Guest Post: How To Speak In Public Without Peeing Your Pants

This guest post is contributed by Barbara Jolie. You can read more about her in the author bio below the post.

It’s been said that as fears go, fear of public speaking is right up there with fear of death and spiders. As a result, many college students find giving speeches in class moderately uncomfortable to downright terrifying.

In my communications class, I remember one guy standing up in front of the class to make a speech, making a mumbled introduction, freezing like a deer in headlights, and then promptly sitting down again, much to the confusion of the instructor. Another girl grew red in the face like the Kool-Aid man and bolted from the room close to tears.

As uncomfortable as public speaking can be, professors get it right when they require you to make speeches and force you out of your comfort zone. Like it or not, public speaking awaits you in your future and is a coveted skill in the corporate world. With a little advanced planning, you can sound less like an idiot and more like you know what you’re doing. Here’s some tips for next time you have to give a speech or a presentation:

1.) Know your stuff.

The more knowledgeable you are about the subject matter you’re speaking about, the more confident you’ll feel overall. If you have a choice for the speech topic, pick something you already know inside and out perhaps something you’re passionate about.

2.) Look sharp.

One of my favorite quotes is “Look good, feel good. Feel good, play good.” Step it up a notch with your attire on the day you have to give your speech. It will give you that extra boost of confidence to get through the speech.

3.) Work the room.

The worst speeches are the ones where someone stands behind a podium and reads blandly off index cards. You’re better than that! Pace back and forth across the room as you talk, use your hands (pretend you’re Italian if you have to), and vary up your facial expressions. Movement gives you an outlet for your nervous energy so it doesn’t end up coming out in your speech.

4.) Practice on your friends.

Before speech day, practice your speech on a group of your friends to ease your nerves. Ask them to point out any areas where you could improve.

5.) Take slow, deep breaths.

Lower a racing heart rate pre-speech by taking slow, controlled breaths. This will help relax you out of spaz mode and into speech mode.

6.) Find a couple friendly faces in the crowd.

Eye contact with your audience is important while giving speeches, but there’s always those jerks in the back of the room who either make fun of everyone or look bored out of their minds. Don’t look at them. Find a few friendly faces in the crowd and focus on them while giving your speech.

7.) Realize everyone’s in the same boat.

Just because you feel nervous doesn’t mean your audience can tell. And even if they can tell, chances are their knees will be knocking on the day of their own speech. Instead of telling yourself that the rest of the class is judging you, feel a sense of solidarity that they, too, will have to be in your shoes.

What do you think are the most effective public speaking strategies?

Barbara Jolie is a freelance writer. She welcomes your comments at her email.

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  1. @[email protected]@mpvboehme I do not videotape beforehand, but it certainly is a good technique that is used by many. My concern is that when I’m practicing, the speech or my delivery may take a slightly different form every time, so if I videotaped, the next version of my delivery could vary, once again. I agree that videotaping can help with major issues, however. I am starting to do some professional speaking (outside of the classroom) and was recently videotaped and never would have imagined that i was guilty of some prolonged fig leaf positions. Yikes! Great discussion, by the way!

  2. @[email protected]@chattyprof Interesting perspective. Have you tried video taping yourself while practicing at all? I’ve found that it gives me that benefit of getting the right feedback while still giving me the chance to practice in private.

  3. @[email protected]@chattyprof Interesting perspective. Have you tried video taping yourself while practicing at all? I’ve found that it gives me that benefit of getting the right feedback while still giving me the chance to practice in private.

  4. @[email protected]@thomasfrank09cwilkins88hemakarunakaram I might be the odd one out here. I tend to severely distrust my ability to judge what the audience sees/hears when I’m speaking. So I make it a point to get feedback throughout my process of preparing. Too many times I see a video of myself and realize I did not at all present myself the way I thought I did.Practicing in front of a mirror partially helps the visual side of public speaking but I find that content and flow is difficult to tweak without objective feedback from a third party.

  5. @[email protected] Like you two, I have to practice alone. I don’t want people to see my thoughts until I’ve fully developed them, I want them to see my work when I feel it is done, and done well. Having someone watch or even critique me when I haven’t finished yet can feel very discouraging, and keep me from going where my inspiration would have led me.

  6. @Justicewordlaw that’s a good strategy. I record myself with my video camera when I’m practicing so I can get that feedback while still practicing in private.

  7. I love public speaking it could be nothing better than experiencing myself in front of a room full of people that might not know anything I am going to talk about. I know when I first started out I would practice in front of my parents and friends of what I was going to say. It really did work and I just kept going at it until I was 100% comfortable.

  8. @thomasfrank09 I knew I couldn’t be alone! I’m so glad that you shared that :-).

  9. @chattyprof I’m just like you – when presentation time comes around, the audience can be 5 or 5,000 – I’m a strong speaker either way. During practice, however, I have to be completely alone. I can’t have any pressure on me while I’m figuring out my pauses, rewriting statements, and focusing on gestures. It’s a very private thing for me.

  10. Love the statement here that profs are doing the right thing by requiring presentations. I am a communication prof; I wish I had $1 for every student who has e-mailed or visited and said, “Wow, I never realized I’d have to give a speech, but I had to get up in a meeting and report on X.” It is great practice! I agree with the advice given here, but wanted to add on note: Not everyone is comfortable practicing in front of others, and I do not believe it is always necessary. It is more important for you to become comfortable with your material, become rooted in it, excited about it, etc., and then you will feel that much more energized by a live audience. I am an award-winning speaker and I have a practice regimen that never, ever includes practicing in front of a live audience. For some students, when practicing in front of others, they become that much more nervous. Also, most students must practice in front of people they already know, who may not take the situation seriously, and that can be hugely stressful. Bottom line: If practicing in front of others works for you, by all means… do it. But if not, then go solo and get strong. Then, audience… watch out! Thank you for this piece! Ellen Bremen, M.A. @chattyprof

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