10 Tips to Improve Public Speaking Skills

Written by Coursera • Updated on

Professionals within all industries often need to present ideas and information. Improved public speaking skills can help employees reduce anxiety, improve productivity, and become more valued members of any team.

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Regardless of the industry, one of the most critical professional skills is public speaking. Speaking comfortably and effectively to a crowd can facilitate formal board presentations and complex explanations to financial backers. It can also help you present ideas to colleagues and teammates.

Luckily, everyone can learn the skills needed to feel comfortable when tasked with sharing concepts with co-workers or with crowds. This is true even if speaking in front of others makes you feel intimidated or if you’ve never done it before.

By implementing public speaking tips used by the best presenters, you can position yourself to convey important information with confidence. Improve your productivity and become an influential member of any team with good public speaking skills with focused effort. 

1. Know your audience before preparing your speech. 

Employees are more likely to feel comfortable presenting to an audience they know. By knowing the people you are talking to, you’ll better understand how to craft a message in a way that resonates with them. 

Start by identifying their level of understanding of the topic you plan to discuss. This will help you know the amount of background you must cover before going more in-depth. It can also help you choose the right kind of words. If you use industry jargon and acronyms for the general public, you’ll risk confusing them.

Then, as you’re presenting, stay aware of the reactions from your listeners. Adjust accordingly so you can connect with them through your message. 

2. Practice, practice, practice. 

Even the most seasoned public speaker needs to practice to be effective. Giving a mock presentation of your speech in advance will make it easier to determine if you’ve organized the information cohesively and clearly. 

It can help to talk out loud to an imaginary audience or in front of a mirror, but it’s even more effective to practice with the help of a supportive co-worker, friend, or family member as an audience. 

3. Use constructive criticism to your advantage.

Whether you’re practicing or giving a presentation, ask for constructive criticism. This feedback includes specific examples and is offered in a good-natured way. If you know a person has your best interests in mind, you’ll likely be more open to their suggestions to enhance the way you communicate. 

Constructive criticism can be challenging to accept. Take time before responding to reduce being defensive or taking the feedback personally. Integrate the ideas in a way that can help you improve your presentation for the next time. Always thank the person for providing their thoughts.

4. Make it your own. 

Connecting with an audience can happen more easily when you're being yourself. Let your personality shine through as you convey your message. Be authentic and appropriate—include humor when it can facilitate your work rather than detract from it.

If you're using a PowerPoint presentation, make sure the text and the pictures highlight your character and expertise. Include short and focused personal stories to illustrate your points. Add your contact information at the end of the presentation so people can follow up with you afterward. 

5. Connect with your audience with a personal story.

Including personal stories or anecdotes in your professional presentations can effectively communicate your message to your audience. This is demonstrated successfully on the TED Talk stage. 

When TED Speakers take the stage, they often begin with a short, personal tale. This structure helps them personally connect with the audience, share their passion for what they're about to discuss, or explain their expertise. 

To add this kind of personal touch to your presentation, make sure what you share has a direct connection with the topic at hand. If you think someone will not easily understand the point of the personal story, omit it.

Learn more about storytelling and influencing.

6. Make eye contact and avoid reading from a script.

Practice does more than ensure your presentation is structured and able to provide the messages required. It also helps you feel comfortable enough with your material so you can physically relax on stage. Also, you’re more likely to connect with those around you when you make eye contact. 

Presenters can use other methods to stay on track. If you have paper notes, only use an outline with a few words that can remind you about what you wish to cover. Never rely on verbatim notes. If you're using an audio-visual aid like a PowerPoint presentation, use your slides as the cues instead. 

When you look at the people in the crowd, you’ll also be able to determine whether they understand your main points or if you’ll need to clarify them further.

7. Use the stage to your advantage.

Before the presentation, gather information about where you’ll be physically speaking. Check that your PowerPoint presentation can work with the provided equipment. Make sure you know how the room will be set up. Ask about time constraints, whether people will be eating during your talk, and what kind of microphone you’ll be using.

