public speaking tips that will help you in the classroom – and in your future career!
Excelling at something your first go around is rare. Practice is essential to becoming better at any skill and that includes public speaking.
You have a few options to practice this skill. You could practice in front of the mirror, stuffed animals, friends, family, or even a teacher. If your school has an auditorium, you might even be able to get up on stage and practice speaking to an empty room (though always ask permission for this!). If you’re nervous though about public speaking, your mirror or stuffed animals can be a good starting point, but you’ll eventually want to move up to practicing in front of others.
2. Slow Down, Speak Up, Stand Up Straight
When we get nervous, we have a tendency to speak quickly, slouch, and mumble. You’re not going to influence others if they can’t understand you! It’s absolutely important to slow down your speech – not to a crawl, but to a more understandable level. Practice can help you identify when you’re speaking too quickly, too.
And many don’t realize just how loudly they have to talk in order for the whole room to hear them. You want everyone to hear and understand you– even those in the way back! This isn’t a major concern if you have a microphone (you just shouldn’t mumble), but for class projects, you might very well be without one.
Your body language is also important when public speaking. Those presenting should stand up straight, smile, and make eye contact. You might even be able to walk around in some instances!
You don’t want to complete a public speaking assignment without a plan. This is not something you can just come up with on the fly. You need to take time to outline what you’re going to talk about, in what order, and how each point segues into the other. Public speakers also identify the questions they believe they may be asked and develop answers ahead of time. If you’re practicing in front of a live audience, they could help you brainstorm those questions, too, and ensure you’re properly prepared!
And there is nothing wrong with writing a speech or at the very least a timeline of what you want to talk about. You can either memorize the speech or notes or, if the teacher allows it, bring it up there with you. However, students don’t want to sound like a robot with no emotion. Practice will help ensure that you sound natural while talking.
4. Use Stress Management Techniques
It’s okay to be stressed or nervous about a public speaking assignment or engagement. It happens to everyone! Practice can definitely help here, but it probably won’t solve all of your showtime jitters.
If you think you’re going to freeze up when it’s your turn to present, use these tips to reduce nervousness while public speaking:
- Use deep breathing techniques. Take a deep breath, hold for several seconds, and slowly let it out. Count your breaths and repeat it several times until you’re calmer.
- Listen to music ahead of time. Listening to relaxing music can help calm your nerves. On the other hand, listening to a pump-me-up song can help you get the adrenalin pumping and reduce nerves as well.
- Think positive. Positive thinking can go a long way in helping you feel better about the situation! Try not to concentrate on the negatives or the “scary parts” of public speaking.
- Repeat affirmations. Positive affirmations can help in our day-to-day lives, as well as our assignments. Before you get up in front of the class, try simply saying “You got this!” to yourself.
- Focus on one person. Talking in front of a large group of people can be much more daunting than simply talking to five close friends. If you’re struggling in this type of situation, try focusing on a single person in the crowd. Pretend you’re having a conversation with them, instead of the entire room at hand.
5. Pay Attention to Your Audience
Paying attention to your audience can help you deliver better content and ensure you improve during later speeches or debates. You should
- Pay attention to their body language. Are they engaged? Enthralled? Bored? This will give you direction for future presentations.
- Engage your audience. In some situations, it is absolutely okay to ask your audience questions.
- Use the right vocabulary. Certain works carry conviction. You want to be sure you’re coming across from a place of authority on the subject. It will make you sound more convincing.
- Look at your audience. While you can likely bring at least cue cards up the the podium with you, you don’t want to be staring at them the entire time. Only refer to them when you have to and keep your eyes on the audience most of the time.
6. Keep Improving
As stated earlier, it’s a very rare instance where someone is a top tier public speaker right out the gate. And even after one presentation, you’re not going to be a master. There is always room for improvement.
You’ll want to take lessons from your practice sessions and the real deal. Did you notice any body language mistakes? Do you slouch or stare at your notes for most of the presentation? Did your audience seem bored? Do you mumble when you were approached with a tough question you weren’t exactly sure how to answer? Were you simply not prepared enough?
While you’re up there on stage, you may not have noticed these things. Asking your teacher for advice for future projects can help, but you may also want to record your presentation yourself. You can review it like football players review their games!
7. Get Some Help
If you’re struggling with public speaking after doing all of the above, try listening to podcasts or reading some books with additional tips and stories of how others have become better public speakers.
Try this Podcast: NO SWEAT Public Speaking! on Apple Podcasts.
Try this Book: Ted Talks: The Official TED Guide to Public Speaking
Getting a handle on public speaking sooner rather than later can pay off big time! You’ll notice that you’re better prepared, better equipped, and less anxious every time you do it. This can be essential to earning good grades in college, but it could also prove a necessary skill in your field! If you can come across as motivational, inspiring, and confident, even in your job interviews, you can go far within your industry and career.
Many high schools actually have debate or public speaking clubs for their students – and colleges are looking for those who set themselves apart from others. Leadership skills are especially prized. If you want to know more about what your dream college is looking for in a student and what you should aim for during your four years at high school, use College Raptor’s free College Match tool. It will give you the information on your admission chances, how you can improve those chances, and more.