In this article, you’re going to learn exactly how to develop and improve your public speaking skills using proven strategies that I have used to build a career and business as a professional speaker.
Even if you have ZERO intention of becoming a professional speaker, the strategies and insights in this article will help you improve your ability to present your ideas in front of other people and do it confidently!
This could be in a professional setting, or anywhere else where you are called to speak in front of others.
Over the last 7+ years, the strategies in this article have allowed me to get up on stages of all sizes and confidently deliver my message with enthusiasm and passion.
Just in the last 10-months, I have delivered 165 presentations to 20,000+ people!
Speaking in front of others is fun and exhilarating but it does come with challenges and trust me, there have been many mistakes made and lessons learned a lot the way.
If you are completely new to public speaking but realize that developing your speaking and presentation skills is something you want to focus on, hands down the best decision you can make is to join a Toastmasters club!
Joining Toastmaster was the best professional development decision I have ever made.
Keep in mind that when I joined Toastmasters, I had no intention of wanting to be a speaker. I just knew that practicing my presentation skills was a good skill to develop.
Little did I know that I would see incredible benefits throughout every corner of my life!
Joining Toastmasters was an intimidating process but one of the biggest benefits of the entire Toastmasters program is the supportive community of people you will meet when joining.
If you don’t know what Toastmasters is, it is an organization where people practice giving speeches. It has been around for 90+ years and is in 140 countries with over 350,000 members. Everyone who joins Toastmasters is looking to practice their public speaking and communication skills.
The organization and program are incredible and designed to help you quickly develop speaking and presentation skills. Even though all clubs have similarities, they are all member driven so each club on the planet is a little bit different and usually focuses on a specific theme.
For example, the club I joined has an entrepreneurial focus. Other clubs are focused on people who want to speak professionally or people who present in a corporate setting or people who want to become a humorous speaker.
Finding a club that is the right fit for your personality and the goals you want to achieve with speaking is critical.
To make things a bit easier when joining Toastmasters follow these 3-steps to Toastmasters success…
Step 1 - Head to toastmasters.org or Google and locate a club near you. Keep in mind that all clubs have a theme. As I said, the club that I became a member of has an entrepreneurial focus. As an entrepreneur myself, this club was the perfect fit. Find a club that is the right fit for your goals and your personality.
Step 2 - Attend the club at least 3 times to get a feel for the members and if it is a fit for you. I attended 3 meetings before making a choice to join. Most clubs will let you attend a few times before making the choice to join. I wanted to make sure I felt like the club would challenge me enough.
Step 3 - Join the club and book your first speech right away. You are there to improve your speaking skills so the longer you wait to get up on stage and do your thing, the harder it will be. Just do it!
Joining Toastmasters was a no brainer for me but for you, maybe you don’t feel like you have the time to attend a club on a regular basis. If this is the case, I get it. We are all strapped for times these days.
But you may still need to give presentations at work or maybe you’ve been asked to give a speech at a wedding.
One of the challenges you will face is the main reason people shy away from giving speeches and presentations…
It comes as no surprise that having nerves before giving a presentation is completely natural. As you give more presentations and speeches your nerves do subside. This is another incredible benefit of Toastmasters (Clearly I want you to drink the Toastmasters Kool-Aid!) because you are constantly practicing your skills and with practice comes confidence. This confidence helps lower your nerves.
Even if you don’t join Toastmasters, there are some incredibly effective ways to reduce before giving a speech or presentation.
7 Strategies to Reduce Nerves
Practicing and rehearsing your presentation allows you to internalize the content and get comfortable with transitions and how the presentation flows together. The more comfortable you become with your content, the better equipped you will be to improvise if you make mistakes or miss content.
As much as we want every presentation to go perfectly, stuff happens, and proper rehearsal will give you the confidence to go with the flow when things do go awry.
2. Arrive Early
There is nothing worse than showing up to a presentation, an important meeting, or anything for that matter, in a rush and scrambling to get settled. Give yourself enough time to get set up and comfortable.
Sometimes you may not have the luxury of being able to show up early but if you can arrive early, do it!
3. Greet Attendees
If you can, stand at the entrance of wherever it is that you are presenting and greet as many attendees as you can. This will not only put you at ease, but it will also create some bonds with people who will soon be in your audience. These people will now be friendly faces you can make eye contact with during your presentation.
Sometimes it can be difficult to muster a smile if internally you are a bag of nerves. A trick that I often use, is I will head to the bathroom prior to my presentation or before people arrive and I will give myself a few obnoxious smiles in the mirror. Over the top smiles to get my face used to the feeling of smiling. Seems weird but it works!
5. Power Pose
While in the bathroom practicing my epic smiles, I will also put my body into a power pose position. Think Superman/Superwoman stance. Arms up and wide, arms heroically placed on your hips, etc.
When power posing, you’re actually tricking yourself into feeling more confident. This confidence helps lower your nerves. Not to mention, it is a lot of fun pretending to be Superman!
There is this cool TED talk on the subject as well. https://www.ted.com/talks/amy_cuddy_your_body_language_shapes_who_you_are?language=en
6. Get Familiar with Stage/Surroundings
This is one of the main reasons for showing up early. By allowing yourself to get comfortable with the stage, the room, and the surroundings, you create a sense of familiarity and this helps to reduce nerves.
