3 Not-So-Terrifying Ways to Practice Public Speaking

microphone

Are you most at home with a mic in your hand, offering a hard-hitting yet relatable opening keynote to a room full of 1000 conference attendees? How about ferociously clicking through a PowerPoint as your board of directors looks on, eagerly awaiting the moment that you’ll open up to questions? Do you reach a zen state each time you get in front of a crowd to give a public presentation?

Neither do I.

If, on the other hand, you answered yes for any of the above, I apologize, but this article may not be for you. For the rest of us, however, here are some accessible ways to practice public speaking, even if it’s not quite your thing.

Volunteer for story time at your local library

When I first graduated college, I worked at a children’s museum. In addition to cleaning spit off of plastic blocks and filling glue bottles, I was also tasked with leading story time a few times a week.

At first blush, this may not seem like the ultimate public speaking opportunity, but hear me out. Story time gives you a chance to experiment with delivery, tone, gestures, and expressions, and usually, you’re working with familiar material and in front of an incredibly captivated audience.

Most libraries that have story time on their schedule accept volunteers, so reach out to your town library or recreation center to inquire as to whether they offer this kind of opportunity.

Some programs will even share a brief survey with attendees (i.e., parents) at the end of the program or the end of the month. If you’re looking for feedback, ask the host organization if there may be an opportunity for you to get a peek at some of the feedback shared after your story.

Present on a conference call

If your organization is geographically dispersed, chances are there is a weekly, monthly, or quarterly conference call on your calendar. For these kinds of all-staff check-ins, topics usually vary and there is almost always an opportunity for a member of the team to volunteer to present on a project they’ve been working on.

The next time the schedule gets sent around asking for folks to sign up to present on one of these calls, put your name on the list (if you have a project in mind).

The beauty of using your organization’s conference call as a practice space is that no matter how many people are on the line, it’s all the same to you because you likely won’t be able to see or hear any of them. If your issue is stage fright, this is a great way to practice being in front of a big audience without feeling like you’re actually in front of a big audience!

Get a room!

If you’re getting ready for a presentation, schedule some time in a private space in your office to rehearse aloud. Even if you know your deck front and back, the value of rehearsing aloud should never be underestimated!

As you rehearse, make sure that you’re happy with how you’re delivering the material. If you’re not, stop, and start that sentence over and keep starting over until you’ve found a succinct and clear way to deliver your message.

Pro Tip: You may even want to record yourself during your practice. This can give you a better sense of your timing, whether you’re talking too fast, or using too many filler words like “um.”

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Do you have other tips for beating those public speaking jitters? Tweet us at @idealistcareers.

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As a seasoned communications professional with 13+ years of nonprofit experience and 5+ years of experience creating engaging content and copy, I love the idea that a thoughtfully crafted piece of content can spark social change. Here at Idealist Careers, I'm eager to offer job seekers, game changers, and do-gooders actionable tips, career resources, and "social-impact lifestyle" advice.


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Comments

  1. Reply

    Hi Alexis – thanks for the tips. Something I did that might sound silly but really helped me a lot with delivery was practicing with my son’s stuffed animals as my audience. No kidding…I would set them all up around the room (he had a lot ;)) and then deliver my talk to them, looking at each one as if they were in my audience. Not only does it help to ease the stress (talk about a cute audience :)) it helps with movement around the room, eye contact and the ability to give yourself a good laugh and have a little fun with it!

      • Alexis Perrotta
      • September 13, 2017
      Reply

      I love this! A great way to get into the habit of making eye contact with everyone in the room!

    • publicspeaking.tech
    • September 14, 2017
    Reply

    Thanks for adding some less usual tips into the discussion. In addition to the stuffed animals, practice speaking to your dog is tip you hear once in a while.
    There is another possibility to consider. Practice with a virtual audience. Done in VR, this provides a real presenting experience, though without the feared real-world social side-effects. Science has shown it effective for treating fear. It’s also great for perfecting speeches and even slides. Plus you can get performance feedback, e.g. on eye contact.
    Disclaimer: Our company creates on such product: Virtual Orator

    • Louis
    • September 15, 2017
    Reply

    Hi Alexis,
    Nice tips on how one can get over their fear of public speaking. All it does take is some practice! I hardly know of anyone that didn’t feel uncomfortable speaking in front of a crowd when they just started off in their younger days. It took courage and many real attempts to get it right myself.

    I totally agree with your advice on practicing alone by presenting your work aloud. This helps you time your speech with your slides. When I know I am presenting to a rather large audience over a conference call, I also add-in voice notes on each slide, so if someone misses my presentation, they can simply have my recordings take them through it.
    P.S.- Listening to your own recordings will also help build confidence in the way you speak.

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