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Whether you're addressing a large audience or completing a one-on-one job interview, knowing how to speak with confidence is crucial. "Confidence plays such a huge role in the audience's perception of your credibility," says Tricia Veldman, an associate instructor at New York Speech Coaching. "You may know your stuff backwards and forwards, inside and out, but if you deliver the information with hesitation or a lack of conviction, the listener may question its validity."
Along with establishing credibility, Veldman says being a poised public speaker can improve your interpersonal communication skills, too. "Small talk at a party is, in fact, a form of public speaking," she says. "By becoming a better public speaker in the traditional sense, you will learn skills that will help improve communication within your personal relationships, as well."
How can you identify where your public speaking needs improvement? Veldman suggests filming yourself and taking notes. "The first step of changing anything is developing awareness," she says. "If you have no clue what you look or sound like while presenting, how do you expect to improve? Take a few minutes to film yourself giving your presentation or speaking on a random topic. Another alternative is to record a Zoom call to see how you behave in real-time."
According to Veldman, mastering the ability to pause, breathe, and think while you are speaking will allow you to gather your thoughts, calm your nerves, and convey a higher level of composure to your audience. "Practice counting to two at the end of each sentence," she says. "Use this time to breathe and think of what you'll say next. Now, we don't want to overuse or abuse the pause, but most people have the tendency to skip them entirely. Experiment with this as you practice and watch for what works and feels best."
Ask for feedback.
If you aren't asking colleagues, friends, family, or a coach for honest feedback about the way you present yourself when speaking, Veldman says you're doing it wrong. "Just like filming ourselves for personal awareness, it can be insanely helpful to know how others feel after hearing you speak," she says. "Asking others is an incredible way to gain insight that may have otherwise escaped you. Just be sure to ask for both positives and negatives because both are key to improvement."
Shift your perspective.
If you find yourself overcome with anxiety whenever you have to speak in front of an audience, Veldman suggests approaching the situation with a different mentality. "You can talk yourself out of anxiety by relabeling your emotional experience," she explains. "Our bodies process nervousness and excitement the same way physiologically, so instead of saying, 'I'm so nervous,' change the narrative to, 'I'm so [excited]!' As you speak to yourself out loud, catch those pesky thoughts that might be contributing to a lack of confidence and sub in a motivating alternative."
Don't compare yourself to others.
Believe it or not, Veldman says that few people naturally excel (and enjoy) public speaking. "Many folks fall into the comparison trap, chalking up a person's speaking prowess with some innate ability that doesn't exist," she says. "The truth of the matter is that most public speaking experts dedicate substantial time, energy, and effort to improving their speech skills, so before you start comparing yourself to a professional (or even a colleague or friend who has the charisma you long for), remember that you don't truly know their journey."