top of page

The Art of Public Speaking

In today's blog, I will explore in detail the most famous Number 1 fear - Public Speaking. And help you to think about what you you do to improve your presentation skills?

If just the thought of public speaking fills you with absolute dread - you're not the only one. In a popularly quoted study - seventy seven percent of people admitted anxiety about speaking in public. Not everyone is terrified - not everyone has an actual phobia of public speaking - some people just get a wee bit nervous. Which are you? If you want to be a great public speaker - read on!

In this article, I'll try to suggest some ways that you can reduce your fear of public speaking. I'll explore what makes public speaking a skill that every human needs. I'll introduce you to a little bit of the background surrounding public speaking, help you to think about how to improve your confidence when public speaking and break down the parts of a really good speech.

In this blog, you'll learn:

The Art of Public Speaking Skills and Why It's So Important

Public Speaking is the art of presenting ideas to an audience through the voice. What is considered 'public' can be just a few people, a huge in-person audience or thousands of people via the internet, tv or radio. However, the bigger the audience, the bigger most people's sense of terror. Others are terrified of getting up in front of a tiny group too - like a university seminar or school talk.

Often, we imagine public speaking, we probably think about some kind of inspiration TED-talk. But it can also be giving a presentation at work, pitching to a new client, giving a talk in school, or even presenting as part of a job interview - I myself got a job as a university lecturer by giving a presentation about why I was right for that job.

In truth, most of us may have to get up in front of other people during our life. From giving a eulogy to a father of the bride, best man or maid of honour speech. Obviously, working on your public speaking skills can help all of these events go well. Sometimes I'm contacted by teachers who would like to be more comfortable speaking in front of their class - teaching, training, instructing - all of these involve presenting ideas to other people.

The History of the Public Speech

Public speaking has been around as long as we could speak. In Ancient Greece, it was a method of influencing politics by speaking convincing in debates. Quintilian published twelve volumes on 'rhetoric', the tools of public speaking! Aristotle famously worked out that there were three ways to persuade people: ethos, logos and pathos. In fact, if you look at famous speakers from Winston Churchill to the Ukrainian president Zelensky, they've all used these three powerful sources to influence their listeners.

Of course, we aren't only trying to 'persuade' by speaking, we also trying to delight, transform, inspire, teach, nudge, boost and support other people. But the art of public speaking is a powerful tool to affect change in others.

Glossophobia: Do I have a Fear of Public Speaking?

If you want to be better at public speaking, it would help to understand why you have such an anxiety about it. There are tons of reasons why you might personally hate public speaking.

  • You might feel really self conscious. You might feel awkward being looked at. I believe that the fear of public speaking is very deep within our humanity. Think of it like this - we are group animals. Our survival success comes from interacting with other people. Deep down in our humanity, we fear being disgraced in front of the group.

  • For most people, being in front of other people triggers a massive threat response. Your body goes into flight or fight mode. Your breathing changes, you start shaking, your heart rate goes sky high. Your body is responding as if the audience or public speaking in front of an audience is a real threat to your health. Some people feel sick, some need to pee, others get a case of the unmentionables. But this response can be controlled.

  • You are afraid of looking nervous. Not of being nervous - but looking. You feel self conscious. This can cause anxiety because you're afraid of seeming nervous - that's why we hate shaking, we see it as a sign that other people can see that we're scared. (But we don't actually shake cos we're afraid btw)

  • You're comparing yourself to some TED talk person you've seen. You know you can't EVER be as good at that and so you're already losing mentally.

  • You've had terrible past experiences of presentations going hellishly wrong.

  • You don't have the skills and you know it. When we know that we don't have the right skills, knowledge and experience, we are legitimately scared because we know that we lack the public speaking skills that we need to do well. Do you even know how to make a successful presentation? Most people don't. Most people suck.

In my experience, most people can be taught to improve their public speaking skills in just a few sessions, and then developing that into an art takes time.

How to Master the Art of Public Speaking (Top Tips)

So how do you master the art of public speaking? If you've got a presentation to give, a talk, a speech, or any other public speaking opportunity, you'll want to overcome your fear and smash that speaking opportunity.

Here are my public speaking tips:

Tip 1:

Lead up: You are going to be nervous. Even if you're really good. So put a lot of time into the preparation. Get to the venue early, check out the space, is there a microphone, where will you be standing, can you see the audience well, is the lighting too bright? Don't arrive so early that you will sit and worry for ages. Preparation is vital, so do a lot of practise of your presentation too!

Tip 2:

Authority = Authenticity: You must be an expert on your topic. If not, why are you talking about it? If it's about this month's sales figures - then that's your thing. If it's your daughter in your father of the bride speech - you're the expert already. You need to be an authority in your field in order to sound confident and comfortable.

Tip 3:

Be on Message: What do you really want to say? Lots of people think their job is to just pour information out of their brains onto the audience. I call 'transfer of data'. You aren't a machine and neither are the audience. What do you want to say to your audience, what's the true purpose? What would you like them to do at the end of your speech? If you don't know the point you are trying to make, you may wander all over the place.

Tip 4:

Structure: If you want to avoid the speech becoming really horribly boring, then a real structure will help. Break the speech down into a pieces. You'll have an opening and a closing. And you'll bring reak the middle into smaller piece. Remember every good story has a beginning, middle and an end. And don't forget to ask for something - your call to action towards the end too! (Even if it's toasting the bride and groom!)

Tip 5:

Feedback: Get some practise in front of other people before the day. It can help take the sting off the experience of suddenly being in front of people. AND you can get some helpful ideas and thoughts from other people. Don't be afraid to ask for feedback, it will improve your speech.

Tip 6:

Time It: It's really important to know how long you are speaking for. If you've watched good TED Talks, you'll notice they are sticking to a timed format. Also, make sure that you start your speech on time - don't keep people waiting - and finish on time too - don't keep busy people hanging on while you finish up - people will lose interest. My advice - make it short and sharp.

Tip 7:

Entertain: I know you're not up there just to tell jokes, but if you've ever seen Sir Kenneth Robinson's famous (most popular of all time) Ted Talk, you'll remember he made some powerful points about education, but he did it in a light hearted and highly amusing way. If you're just going to read from your notes, you'll send the audience to sleep. A speech, a talk, a presentation - they have to entertain the audience.

Tip 8:

No Magic Formula: There is no magic to presentations. It's a learnable set of skills. The Head of TED, Christ Anderson, wrote has written a book on giving talks and speeches, and in this blog article on the best method to give a presentation, he says very clearly that there is no formula to it. All presentations are entirely unique based on the triangle of Presenter, Idea and Audience. Those are the three corners of a great presentation. But how you construct that triangle into an effective presentation - that's down to you.

Hope you enjoyed my piece on the art of public speaking. If I can help you to boost your public speaking skills, please get in touch today!

Need more engaging articles on public speaking, check these out:

Best Wishes

Mark Westbrook

Public Speaking Coach

bottom of page