How To

How To Practice Your Way to Great Public Speaking

To be successful at anything, to truly master a craft, it has been said that 10,000 hours of practice must go into that craft. Dr. K. Anders Ericsson at Florida State University researched and published this 10,000-hour concept, and noted thought leader Malcom Gladwell popularized the idea.

What about public speaking? Are some people born with that natural charisma and that gift of presentation? Or can people work to develop the skill? To answer those questions, let’s take a look at one of the most famous presenters in the world: Steve Jobs. Jobs was a legendary communicator, someone we herald as natural, authentic, and charismatic onstage. But did you know that Jobs once suffered from communication anxiety just like everyone else? Check out one of his very first interviews in 1978. Jobs spent 30 years practicing his communication and presentation skills, and his confidence grew over time.

Being comfortable speaking in front of an audience definitely takes a lot of time, effort, and practice, as we can see by looking at Jobs. If you’re willing to put your 10,000 hours in, you can become a strong presenter too.

There are three primary ways you can put in your hours. First, you can study presentations as an audience member. Second, you can practice delivering speeches in your home. Third, you can present in front of a live audience.

Study Speeches as an Audience Member

Being an audience member is the first step to becoming a great public speaker. If you’re looking to begin your 10,000 hours, try watching a TED Talk at or live at a TEDx event. For example, TEDx Orlando will be held on October 12, 2013. You can also attend a PechaKucha presentation or an Ignite talk in your area. Watching others present – well or not so well – helps you move along the path to successful public speaking.

Practice at Home or Online

Second, practicing a speech at home can help you log your 10,000 hours without the anxiety that comes with a live audience. You can practice in front of a mirror or record yourself speaking using your PhotoBooth camera. You can also practice in front of an online audience. Public Speaking instructor Rebekah Lane asks her students to practice their speeches in groups or pairs using Google Hangouts.

“Online practice through video chatting helps students practice taking in real-time responses from listeners,” says Lane. “In the online environment, this is more difficult to come by because students are separated by distance and time zones. Video chatting allows students to practice presentations in the comfort of their own homes with peers who understand the expectations of the class and assignment.”

Get in Front of a Friendly, Live Audience

Finally, you can practice in front of a live audience, and there are many ways to do this. Joining a club or organization gives you the opportunity to present live. Whether you are speaking in front of a small group of people at a book club meeting or addressing a large group of people as a club officer, these opportunities help you increase your 10,000 hours.

You could also perform music or poetry at an open mic night at a coffee house. Even if you are not delivering an actual speech during your set, you are getting the feel of performing in front of a live audience. Challenge yourself to spend more and more time speaking alongside your performances, and you’ll find that your confidence increases and that your nerves decrease.

If you’re ready to speak at more professional events, you can always present at Toastmasters, TEDx, PechaKucha, or Ignite in your local community. And if you put in your 10,000 hours, we might see you on the official TED stage one day!

For more tips on how to practice public speaking, please email Alex Rister, ACD of Professional Communication and Presentation, at [email protected].

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