5 Tips for Improving Your Speaking Skills
According to the National Institute of Mental Health, social phobias affect more than 15 million American adults. While a fear of public speaking is not the only symptom of a social phobia, just the thought of speaking in front of an audience can make many break out into a cold sweat or feel like they want to vomit. Speaking in front of a large audience is also not the only kind of “public speaking” we fear, either. Going to a party or other social setting where we don’t know anyone can also cause panic or anxiety. Competence breeds confidence, however, so one of the best way to overcome your fear of public speaking – in front of a large crowd or otherwise – is to brush up on your speaking skills. Here are 5 tips to improve your speakings skills that can help you approach speaking opportunities with confidence.
1. Figure out what you want to say and to whom
Developing your speaking skills can cover a lot of ground, so to start with, you want to choose something specific to work on. It might be learning how to talk to potential romantic interest, preparing for a job interview or giving a presentation at work. Building your skills in one area is going to help build more confidence in your abilities overall, but to start with, you want to choose one scenario or situation in which you want to better your skills.
2. Practice in front of a mirror
Once you have decided what area you want to build your skills in, you need to start developing them. Like everything else in life, we get better with practice. But practicing in front of other people can be awkward, so first practice in front of a mirror. You can practice introducing yourself, giving a speech or answering sample interview questions. The likelihood is, the first few times you say or do something, it’s going to be awkward. The 3rd, 4th, or 5th time you do it, however, it is likely to get smoother and should be able to speak with less awkwardness and hesitation. This should help build your confidence, which is the ultimate goal. You can also read up on tips for better communication so you know what to practice.
3. Find a safe sounding board
Once you have practiced in front of a mirror for a while, it’s time to get some feedback. At this stage, you are still practicing, but now you want to practice with another person. Let them know you are still practicing and would like some feedback. Make sure you choose someone likely to give you constructive feedback that can help you gain more confidence, not destructive feedback that will rip your slowly budding confidence to shreds. When they give you some feedback, take it back to the mirror and practice some more, then find another sounding board or go back to the same person and repeat the process.
4. Find a safe audience
Once you have practiced in the mirror and gotten some feedback, it’s time to practice your skills for real. You still want to find a safe audience again, but this time you don’t want to tell them you are practicing. Find a small group of people you feel comfortable with and practice your newfound skills. If you want, you can approach them later to get some feedback, but don’t tell them in advance that you are practicing or what you are practicing. The feedback you get this time might be a bit more critical, but don’t let it discourage you.
5. Dive in
Once you have practiced in front of a mirror and then in progressively more “realistic” situations, it’s time to jump in front of total strangers and see what they think. This still should not be the “big event” that you are practicing for, but this time it’s no training wheels. By the time most comedians tell a joke in front of a large, paying crowd or national audience, they have probably told it a hundred times. Building your speaking skills doesn’t mean you have to totally wing it. In fact, the more you have rehearsed something, the more likely you are to soar if you find yourself having to wing it.