Also, if you have never been in the room/space you are presenting in, your mind can sometimes build things up into something scarier than is needed. Simply getting a feeling for the stage/room can drastically reduce nerves.
7. 4 Second Breathing
This technique has been a game-changer for me! The reason I love it so much is that you can be doing it without anyone even needing to know you are doing it.
Here is the process…
Slowly breath in through your nose for 4 seconds.
Hold for 4 seconds.
Slowly breath out through your mouth for 4 seconds.
Hold for 4 seconds.
Repeat as needed.
Quite often I am working through this process just before walking on stage. It helps to slow down my racing heart, and consciously counting it out it takes your mind off some of the nervous and racing thoughts you may be experiencing.
Even before you hit the stage to deliver your presentation there is one major requirement of a good speech/presentation that is a non-negotiable…
You need to actually create your presentation!
Prior to joining Toastmasters, I had only ever delivered 1 “official” speech in my life. This was a best man speech at a friend’s wedding.
My speech writing skills at that time were far from polished and I looked for all types of resources online to help me craft, memorize and deliver the speech. When it was all said and done, I was happy with my speech and my performance, but deep down knew there had to be a better way.
Fast forward 5 + years to when I joined Toastmasters and had to begin writing speeches for myself on a regular basis.
The interesting thing I found about speech writing is that the way I write and the way I speak are totally different…no kidding, who would have thought!?
Even though I realized that the way I write and the way I speak are different, for my first few speeches I knew I needed to write things out word for word and do my best to memorize those words if I wanted to make it through my first official speech. This would help create some confidence and bring my nerves down to a survivable level.
Early on I realized that I didn’t want to be someone who needed to memorize my speeches, and certainly didn’t want to be someone who still needed notes on stage after my 10th speech. Nothing against people who want notes on stage for their 100th speech. Heck, I still have notes on stage when delivering longer workshops.
I knew that if I wanted to go “note-less” and not need to memorize every word, then I would have to devise a strategy to get from fully memorized with notes in my first speech to completely note free and not memorized by my 10th!
This is what I did, and it worked wonders!
For speech 1, 2 and 3, I wrote out my speeches word for word and memorized them. For the first two speeches, I allowed myself to bring up notes but for #3 I committed to not bringing notes on stage.
What I did for speech 4 and 5 was still write my entire speech out word for word, but once it was written, I broke it up into 5 sections.
Section 1 – Opening/Intro
Section 2 – Content idea/theme #1
Section 3 – Content idea/theme #2
Section 4 – Content idea/theme #3
Section 5 – Closing/Outro
Using what I had written word for word, I would separate the speech into the above sections but would put the content into point form.
Then, rather than memorize things word for word, I would simply memorize the bullet points of each section. This allowed me the freedom to improvise if needed because I wasn’t as focused on hitting every word perfectly.
Mentally I could navigate through the speech by only needing to remember which section I was in and then think of the bullet points in each section.
This was challenging at first but was also a lot of fun because now I was able to make the speech more of a performance and let new ideas naturally find their way into the presentation when doing it live.
For speeches 6, 7, and 8, things needed to progress even more.
Breaking the speech into sections worked but trying to remember every single bullet point was a bit overwhelming and actually not needed at times.
So, rather than write the speech out word for word, I simply started with my 5-section framework and immediately put my ideas into point form.
Once I had all of my ideas on paper and in the 5-section format, I would boil the bullet points in each section down to only 1 bullet point for each section.
In my mind, I almost thought of the chosen bullet point in each section as the title for that section. I made sure that I chose each bullet point so they would trigger my mind to know exactly what I wanted to get across in that section.
Then I simply memorized each bullet point and was able to do my thing from there.
This was very challenging but a ton of fun!
For speech 9 and 10, it was time to really get serious and see how well I could present without preparing a ton of written content.
Following my same 5-section format, I once again started with multiple bullet points and then filtered these bullet points down to a single bullet point for each section. Then what I did was filter these bullet points down to 1 or two words.
These couple of words needed to be strong enough to trigger me with what I needed to speak on.
I had built up momentum over the last 8 speeches and was confident enough in my skills that I would be able to go on stage and do my thing without needing to memorize more than a few words per section.
This really helped me develop my ability to go with the flow and trust in the content that I developed and was passionate about.
And while these 4 steps aren’t necessarily an official roadmap of how to develop the skills necessary to be able to speak without the need for memorization and notes, it is a path that worked well for me.
I still use this approach in all my presentations and workshops. For example, when using PowerPoint slides, I will often only have a single word on the slide and this word triggers me to speak on that idea or theme.
With all of this said though, there are still times when I write out speeches and memorize them because I need to ensure I deliver certain points and ideas flawlessly.
As much as I would love this article to go on for another 5000 words, I am going to save it for another day.
The topic of public speaking and developing public speaking skills is something I am incredibly passionate about and look forward to revisiting different parts of this topic very soon.
A few more public speaking article ideas that I would like to explore…
If you have any topics you would like me to explore please leave your suggestions in the comment section!
I would love to hear from you. Please leave a comment below and let me know what your biggest takeaway from this article was.
As always, Dream BIG!