There’s a good chance that you’ll have to give a presentation in at least one class during high school before you graduate. You might even be asked to speak at a community engagement, if you’re the president of a club or receiving an award.
It’s important for students to start building their public speaking skills in high school. The earlier you start, the more time you’ll have to develop your skills before college begins. But, improving your public speaking skills in high school requires time, effort and discipline. If this frightens you, there are ways to improve and make the experience a positive one.
Why is Public Speaking Important?
You’re probably wondering why it’s important to worry about improving your public speaking skills. This skill can help you throughout your entire life. Here are some situations that outstanding public speaking skills will make you stand out from the rest of the crowd.
- College and scholarship interviews. If you’re applying to a college or for a scholarship that requires an interview, you’ll really wow them if your public speaking is on point. Being able to articulate how being admitted to the university or awarded the scholarship will help you be successful improves your chances of being selected by the committee.
- Better grades on presentations. Being able to relay information you learned from your teachers and professors means they’ll know you have retained the knowledge they’ve taught you. Some teachers will specifically evaluate your presentation, so you can rest assured you’ll get top marks for your project in that category.
- Job and internship interviews. Whether it’s an after-school job or internship to learn more about a field you’re interested in, public speaking is a huge part of an interview. Perfecting your interviewing skills will reward you with job opportunities in high school and likely help you explore different fields before you apply for college. The more opportunities you have in a specific field, the better you’ll be able to determine whether it’s right for you. This knowledge is invaluable when writing your college applications.
Practice, Practice, Practice
The No. 1 way that you’ll improve your public speaking skills is by practicing. At its core, public speaking is a performance, and it should be treated as such. There are a variety of techniques to use when practicing that will give you a 360-degree view of what your performance will look like.
Talk to Yourself
Before you take your show on the road, spend time practicing what you want to say to yourself. You can use note cards or a pre-written speech to become familiar with the flow and verbiage you want to use when you’re standing up for the real thing.
Just because you’ll be the prominent figure in the room, doesn’t mean you have to use the biggest, smartest words possible in your presentation. Consider who your audience is and the level of understanding they already have on the topic. If you’re presenting to a novice audience, make sure you’re explaining any terms specific to your topic so everyone can follow along.
Being able to assist your audience in following along as you talk is a major part of public speaking. It allows everyone to focus more on your message and not think about what a word means after you’ve moved on. Also, if you’re having any difficulty with particular terms, repeat them until you’re comfortable saying them or consider rephrasing that portion of your speech.
In the Mirror
As you become more comfortable with your content, start incorporating any movement or visuals. The perfect place to practice this is in the mirror. You will see how you’re moving and can imagine it from your audience’s point of view. Here are some things to look for from your audience’s perspective as your practice.
- Hand Movements. If your friends consistently point out how much you talk with your hands, be conscientious of how much you’re using them during your talk. The last thing you want is for your hands to speak “louder” than your voice.
- Your Visuals. Are you repeating the exact same text from your visual? If you are, change up your visual or be sure to elaborate more on the text that is shown. Your visual should complement and guide your presentation, not serve as an alternative if someone decides not to listen to you. Google “Beyond Bullet Points” to learn how you can create visuals that don’t distract from your speaking and improve the overall presentation. The “Beyond Bullet Points” methodology keep your presentations interesting by helping you expand on visual text in your speech.
- Your Speed. If you notice you’re out of breath before you’re finished, you may be talking too fast. Public speaking isn’t a race. Speeding through your speech risks your audience not understanding every word you say and wondering why you’re talking so fast.
- Your Energy. Have you ever seen a comedian take a sip of water during their set? That’s because talking for minutes on end is tiring! For lengthier presentations, keep water handy so you can take a quick break to re-energize. You can even time when you take your water breaks, so your energy stays consistent the whole time.
You can even film yourself practicing your presentation. This will allow you to critique yourself before moving in front of a live audience. For class presentations, use any rubric you have to self-critique.
In Front of an Audience
It’s not quite the day of your presentation, and it’s imperative to get practice in before you’re in front of a real live audience. You can ask your parents, siblings or friends to sit and watch your presentation to give you feedback.
Getting feedback from others is a powerful resource to improve your public speaking skills because they’ll pick up on things you might not. You can implement their input in future presentations. Soon, you may notice that there are minimal changes to make with each performance because you’ve taken their constructive criticism to heart.
Not All Public Speaking is Equal
Another tip to prepare for a public speaking engagement is to study similar performances. For example, if you’re giving a speech for graduation, you might want to view past graduation speeches to get a feel for the tone of the performance.
Speaking before a graduating class, a thesis committee, and doing stand-up comedy all require different tones to give the best performance. As you give more presentations and performances, the more familiar you’ll be with what type of performance you’ll be doing when asked to speak in public.