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How to Continue Developing Your Public Speaking Skills

How to Continue Developing Your Public Speaking Skills

Public speaking is a skill, which like any skill, can be learned and improved. If you think of public speaking skills as a continuum, where you may start off not being particularly skilled at presentations, and then continue along the line to being fairly skilled and then very skilled and finally, you are extremely skilled.

Wherever you are on that line, you want to keep moving forward and continue to develop your public speaking skills. Here are four actions you can take to ensure you continue to make progress:

You can’t work on ten areas of improvement at once so select the one or two elements that you’re going to work on. Pick the areas that will yield the most return and where you’ll see the most improvement in your presentation. Find ways to practice them and focus on them during your presentations.

For example, if you want to work on crafting a message that’s clear and relevant to your audience, then each time you give a presentation, write the message at the top of your notes. Make sure you state it in the introduction and the conclusion, and then follow up with people afterwards to see if they understood the message.

Listen and be attuned to others’ presentations: what works for them and what doesn’t work?

By observing other presenters, often you can learn about what works from an audience’s point of view more effectively than if you just thought about it yourself.

For example, I recently attended a presentation in a long, narrow
room, full to capacity with three hundred people. The speaker stood behind a podium which had an attached microphone. Early on, it became obvious that the back half of the room couldn’t hear her. She tried speaking louder but that didn’t work and I could see people around me getting antsy.

She finally realized the situation was getting a little out of hand and said, “You know what? I think I’m going to take the microphone out of the stand and hold it myself.” She pulled it out of the stand and held it close to her mouth. And she got a round of applause because it was so much easier for people to hear and now they could actually understand her content. Observing that example really drove home to me the point that if the audience can’t hear you, they get restless and can tune out.

Be careful while observing, however, not to copy somebody else’s presentation style completely. You have your own unique style and you want to develop that.

After each presentation, take the time to reflect on it. If you recorded yourself (while video is best, audio alone also can be helpful), make time to review the recording. Write down the date, the presentation, the number of people in the audience and what happened. Start off with what went well. For example, you were well-prepared or you handled difficult questions with ease.

Then think about what you could improve for next time, particularly in light of the areas you’re trying to focus on. Be specific and non-judgmental. For example, you need to practice your transitions between slides so you use fewer pause words like “um” and “ah.”

Select someone to give you feedback who is capable of being specific. You don’t want to hear, “Oh, you did great!” because that’s not helpful. You need to know what specifically was “great” about your presentation. For example, “You handled those questions confidently. You were able to say ‘I don’t know the answer,’ without stumbling.”

You also need someone who is capable of giving you constructive, specific criticism. If the feedback is, “Well, you didn’t sound confident,” you need to ask, “What did I do or say that didn’t appear confident?” You will only be able to improve if you understand specifically what you did, for example, your voice was shaking or you stared at your notes rather than looking at the audience.

So don’t just accept random feedback – make sure you get specific, focused feedback both on what worked and what you can do better.

Use every opportunity you have to take action to improve your public speaking skills. Like with any skill, the more you practice and get feedback about your public speaking, the more you will improve.

Gilda Bonanno is a speaker, trainer and coach who helps people from all walks of life improve their communication and presentation skills.

Copyright (c) 2014

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