How to Practice Public Speaking

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Full Guide on How to Become a Better Public Speaker:

You might think that the best way to deliver an excellent speech is to memorize the content by heart. Although this method can give you a boost of confidence, it can also lead to numerous problems. Not only that memorization sounds unnatural but, if your mind goes blank for just a fraction of a second during your presentation, you could lose the train of your thoughts and create an awkward silence. Or even worse, you could panic and forget the entire speech altogether.

So, how can you become a great public speaker if memorization and reading off paper are discouraged?

The answer is practice.

Maybe you’re thinking – I came here for advice, not for bad clichés! But, that’s the truth. Smart practice makes perfect.

How to Use Muscle Memory to Improve Your Practice

When it comes to writing and delivering a speech, most people use rote learning. They memorize the words of the content through repetition, and when it comes time to present it, they recall the words and ideas from memory.

Skillful orators, on the other hand, believe that public speaking is as much about muscle memory as about rote learning. Think about it this way: delivering a speech is a real time activity. Some of the best speakers engage the audience during their presentation by making the audience repeat key messages or by stopping in the middle of the speech to ask them to share their experiences. You need to be able to develop arguments as you speak and present them in a clear manner to reach that level of engagement during a presentation.

Getting that kind of speed of thoughts requires smart practice. Here are the steps to take to create muscle memory.

Step 1: Practice Your Speech by Improvising

As mentioned above, don’t learn the content of your speech by heart. Instead, learn how to improvise.

Don’t write anything down; just let your ideas flow freely without any plan or preparation. Take note of the areas you struggle with and try to focus on improving and eliminating most of your weaknesses.

It might seem hard to believe that such an approach might work. After all, how can you present yourself in front of an audience unprepared? You can’t just wing your speech. And, you are right. But, the purpose of this exercise is to help you get over the fear of “what if.”

What if I forget what I want to say? What if they’ll ask questions and I won’t know what to answer? What if my ideas are wrong and everybody will make fun of me?

Instead of going down that spiral, try to understand that speaking in public is not a one-way communication, but an interaction between you and your audience. By memorizing your speech, you risk to lose contact with the public and create a feeling that the entire presentation is artificial.

That’s not to say you shouldn’t have a plan at all, but you should be able to improvise if the opportunity arises. Stick to a few main ideas and adapt according to the situation.

Step 2: Outline Your Speech and Practice It

Instead of writing the entire speech down, focus on the concepts. Create bullet points of the data, stories, and main takeaways you want to get across during your presentation. Use acronyms to help you remember the topics in your outline, then, speak naturally about them. Don’t worry if you forget some of the key points. You can move to the next idea and come back to them later.

Step 3: Improvise Again

By the third time you improvise your speech, you should feel a significant improvement. Not only that you can remember your key points, but you have also developed a pattern that helps you structure your ideas more accurately. The more you practice your speech (or speaking in public in general) the more you build up that procedural memory and instruct your brain to create and follow patterns.

Constantly Improve Yourself

Have you ever sent a school paper without realizing there’s a typo in your title? You’ve read the entire thing twice, but somehow you missed that error. That’s because we get so wrapped up in the ideas we want to share with our audience that we tend to discount secondary elements.

Analyze the recordings and pay attention to both verbal and non-verbal communication. Are you slouching or fidgeting during your presentation? Are you making too many awkward pauses or using “um,” “uh,” or “like” too many times? Is your tone of voice too slow or rapid?