Improving Your Public Speaking Skills

For many people I know, public speaking is a minor to major source of stress. Most would rather not, others have a full-blown fear. I used to be on the latter end and would panic at the thought of presenting in front of others. Eventually, I decided to commit to improvement and went to a Toastmasters club to start my public speaking journey. 

For those who are unfamiliar, Toastmasters International is a communication and leadership organization with clubs all over the world. Many clubs are affiliated with companies or formed based on location. Meetings are highly organized, with an agenda of set speakers and roles for many of the attendees, including a timekeeper (who times speeches) and grammarian (who listens for proper use of grammar). Most of all, these clubs provide a supportive environment for those who want to improve their public speaking skills.

When I first started going to Toastmasters, I didn’t believe I could be helped. In fact, my first Toastmasters speech ended in tears because I was that overwhelmed. I was a pretty outgoing child and I enjoy talking to people one-on-one, so many of my friends and family didn’t understand my fear of public speaking. But it didn’t change its existence. 

One of my early Toastmasters mentors was Nelson Nakagawa, a retired banking executive who spends much of his time coaching others in public speaking. Nelson is an effortless speaker who often fulfills the role of conducting the entire meeting and acting as an efficient and friendly host. He’s been a member of Toastmasters for more than 30 years and has achieved many Toastmasters designations during his tenure. As a mentor, he's kind and encouraging – often offering thoughtful words or a reassuring nod before I've given speeches.  

Improving your public speaking can have many well-being benefits including reduced stress and increased participation at work or in the community. As an experienced Toastmaster, I asked Nelson to share his top five tips for preparing for a speech.

♦ Understand why you’re presenting.
Get clear about your purpose and objective to craft a better speech.  

♦ Know your audience.
Are you speaking to your family, friends, bosses, or colleagues? Your audience will change the content and tone of your speech. 

♦ Make it personal (if possible). 
Try to put yourself and your experiences in your talk. Light, appropriate humor is always good, too. 

♦ Practice, practice, practice.
Even if it’s just in front of the mirror, practice is very important. Ideally, try to get together a group of coworkers or friends to listen to and provide constructive feedback about your speech.  

♦ Find a Toastmasters club.
Search for a club and find out when meetings are scheduled. Choose a convenient location and time to help increase your odds of going regularly. 

Have you ever tried Toastmasters? What are your tips for speaking in public?