Get Better at Public Speaking and Debate with These 7 Tips

Have you ever heard someone speak and automatically stopped to listen? You probably had no prior interest in the discussion, but the instant they opened their mouth, it commanded your attention. That’s the magic of public speaking and debate!

Maybe it was the confidence in their voice, their command of the language, the clarity, and the flair with which they expressed themselves, or just something you can’t quite put your fingers on. But you listened. Such is the power of effective public speaking.

Public speaking or oration is simply a presentation that is given before a live audience. Much like debate, which is a formal discourse of divergent opinions on a particular topic, the goals of public speaking are persuasion, education, entertainment, or intervention.

History of public speaking and debate

Throughout history, tracing back to Ancient Egypt and Greece, public speaking has been instrumental in inspiring people, fostering unity and driving change across systems. Whether in education, business, religious circles, or the political arena, public speaking is an invaluable skill.  Several of the world’s greatest change-makers, including Martin Luther King, Winston Churchill, and even Adolf Hitler, recognized the power of public speaking and invested a lot of time and effort into improving their speeches.

The rhetoric public speaking method of the Greeks gained widespread popularity when Rome rose to global domination as it was incorporated into Roman senate sessions. Latin-style public speaking became the norm across the United States and Europe by the mid-20th century. In today’s world, public speaking has changed from a dramatic, confrontational style to a more conversational style, facilitated by the evolution of technology, such as Microsoft’s PowerPoint presentation.

Luckily, oratory is not an innate talent gifted to only the universe’s most favored individuals. Like any other skill, it can be studied, practiced and mastered.

For those who desire to get better at public speaking and debate, here’s how:

  1. Overcome fear

Speaking to a room full of people can be a daunting task. If you are not confident in your speech delivery, your listeners will pick up on that and likely lose interest. The first step to overcoming the fear of public speaking is to use positive self-talk and remind yourself that you are capable and well-prepared. Remember that your mistakes are less obvious to others, and most of the negative things you are worried about are unlikely to happen in reality.  Additionally, there are many relaxation techniques that can help calm your nerves before or during a presentation, such as deep breathing, progressive muscle relaxation, or visualization.

  1. Preparation is paramount

The more prepared you are, the less anxiety you will feel. A great speech requires more than just charisma and a set of spoken words. Even if you are a natural orator, it is necessary to research your topic thoroughly, write your speech beforehand and practice your presentation until it feels unforced. Also, you might find it helpful to research the audience you will be addressing or arrive at the venue a few minutes earlier than scheduled to mingle. This will reduce your anxiety about getting on stage to talk to a bunch of total strangers.

  1. Connect with your audience

When engaging in public discourse, it is crucial to focus on your audience. Instead of focusing on your own anxiety, try to shift your attention to your audience and ensure everyone is carried along. Think about how you can help them learn or entertain them with your presentation. Storytelling can be a helpful tool in connecting with your audience, so next time you have a presentation, prepare a relatable personal story to share as an icebreaker.

  1. Speak the language you are familiar with…

Chances are that is the same language your audience understands. In this case, you do not need to use your local dialect, but rather simple terms the audience can relate to and understand. Avoid the temptation to use big vocabulary or technical jargon, as this may come across as unnatural to your listeners.

  1. Leverage technology and visual aids while organizing your presentation

If you know your presentation is well organized, you’ll feel good about giving it.  Prepare creatively by using props or visual aids, as these can help you feel more confident and can also serve as a useful tool for engaging your audience. The best way to ensure that your presentation is well organized is to utilize presentation tools like Slides, PowerPoint, or Keynote.

  1. Observe top-rated speakers

For new speakers, it may be helpful to make time to attend conferences and listen to top-rated speakers. By observing the techniques of other speakers, you will improve your own presentation skills. TED talks are a good place to start learning from.

  1. Practice, practice, practice!!!

Like any other skill, practice makes perfect. For introverts, you can start by practicing in front of a small group, as this can help you get comfortable speaking in front of others and can also give you the opportunity to receive helpful feedback.

Benefits of learning public speaking and debate

Globally, debate and public speaking should be included in school curricula, given the long-term benefits. Some benefits of public speaking include:

  1. Improved confidence and self-esteem

  2. Enhanced leadership skills

  3. Greater ability to persuade and influence others

  4. Improved critical thinking and problem-solving skills

  5. Enhanced research and analysis skills

  6. Greater ability to articulate and defend a position

Tips for Public Speaking and Debate

A speaking coach or an online course can be helpful for aspiring speakers with busy schedules, but most are time-consuming and expensive. Simple alternatives to get started with public speaking and debate are;

  1. Join a club or organization (e.g., Toastmasters)

  2. Seek out opportunities to speak in front of groups (e.g., volunteer to give presentations, participate in school or work events)

  3. Seek support from friends, family, or coworkers as you go on your public speaking journey.

Overall, public speaking is an important skill that can have tremendous benefits in personal and professional life. By dedicating time to honing public speaking skills, the speaker inadvertently improves confidence, networking, critical thinking, communication skills, and leadership skills.

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