What is really being said when public speaking?

While doing a demonstration or public speaking, your verbal and nonverbal communication sends important messages to the audience.

Leadership skills come in many packages. Being an engaging public speaker is just one of them. When a person masters the art of public speaking, they can influence the world around them! The actual speech or demonstration is just one piece of the puzzle; delivering the speech in an engaging manner is a completely different skill. Nonverbal communication is just as much a part of the speech delivery as the words being said. When delivering a speech or a demonstration, one must be aware of their voice, eye contact, gestures, expressions and posture.

Your voice can be a powerful tool. Like anything else, you must practice using it in order to use it well. When giving a speech, you want the entire audience to hear you, so it’s important to practice projecting your voice. Projecting your voice is not yelling, but it is speaking up, speaking clearly and using your diaphragm muscles in order to help you project louder. Practice in a large room with someone standing in the back of the room giving you signals on how well they can or cannot hear you.

Make sure you sound like yourself and speak at a comfortable pace. When delivering speeches, individuals tend to speed up and talk fast when they are nervous. Try using cues that remind you to slow down and pronounce each word clearly. Do not use words you are not comfortable with. Public speaking is not a time to try and impress people with large words you are not comfortable with.

Make sure you maintain eye contact. This is often difficult the more people you are speaking to. Make sure you scan the room and make eye contact with different individuals throughout your speech. Try not to stare at a fixed object; let your eyes travel casually throughout the entire space. If you know individuals in the room, that allows you to relax and can be affirming. Know where they are located and utilize them for reassurance.

Gestures and expressions can be a powerful addition to a speech or can be a horrible distraction. Be natural with your gestures and expressions. Do not try and mimic others or use gestures and expressions that are not natural to you. Make sure you smile and look as if you are enjoying yourself.

Maintain a strong posture throughout your speech. This shows confidence and others will feed off of that. If there is a podium, place your notes on the podium and utilize as a holding place, but do not rest your elbows on the podium or lean on it. If you choose to walk around while you talk, maintain upright posture and if hold your notes at your waist. If you want to utilize a podium as well as walk around, leave your notes on the podium and return to the podium to glance at your notes. Make sure you are focused and deliver the message you intended to deliver.

Practice makes perfect and public speaking is no different. Practice speaking techniques, not just speeches, and don’t be afraid to have individuals give you feedback. Most importantly in public speaking, be yourself and do not try to imitate others or be someone you are not.

Michigan State University Extension’s CommunicationsToolkit is an excellent resource to assist any individual in advancing their communication skills. The MSU Extension 4-H Leadership Civic Engagement work team is available to work with groups on public speaking, as it is an important life skill to perfect when advancing leadership skills. For more information, contact us at 4-hleadership@anr.msu.edu.

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