3 Foolproof Ways to Become a Better Public Speaker (Even if It's Really Not Your Thing)
I recently attended the best training I’ve ever been to. At the end of day four, we—the audience—were as engaged as we were on day one.
It was no accident. The trainers from Green Dot, a high-demand violence prevention program, know how to deliver a message. Their audiences are engaged and involved in their trainings, and Green Dot is getting measurable results.
If you read my previous column on public speaking, you know I believe that presenting in front of an audience is a vital skill. At some point, you will have to speak to a group of people to report on your work, welcome guests to an event, teach people a skill, or ask for support for a project. Once, I even had to give a presentation as part of a job interview.
When you do take center stage, it’s vital that you do so effectively. But how will you know if you’re actually successful in getting your message across? Feedback, of course.
The Green Dot trainers share feedback with one another after every training. That kind of constructive criticism is something that can help you capitalize on your natural strengths and make improvements to your areas of weakness. So if you’re not getting constant feedback about your public speaking, read on for three ways you can get this valuable information—and ultimately, become a better public speaker.
1. Tap Your Audience
You have two ways to get input from the goldmine that is your audience.
First, pay attention to what’s happening as you present. When are all eyes on you? This is a good sign that you’ve captivated your audience. When do they appear distracted? This is where you might need to adjust your approach. What happens when you give them an activity? If they jump to it, they’re engaged. If they give you a blank stare, you may need to rethink the activity or the material leading up to it.
Second, ask your audience to complete an evaluation—but don’t just ask if they liked the presentation or have them rank it on a scale of one to 10. Neither tells you exactly what worked or what didn’t. Instead, ask for specific feedback: What is the main idea you got from training? What was the best part? What could be improved? What are you most likely to implement?
Their answers to these questions will give you insight into their perspective, because what you intend for your audience to hear isn’t always the same as what they actually hear.
You can add a twist to the traditional evaluation by giving your audience a mini quiz. You don’t want them to feel like they’re retaking their SATs, of course, but three or four strategic questions will tell you if they got what you wanted them to get out of the presentation.
Let’s say you’re giving a one-hour presentation on negotiating effectively, based on three principles. As part of the quiz, you can ask them to list the three principles. If most of your audience can do it, you got your message across. If not, you’ve got some work to do.
Of course, this approach is best when you present material that you will present again, like a recurring monthly training or a new-hire welcome message. If you’re trying to prepare for a one-time proposal or event, you’ll need to get your feedback before you are in the spotlight—which brings us to:
2. Video Yourself
Watching yourself on video is scary and awkward. But it will show you the absolute truth and spare anyone else from having to drop a bomb like, “You scratch your backside when you get nervous!” (OK, hopefully you don’t do that, but you get the idea—we all have ticks we’d probably never realize without that recording.)
Once you have a video of yourself practicing your presentation, turn off the volume and simply watch yourself for a bit. Without the sound, you can focus on your physical presence. Do you appear confident or timid? Do you use the whole space or cower in one corner? Once you see yourself on video, you can practice correcting the physical behaviors that don’t fit with your ideal.
Then, listen to your presentation with without actually watching it. How do you sound? And how does that compare to how you want to sound? If you’re happy with the way you present, great! Keep doing what you are doing. But if you’re surprised by how fast you’re speaking, how unnerved you sound, or the number of “likes” you drop, start focusing on making those adjustments.
Next—as you’ve probably guessed—watch and listen to yourself for the full effect. You’ll already have a good idea about the adjustments you want to make, but give it one last look and listen to see if anything else needs tweaking. Remember, these changes won’t happen magically; you have to practice the things you want to do differently.
3. Ask a Colleague
Like the Green Dot team, you can arrange to have a colleague in the room who can tell you what worked and what didn’t.
It doesn’t even have to be someone who knows the material backward and forward. After presenting to a class recently, I asked the teacher—who hadn’t seen the presentation prior to that day—a number of questions about my presentation. Her feedback helped me realize I needed to spend more time on a certain area, and when I quizzed the students a week later to see what they retained, their responses validated her observation that I had covered that part too quickly.
To get to the heart of what worked and what didn’t, ask probing questions like the following:
- When was the audience most engaged?
- At what point did the audience’s attention drift?
- Was there any point when I didn’t explain myself well?
- Was there any part that felt rushed?
- Is there anything you think I left out that should have been addressed?
- Did you notice any nervous ticks or mannerisms I might not be aware of? (They probably still won’t tell you about scratching your backside, but maybe they’ll tell you if you wring your hands or bounce on your toes!)
Receiving this feedback may be tough. You’re going to see something on the video that makes you cringe, read something on the evaluation that makes you want to cry, or hear something from your colleague that makes you think, “Oh crap!”
But don’t give up. Although receiving feedback can be uncomfortable, it can end up putting you far ahead of your competition. When you take action on that feedback, you’ll be polished and confident, and you’ll impress your audience (and your boss). And that should make you smile.
Photo of microphone courtesy of Shutterstock.
Caris Thetford is a counselor who is fanatical about personal growth and development. She is particularly interested in encouraging women to reach their full potential. She encourages student development through various roles at Tarleton State University. Say hi on Twitter @CarisThetford.More from this Author