According to a variety of sources, one of the most common phobias in America is the fear of speaking in public. Approximately 10% of the population enjoy public speaking while the remaining 90% experience some form of discomfort or anxiety when it comes to speaking in front of others. Still, public speaking remains a crucial soft skill in the work place.
Developing your public speaking skills can propel you into many career opportunities. It can also improve other areas of communication in your life, whether it is answering a question in class, a job interview, or even asking someone out on a date. Public speaking builds confidence and leads to clarity in communication.
We spoke with Peggy Kendall, chair of Bethel University’s Department of Communication Studies, about her tips for improving public speaking skills. Kendall says that people often make the mistake of over-communicating when they speak in public. The average attention span is not designed to follow rabbit-hole ramblings or side stories. The foremost question to ask when preparing to speak in front of others is, “What do I want my audience to take away from my speech?”
1. Choose one big idea.
Too many messages from all sides can detract from the public speaker’s speech. Instead, pick one idea, define it clearly, and repeat it throughout the speech. This can be referred to as a “sticky statement” which is a phrase coined by pastor and best-selling author Andy Stanley. A sticky statement is quick, short, and sweet. It is a thesis that can be said a number of times in the speech.
2. Use descriptive language.
It is important to paint a picture of words for your audience. Help them see and feel what you are talking about. Abstract ideas and concepts are good teaching tools, but they aren’t helpful without a follow-up of examples or anecdotes. Narratives drive speeches and a powerful story is always a winner—as long as it connects back to the one big idea.
3. Practice is key.
The best way to help with nerves, according to Kendall, is to keep practicing. Practicing helps a public speaker be more concise. With each practice, the speech becomes more and more refined. Knowing your speech well is the most straightforward way to manage the stress associated with being embarrassed in front of others. Practicing also creates mental muscle memory which keeps a public speaker going even when they feel nervous.
Ultimately, the only way to get better at public speaking is to engage in the process and speak in public. If there is an opportunity for you to speak in public, take advantage of the chance to do so even if you don’t feel qualified. It is a great opportunity to take a risk, which is the pathway to personal growth.
Communication is central to what makes us human. The Department of Communication Studies prepares graduates to be skilled communicators in any setting. You’ll learn how to critically analyze situations; communicate in strategic, compassionate, and culturally sensitive ways; and succeed in whatever career you choose.