Carolyn: Strategies for public speaking success

Carolyn Alchin worked at USQ for over five years supporting students to increase their employability through career counselling, career development learning activities, employability skills development, placement opportunities and application assistance. Carolyn was named 2016's Career Development Association of Australia’s Practitioner of the Year.


Many people are afraid of public speaking, some ranking their fear of public speaking equal to their fear of spiders, heights and even death.

Unfortunately for these people, public speaking is a skill that you’ll need to ace in both university and in the world of work. In the professional world, even if you’re not expected to deliver presentations in front of large audiences, you will still be expected to present your thoughts and opinions in a number of different circumstances, such as when you’re introduced to new people or when attending meetings.

While different strategies work for different people, an element of preparation is crucial to all public speaking success. It’s important to be able to adapt and be flexible in the moment, but in order to be comfortable enough to BE adaptable, you need to prepare.

The preparation phase

Planning your presentation can go a long way towards minimising your fear, so when preparing your presentation, ensure it is:

  • Relevant
    Ensure your words will be relevant to, and will meet the needs of, your particular audience. To do this, consider their age, their interests and language style that will be most appropriate.
  • Researched
    It is important for you to be able to back up what you’re saying, so make sure you do your research. Finding out how other people have approached your topic can also inspire ideas for your presentation… just make sure you don’t plagiarise!
  • Respectful
    Make sure you add value to the audiences’ experience by talking about things they don’t already know or that is a repeat of the information on your Powerpoint slides.
  • Practice, practice, practice!
    The more time you allow yourself to practice your speech, the better you’ll know it, and the more confident you will feel delivering it. In front of the mirror, to friends and family, it all helps.

The delivery phase

When it comes to actually delivering your speech, here are some tips to help you feel more confident on the day:

  • Have a backup
    Save your speech and your notes in multiple places, including a digital and hardcopy of any visual aids. You don’t want to lose your hard work.
  • Be aware of your own body language
    When delivering a speech, it’s important to have open body language, use effective eye contact and avoid reading your notes word for word. Also try to avoid crossing your arms, rocking on your heels or pacing the room, as this can be distracting for the audience and highlights your nerves.

    If you begin to feel physiological effects of stress or anxiety when speaking in public (such as shortness of breath or tightness in your chest), give yourself a moment to pause, be aware of the feeling, take a deep breath and allow your brain to catch up to your mouth (or vice versa).
  • Be aware of your audiences’ body language
    It’s also important to be aware of your audiences’ body language. If you notice any signs of boredom, adapt your presentation to recapture your audiences’ attention. For example, you might speak a little louder or pause for a moment if you notice your audience losing interest. Consider how relevant your topic is. Can you use examples or images to maximise engagement?
  • Stick to your time
    People have an expectation of the time your presentation will take, so stick to the time allotted to you. If you go over time, your audience may disengage from what you’re saying.

If ‘the worst’ happens and you drop your speech, have technical difficulties or forget the exact words you wanted to say (because let’s face it, these things do sometimes happen!), don’t panic. You are competent, capable and well prepared, and the beauty of this is that you’ll be able to adapt quickly and continue delivering your speech with confidence, no matter what happens. Your audience doesn’t know what your presentation is meant to sound or look like, so if you happen to deviate slightly from what you rehearsed, it’s unlikely they will know.

Remember: even if you never learn to love public speaking, by preparing and practicing, you will increase your confidence and learn to be more comfortable doing it.

Now that you’ve taken the first step towards being a confident public speaker by reading this blog, the next step is to continue learning tactics that will help you develop this self-confidence. A good place to start is listening to webinar on this topic online. After that, why not visit the Toastmasters website for more public speaking tips and resources or find out how USQ can support you and your career development.


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