8 Tips for Better Public Speaking

Businessman speaks in front of crowded auditorium

By Alex Hopkins, Class of 2021, Master's in Public Relations & Corporate Communications

Having strong public speaking skills is important regardless of your industry, but unfortunately they are often under-developed. Public speaking isn’t something you do every day, so when the big presentation or speech comes, it’s important that you’ve done your due diligence. Here are some tips I’ve learned and would like to share with you.

  1. Find a public speaking hero. Not all heroes wear capes. Find someone you admire and make them your internal public speaking slogan. I enjoy Billy Graham and Steve Jobs. What specifically do you like about their style and why?
  2. Slowly build up to your public speaking event. Start by getting up and talking in front of an empty room, then present to a friend or family member, then a group, and so on.
  3. Ask your practice audience how they feel in your presence. What do they think when you speak directly to them? What are their impressions.
  4. Sign up for a professional public speaking group. I learned a lot from ToastMasters International, as well as Hoya Pitchmasters* at Georgetown University’s School of Continuing Studies. Working alongside others who are trying to improve their public speaking skills is inspiring and reminds you that you’re not alone.
  5. Press the pause button—Instead of “um” or “uh” filler words, use pauses strategically. You are thinking quicker than you speak, so your pauses are not as long as you think.
  6. You don’t have to speak directly to the eyes of each audience member. If you’re feeling nervous, speak just above their heads.
  7. Communication is 10% verbal/90% body language. Body language can be the same in many cultures. A smile is virtually recognizable across all cultural boundaries. And of course, avoid slouching.
  8. Don’t over-analyze. Most people will not think less of you if you mess up. Any respectful audience member worth their salt will understand that it takes a lot of nerve to get up there and speak.

* Hoya Pitchmasters is an event series hosted by the Public Relations and Corporate Communications Master’s program at Georgetown University School of Continuing Studies designed to help students and interested professionals build their confidence in public speaking in a supportive environment. Attendees participate in hands-on activities and every session focuses on tips and tricks to improve public speaking and pitching skills.

— Alex Hopkins integrates his knowledge of public speaking as part of his graduate studies in Georgetown University’s Master's in Public Relations & Corporate Communications program (Class of 2021). Alex now works with Union Plus as their Communications Manager.