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Soft Skills: Public Speaking

From team presentations to product demos, effective public speaking can make or break certain projects. Consequently, clearly conveying concepts provides an essential foundation for success. All of this is much easier said than done. Nerves and feelings of panic may start to set in when you even think about getting up in front of a crowd. If the thought of having to go through COM 114 (Intro to Public Speaking) at Purdue again scares you or brings back awful memories, you are not alone.

Delivery forms the crux of a strong public speaker. The manner in which you carry yourself when presenting an update or a product demo is key. We all know someone, famous or not, who is an excellent speaker and seems to know all the right words to say and how to say them. Don't be fooled, even those who seem like naturals in the spotlight practice and have tricks for controlling their nerves and captivating their audiences. Follow these simple strategies to improve your presentation skills.

  1. Maintain steady eye contact with your audience. If you have difficulty keeping eye contact, stare at their foreheads or pick a few individuals and rotate eye contact between just those audience members. These techniques create the illusion of strong eye contact.

  2. Elevate your volume to fill the room. Speak from the stomach and not the throat in order to lessen the strain on your vocal chords and allow you to speak for longer periods of time. Emphasize important phrases and key words and provide vocal variety in your speeches to further engage the audience and keep them focused on your content. Monotonous delivery is a quick way to lose the interest of listeners.

  3. Eliminate vocal pauses from your delivery. Vocal fillers such as like, uh, and um diminish the effectiveness of any presentation and give off an air of inexperience. As you speak more and more, be cognizant of which vocal pauses you have a tendency to lean on and work on eliminating them from your speech.

  4. Posture is another essential aspect of a strong delivery – never slouch. Additionally, hand gestures play a key role in body language. A common misconception is that you must use hand motions to be effective. While they are helpful, if you don’t feel confident enough with your delivery yet, keeping your hands at your sides is perfectly acceptable. Simply refrain from placing them in your pockets and avoid playing with a pen, your hair, or any other trinket. As you gain more experience, use hand motions sparingly to emphasize and illustrate specific points. Every motion should have a meaning; otherwise it’s simply an extraneous and distracting motion.


By employing these strategies, you will start to see gradual improvement. Over time, your confidence will grow, and one day you may even find that you enjoy speaking in front of an audience!

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