What does it take to get good at public speaking?
Some people think you need to be born with a natural gift, or practise for years on end.
The good news is that there are alternative options available – lesser known paths that lead us more quickly to the promised land of effortless confidence and easy charisma.
If you’re ready to ditch the boring presentations, stale stories and uneasy nerves that most people consider part of public speaking, read on for my five alternative ways to accelerate your speaking skills.
1. Attend an Improv Class
If you want to become a master at thinking on the spot and keeping your cool under pressure, there’s few better ways than doing improv.
As a professional actor I’ve used improvisation many times in rehearsals and training, but my first real experience at an improv class happened by chance in Edinburgh a few years back, when I was invited to attend a local improv night.
After putting my name in a hat, I was called out at random to take to the stage with two others. We were given a subject matter and told to – go!
Despite my acting experience, it was daunting to stand in front of a room of people with NO idea what I was about to say or do. We ended up creating a whole scene about a jewel heist that goes wrong – it was an incredibly exhilarating and fun experience.
Watching the real Improv actors was even more impressive. Their quickness, imagination and sheer confidence is truly something to behold.
The trick of improv is to get extremely comfortable with not knowing what will happen next.
When public speaking, it’s often these moments of ‘unknown’ that trip people up. Losing your train of thought, seeing the powerpoint go black, or being asked a question you weren’t prepared for.
Training in improv (or even just going along to experience it once) will give you an edge in all kinds of public speaking scenarios.
Not only will your brain actually get better at thinking quickly and acting on impulse, but you will feel a much deeper self-belief and know instinctively that whatever happens, you can handle it.
2. Try a 5-day Live Social Media Challenge.
Have you ever gone “live” on social media?
Our everyday apps allow us to broadcast ourselves live to hundreds of people. Something that once required thousands of pounds of studio equipment is now available to everyone freely via facebook, instagram and youtube.
We often ask our clients to record themselves speaking. It’s a powerful way to practise and improve your communication skills, but speaking live on video adds an extra level of challenge.
Not only do you have a real audience of people watching, but you are open to receive questions and feedback while you speak.
Getting used to flipping the camera and talking live on camera is a brilliant way to quickly build both your competence and confidence as a speaker.
To give yourself some added accountability, commit to going live each day for 5 days and talk about any topic that you wish – you might do something like:
Tell 5 different stories from your life.
Give 5 different tips relating to your career or work.
Talk about 5 hobbies that you have and why you enjoy them.
It can really be anything that you’re interested in and would be happy talking about with a friend. Keep it simple, keep it short, and don’t overthink things.
It might feel awkward and uncomfortable to begin with, but you will quickly find yourself feeling more calm and confident when the cameras are rolling.
3. Learn a Monologue
In acting terms, a monologue is a single character speaking that usually follows a train of thought, or story.
It’s actually much more challenging to perform a monologue than a scene with two or more characters, as in a monologue everything is down to you.
The key to doing it well is variety. The actor needs to have both light and shade in their performance – saying lines with different intentions, intensity and emotions.
If you’ve never acted before, trying this can feel like a real stretch. We’re not used to communicating so freely in day-to-day life. But doing so can be a powerful way to develop your speaking skills.
Just as with a monologue, when we speak in public we usually do so alone. All eyes are on us, and it’s down to us to keep everyone engaged and listening; and that same variety of intention and emotion is what will do so.
Find a monologue and practise delivering it in as many ways as you can. Start by thinking of the following things:
- Setting – Where is this monologue taking place? The character might be speaking in a grand hall, or waiting at a bus stop. They might be speaking to one close friend, or to a whole crowd.
- Status – What does the character think of themselves? Status refers to how high up you are in the pecking order. A king might have high status, whereas a servant has low status. But if the tables are turned and the king needs the servant to survive, suddenly their statuses would be switched.
- Emotion – What is the character feeling? Emotions don’t remain constant – consider how the character’s emotion changes throughout the monologue. They might start out angry only to become joyful, or begin with excitement and end with fear.
- Objectives – What does the character want? There is a reason the character is saying those words. They might want to be loved, want to be feared, or want to be understood. They might want to inspire joy, or inflict pain.
