I was shocked at the huge list of dumb exercises to improve presentation skills on the internet. When I say “dumb,” I mean don’t try those tips. They will not work. In fact, they will likely make you even more nervous. So in this episode, I’m going to dispel some of the worst exercises and give you a few really simple things that you can do to become a better public speaker. So get rid of the tongue twisters and vocal warm-ups. Stay tuned for a few way more effective ways to become a good public speaker!
Before I begin, though, there is an important point that you really have to understand. Developing public speaking skills takes time. If you have a presentation tomorrow morning and you are just now looking for exercises to improve public speaking skills, guess what? You are probably too late.
Someone called our 800 number last week looking for help with an upcoming presentation. I asked him, “How long have you known about this fear?”
He replied, “Well, I guess all my life.”
So he knew he needed help a long time ago but waited until just a few weeks before his biggest presentation to try to do something about it. That would be like a teenager just starting to learn to drive a week before taking the driver’s test. You can probably do it. However, the teen would do much better if he or she practices an hour or two every week for an entire year. If you practice the public speaking tips below a little at a time on a regular basis, you will slowly become a great public speaker. If you try to do it in a week, you probably won’t improve a lot.
Don’t Do These Things. They Will Not Help You Become a Better Public Speaker.
Before I give you my go-to tips for an effective presentation, here are a few terrible ideas that get reposted on the internet. Don’t do these things! They will not help you become a better presenter. In fact, most of these things will actually make you more nervous.
Yup. Many of the things that friends and coworkers tell you to do to become a better speaker actually cause nervousness.
Never Try to Memorize a Speech Word-for-Word.
The first thing that most people do to practice a presentation is to write it out word-for-word. (That is a huge mistake, by the way.) The second thing they try to do is memorize the presentation. These two mistakes cause more people to experience the fear of public speaking than anything else that I have seen.
I’ll give you an example. The first time I got really nervous about a presentation was when I was in college. I worked for a huge company during a summer internship. At the end of the summer, I had to give a presentation about the experience. I wrote out my presentation and read it over and over until I had the delivery down to almost exactly 15 minutes. (That was the time that was given to me.)
However, the more that I read the speech, the more canned and boring it sounded to me. So, just like most people do, I decided to try to memorize the speech. Obviously, that will make me sound better, right? Well, not exactly. Keep in mind that I was nervous already, So by increasing the complexity of the presentation (trying to memorize it,) I just made myself even more nervous.
I flew through the presentation at break-neck speed and sat down humiliated at my performance. So don’t do what I did way back then. Don’t write the presentation word-for-word and don’t try to memorize it.
Don’t Practice in Front of a Mirror.
You are your own worst critic. So when you practice in front of a mirror, you will nitpick every minor challenge that you see. By the way, if you are already nervous, you will likely just make yourself more nervous. You will look at your facial expressions and think, “Why did I make that face? Is the audience going to see that?”
There is another big challenge with practicing this way. You don’t get any critical feedback. The good news is that there is a much better way to practice. Ask a coworker, friend, or family member to listen to your speech. As you communicate your ideas in front of an audience just watch how they react. When you say something clearly, you will see them nod slightly. This lets you know you are communicating well.
If you see confusion on the face of your listener, that means something you said wasn’t quite understood. This lets you alter your delivery. No one is going to create a perfect speech the first time they present it. However, if you improve the presentation every time you practice, you will get better and better at delivering it as well.
By the way, if you want to increase your nervousness even more use a video recording device (cellphone camera, etc.) to coach yourself. This type of practice takes the “practice in front of a mirror” mistake to an entirely new level. (Don’t do that.)
Filler Words Are Normal. Don’t Try to Totally Eliminate Them.
Anything you reinforce you will get more of. So, if you focus on trying to reduce filler words, you will most likely — at least in the short term — use more filler words. Plus, if you totally eliminate filler words altogether, you create a bigger problem.
Have you ever watched a politician give a speech and think, “Something is just not right about that person?” The delivery may seem mechanical. You may hear the words and think that the person just doesn’t seem that genuine. Interestingly, this happens from over practice and overtraining. The speech will sound canned and robotic.
A good example of this occurred in the 2016 presidential debates. The last two candidates in the Republican Primary were Ted Cruz and Donald Trump. After the last debate, the consensus among “experts” was that Cruz handily won the debates. Trump was often seen stumbling over words and not completing sentences. Cruz, though, was an expert debater. When all the votes were counted, though, Trump won the Primary by quite a lot. The same thing happened in the Trump and Clinton debates.
When we talk to coworkers at lunch or have drinks with friends, we naturally use filler words in conversations. They make us human. When all of those filler words go away, we sound mechanical. Don’t get me wrong, when people get nervous, they often over-use filler words. The filler words become annoying. The secret, though, is not to eliminate the filler words. The secret is to reduce the nervousness. Then the filler words are reduced automatically.
