Public Speaking: 5 Tips to Become More Confident

Speaking confidently is getting others to connect with you on the things that matter.

Goal Setting Makes Mojo Happy

By Coach Mojo

5 Tips to Get More Confident With Public Speaking

What comes to mind when you hear the phrase “successful public speaking?”

Do you see a spotlight? A sea of expectant faces? A flawless tech presentation?

All those are great visuals — but they’re just the part of the speaking iceberg that’s sticking up above the surface. The actual support and work of improving your public speaking is happening below that steady voice and not-at-all-sweaty armpits.

Confidence is the belief that we will perform our best when it matters most. To grow our confidence as public speakers we have to deliberately practice skills beforehand so we can execute them in the pressure-filled moment. Then, the improvement in our speaking skills causes us to feel more confident than we did before.

It’s a pretty cool cycle!

Below are a series of tips to help us practice the public speaking skills we need to perform, and speak confidently in the moment:

Tip #1: Winging it is for the birds — successful speakers prepare and practice

The first time you try to express an idea in a clear and compelling way should not be in front of other people. Take the time to sit down and write out the bullet points of what you want to say. Good public speaking topics are clear and focused. What information do you want to convey? What is the tone of your talk going to be? Can you use humor or an anecdote to engage your audience?

Then, once you have a sense of the content of your talk, practice speaking out loud alone to get the flow of the words going. Progress from there to speaking in front of a mirror, then in front of a friend or two. Increasing the ante like this helps you speak in a less memorized way, with conditions getting closer and closer to what they’ll actually be like when it’s time to perform. This is called deliberate practice.

And when you think about the content of a talk, remember — the core of speaking confidently is connecting with others. What do you want to communicate to others about yourself?

"The core of speaking confidently is connecting with others. What do you want to communicate to others about yourself?"

Tip #2: Use the power of a speaking checklist

Why a checklist? Good question! Pilots and surgeons use checklists every day. They’ve been shown in study after study to vastly reduce errors, help us store less in working memory (freeing it up for active use), and calm us down.

How does it work? Checklists help us narrow our focus to only what we can control. This is called attention regulation. It refers to our ability to direct focus to what we want to be focused on, and ignore what we don’t.

Good checklists are precise — they’re easy to use, specific, and able to be deployed quickly in challenging situations — like speaking confidently in front of others.

Start by writing out three qualities you would like to embody in the moments before you speak – for example, “calm,” “energetic,” “precise,” “controlled.” Then, think through the steps you deliberately practiced and which helped you perform your best. Was it reviewing your notes? Stretching? Smiling at yourself or an audience?

Add all these to your checklist, and run through it in the minutes and moments prior to speaking. We’ve included a sample checklist for you below.

Public Speaking Checklist
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Tip #3: Befriend your energy to perform your best in the moment

Do you run hot or cold…anxious or flat? Our emotional energy can be our best friend or worst enemy when it comes to public speaking. Energy management is a skill elite performers have mastered to perform their best when it matters most.

Feeling too “hot” while speaking can feel like your mind is racing, and physically, your heart rate is probably going up. You might be sweating or breathing quickly. A tool like box breathing (breathing in for four seconds through your nose, holding it for four seconds, and exhaling for four seconds) can be useful to dial down your energy level in the moment.

If you find yourself too “cold” or feeling like your energy is low, you may feel like your brain is working slowly, or you experience some fogginess. To combat being cold, you can try physical activity (a walk beforehand, or standing up or moving around a bit during) or mentally humming a song that pumps you up.

"Our emotional energy can be our best friend or worst enemy when it comes to public speaking. Energy management is a skill elite performers have mastered to perform their best when it matters most."

Tip #4: Make the audience work for you

Does a friendly face in the crowd give you reassurance? Or would you rather your friends just stay home? Or do you want your friends there… you just don’t want to see them until after the speech? We can all perform a bit better when we’ve had a chance to get comfortable. So whether it’s arriving at the site of a talk a bit early, or making small talk prior, or asking friends not to speak to you beforehand, we can make a plan for what level of interaction with the audience helps us out.

Think about what relationship with your intended audience works best for you, and then execute it the day of your talk.

Tip #5: Reframe your thinking to focus on generosity to calm nerves

So you’ve deliberately practiced, gone through your checklist, considered the role of the audience, and adjusted your energy — but you still feel the anxiety of public speaking. Now, the question becomes: what to do in the moment?

One simple trick to calm nerves when eyes are on you is to focus on how you can help the audience. Studies have shown that feeling generous decreases the fight-or-flight response (you know, that feeling that makes you want to bolt to the nearest airport and buy a ticket for anywhere but here).

So when you’re preparing for your talk, and then actually speaking in public, think about the audience and want they need to hear from you — and then make eye contact with them and focus on that mission as you speak.

"One simple trick to calm nerves when eyes are on you is to focus on how you can help the audience. Studies have shown that feeling generous decreases the fight-or-flight response."

Wrapping up!

Becoming more confident with public speaking isn’t about winging it. It’s the deliberate practice of the skills that improve our performance, and employing those skills in high-pressure public speaking situations. And that improved performance feeds back into our increased confidence — making our next talk even better!

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