Then, when you’re on stage, own the space. Walk to different areas to make eye contact with other people in the audience. 

Be aware of your body language. Let your arms hang loosely. Stand with excellent posture, with your back straightened, and smile. Gain control over any nervous gestures—such as thrusting your hands in your pockets or scratching your head—so they don’t distract from your message.

8. Have coping skills in place for when nerves hit.

It’s normal to still find yourself overcome with nerves at some point in your presentation, despite your preparation. When this happens, take a deep breath. No one’s expecting you to be perfect.

Work on gaining perspective in advance of any problems that may arise, and strive for connection with your audience, not perfectionism. Humor can help ease tense moments and remind those listening that you are a human just like them. 

9. Record and evaluate yourself speaking. 

Co-workers and friends can help provide feedback, but you can help yourself, too. When you make a presentation, set up your phone to video record yourself to watch it later. You may be surprised by your nervous habits or awkward phrasing and could even find new ways to improve the readability of your PowerPoint slides.

You can record yourself directly through the software if you're giving the presentation online through a video platform like Zoom. Use this technology to improve your skills to be even more effective next time and avoid ruminating on mistakes. Stay positive.

10. Make a lasting impression with a strong conclusion. 

Just as experts encourage speakers to grab their audience’s attention within the first 30 seconds of their presentations, it’s also wise to create a solid ending to any presentation. This closing can include things like: 

  • A call to action (CTA) that encourages listeners to take the next step

  • A memorable quote that inspires or illustrates a point from your presentation

  • A personal story that demonstrates why this issue is so important to you

  • A summary of the most important takeaways 

Remember to thank the audience for their time once you conclude your presentation. If there is time, you can invite questions and answer them from the stage. If organizers have limited your time, offer to answer questions afterward. 

The importance of developing your public speaking skills

Public speaking skills are helpful for growth in various facets of life. Beyond setting a foundation for advancement in your career, the ability to speak comfortably and effectively in public will help you:

  • Strengthen team-building and collaboration 

  • Share your ideas and offer solutions to work-related problems

  • Earn esteem with employers and co-workers alike

  • Create connections that can lead to new professional opportunities

  • Become a better listener to provide the same respect you wish for yourself during presentations

The benefits of these skills transfer easily to other areas of life. Improve your relationships along with your professional success through clear and effective communication. 

It can take time to improve public speaking skills. The key to confidence is a willingness to practice public speaking tips from the experts, such as those that follow and embrace the temporary feeling of discomfort that comes with developing any new skill.

Next steps for success 

Apply these public speaking tips to improve your ability to confidently execute a presentation. Further refine your skills by practicing and learning from those who can demonstrate their success in public speaking

Take public speaking classes. 

Online public speaking courses provide opportunities to learn ways to improve communication skills from the comfort of your home or office. Take the Introduction to Public Speaking course or Dynamic Public Speaking Specialization offered by the University of Washington on Coursera to gain confidence as you learn presentation and public speaking skills.

Join a public speaking support group.

Toastmasters International, a nonprofit organization with chapters throughout the world, has a mission of teaching people public speaking and leadership skills. Members practice giving speeches and overcoming shyness and anxiety with regular online and in-person meetings.

Attend public speaking events.

If your town or city offers events with speakers on various topics, consider these opportunities to learn. When watching others give presentations, use a critical eye to learn what works and what doesn’t. Ask yourself why you enjoyed or didn’t enjoy the lecture beyond the topic at hand. 

Watch videos of effective public speaking.

Finally, you can enjoy the same learning experience of in-person lectures by watching videos of influential public speakers. TED Talks are an online collection of presentations on a wide range of topics, including science, entertainment, and business. Watch as many as you can and use the best speakers as mentors to improve your confidence and success in public speaking.

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