The Best Exercises to Improve Presentation Skills. These Things WILL Help You Become a Better Public Speaker.
If you really want to become an effective speaker, you want to practice speaking in front of a group as often as you can. In fact, the only way to reduce stage fright is to present more and have a series of successes. The reason why most people feel nervous when they present is just that they do this skill so infrequently. For instance, if you only drove a car once every two years, you will likely be terrified every time you got behind the wheel.
Think about developing public speaking skills like dating. Both people who go on a first date will likely be very nervous, In fact, the person asking for the date will probably be terrified just before the question is asked. The second date will be equally as terrifying. However, as both people enjoy each date, the nervousness is replaced by more positive emotions. Over time, both people become more comfortable on the dates than being alone.
However, what would happen if the dates only occur once every year or once every couple of years. The person will never feel that comfort level. He or she will be starting from the initial nervousness level every single time. So the best way to improve your presentation skills is to… well… get up and present more.
The following exercises will help, though.
Speak Up in Team Meetings.
You have great ideas. Why not share them with your team members? The biggest fear related to public speaking is the fear of being judged. So when you share an idea with your team some will like the ideas and some will not. When you see different people with different backgrounds agreeing with your perspective, you see value in your ideas.
When others disagree, though, you also realize that this isn’t the end of the world. A little debate actually helps you improve your ideas. The best part about this type of presentation is that it is informal and fairly risk-free. Most ideas shared in team meetings are quickly forgotten once the meeting is over. So you get a chance to practice your presentation delivery without any long-term consequences.
If you want to lower the risk even more, try asking a simple question during the team meeting. Often, great speakers are not the people who have important things to say. Instead, they are the people who ask the right questions to get the audience thinking differently.
Obviously, don’t make the meetings drag on longer by constantly adding to the conversation. A little practice goes a long way. Your goal is to increase your comfort level speaking in front of people . That is why asking a question to get your team members talking more can help improve your speaking skills. It can also help improve your interpersonal communication as well.
Design a Better Speech.
All the exercises to improve presentation skills will fail if you create a terrible speech. If you try to tell your audience EVERYTHING you know about a topic, your speech will be terrible. Your audience will then see you as a terrible speaker.
This is why I mentioned not writing out your speech or trying to memorize the speech. Instead, try to put yourself in the shoes of the audience member. Ask yourself what you would want or need to know from listening to the presentation? Then jot down the most important points that come to mind. By starting with your audience in mind, you will be able to quickly identify just a few key points to cover in the presentation.
You can begin to practice thinking this way over time by making this a repeatable exercise.
Here is an example. Think about something you do every day at work. Pick something that you know inside and out. Because you do this all the time, you will think of it as being simple. However, someone who has never done this thing will likely have trouble doing it.
For instance, in my industry, I write a lot of articles. After writing for years, it is second nature to me. A new person may struggle with it, though.
My wife owns a bakery. She creates iced cookies that are works of art. My daughter worked at a clothing store for a while. She got really good at putting together outfits. Each of these skills can be broken down into a step-by-step process and taught to a new person.
This type of exercise can help you get practice creating compelling presentations. A simple step-by-step process is easy to remember.
The Best Public Speaking Exercise Is to Practice Personal Anecdotes.
Great speakers are great storytellers. So after you have a good step-by-step outline, practice using personal anecdotes as a way to prove to your audience that the step (or main point) is valid.
For instance, if I am designing a presentation about how to write a blog post, one of my main points might be about creating a compelling title. I can ask myself, “How do I know this is important?” or “When did I learn the value of this tip?” The answer to that question is likely a good story.
In fact, years ago, I went to an ASTD (now ATD) convention in Atlanta, GA. The convention was HUGE. They had hundreds of different breakout meetings throughout the three days. Obviously, I couldn’t attend all of them. So, I went down the list first just looking at the titles. I quickly eliminated any title that didn’t sound interesting or informative. Then, with the titles that I had left, I crossed out a few more that didn’t match up to the quality of my high rankers. Only then did I take the time to look at the speaker bio and description.
Keep in mind, this was for breakout sessions. Your potential readers will do the same thing even more quickly when they scan your blog on a Google search. A compelling title will make them more likely to click on your post to read more.
Remember that your experience on a given topic is what your audience has come to hear. These personal stories are what peaks your audience’s attention. You can practice these anecdotes in conversations with friends or coworkers. In fact, this is an easy exercise to improve presentation skills that can become a daily task.
You Will Find a Lot of Effective Exercises in Public Speaking Classes.
If time is short and you don’t have a year or so to develop your public speaking skills, you might try a good public speaking class. The exercises in these classes break down the most important skills in presenting and give each participant the chance to master each component. For details about upcoming classes in your area, click the link above or complete the form below.