Think about all of these different factors and play around with them. There are no right or wrong answers. Remember you’re not doing this to get a role on the West End – you’re doing it as an exercise in expanding the range of emotion and passion that you’re comfortable communicating.
You’ll soon begin to notice a subtle but definite shift in your speaking skills.
You might feel more confident when gesturing, more free to move around the stage, or more able to speak with passion and enthusiasm.
Have a go today by finding a monologue here.
4. Host a workshop
Your first thought might be: “what would I even talk about”? Or, “what qualifies me to train others?”
All of us know something that others want to learn.
Maybe you know how to use a specific piece of software, how to write a great email, or how to journal for self-awareness.
It can even be something you’re not an expert in but want to improve, such as hosting a workshop on creative writing where you facilitate set activities, while taking part yourself.
Workshops can be as little as 30 minutes over lunch or after work, and with only 2-3 people attending – there are no set rules.
Your next question might be: “how does that help my public speaking?”
Hosting a workshop is a great way to build your confidence on stage, without the pressure of delivering a full speech.
That’s because as a workshop host, you’re facilitating the experience but not always at the centre of it.
You might invite others to speak, lead a discussion, or facilitate questions; but all the while you are clocking up “stage hours” and becoming increasingly comfortable speaking to groups of people.
You’ll also develop a range of associated skills; listening, explaining, leading and managing different people.
Once you have a topic in mind for your workshops, follow these quick tips to get started:
- Keep it simple – don’t try to give people an entire course on market investing; instead, walk them through the three steps to make their first investment.
- Facilitate, don’t teach – people learn through doing, so ask questions, set group discussions and engage people in activities where they’re actively involved.
- Give feedback – once people have tried the activity or completed the set tasks, give them some feedback. Tell people where they’ve done well and how they can further improve.
What will your workshop be about?
Decide today and then make it happen. Not only will you develop better communication skills, but you’ll be providing a useful service to others too.
5. Professional Training
Okay this one might seem slightly shoe-horned in, but the reality is that despite so many people struggling with low confidence and poor communication skills – most won’t undertake professional training.
Professional athletes have coaches, professional performers undergo continual training, and in the business world we rely on consultants to perform at the highest level.
But when it comes to public speaking, most people have a “wing it” strategy that at best gets them by, and at worst severely limits their personal and professional development.
If you want to bring out your full potential as a speaker and be seen as a credible communicator – the single most effective way is through professional training.
This can be done in two ways:
Personal coaching – where you work 1-2-1 with a professional to analyse your individual strengths, pin-point areas of improvement, and use specific techniques to quickly develop your confidence and skills.
Group workshop – where you get to learn alongside others and benefit from the chance to practise speaking in front of a real life audience.
Which you choose will depend on your personal circumstance and objectives; but both of these options are so powerful because:
- Deep practise – by being able to speak a lot in a short amount of time, you accelerate your learning and see results in days and weeks, not months and years.
- Expert guidance – rather than trial and error, you can learn the shortcuts to speaking success from an expert who has already studied and mastered the craft.
- Personalized feedback – As well as building on your strengths, a professional coach will tell you exactly where you’re going wrong, and how to change it. This honest but critical feedback is the most valuable source of your development as a speaker.
If you’re interested in learning more about professional training, we offer both 1-2-1 coaching and a quarterly Public Speaking Masterclass which have outstanding customer feedback and a 5-star rating from past clients.
Public speaking isn’t just about speaking in public.
When it comes to learning how to communicate, there’s a whole world of opportunities out there which can help you.
From utilizing the latest tech, to trying your hand at a traditional monologue, or jumping into improv – all of these ideas offer experiences that are both fun and informative.
So I challenge you to try one of my 5 alternative ways to speaking success.
Choose one which makes you feel both excited and scared. When you’ve done it, try another.
Keep expanding your comfort-zone, keep learning and keep trying new things.
Not only will you become a better speaker, but you’ll have much more to talk about.
Project Charisma deliver online coaching and in-person courses on
confident communication, public speaking & personal development.