Improve Your Public Speaking Skills – A 30 Day Challenge
Sweaty palms, dry mouth, churning stomach… no, these aren’t the side effects of a prescription drug. This is how you feel before you get up and speak in front of an audience. You repeatedly check yourself in the mirror to make sure you aren’t sweating through the carefully selected outfit and nervously run to the bathroom after drinking too much water.
You’re not alone. It’s a rare person who enjoys public speaking. Of course, if you improve your public speaking skills you might feel differently about the practice. These days, a number of industries require public speaking skills. It may be that you have to present a sales pitch to investors or hold regular meetings at work. Often, just the idea of offering input at a large table of people is enough to set your anxiety alight.
If you’re tired of being unable to speak publicly, then this challenge is for you. If you want to progress in your career, then you will likely need to improve your public speaking skills. The good news is that by doing this, you will also improve your communication skills.
We all walk our own path to public speaking proficiency, but these challenges should help everyone. One suggestion we would offer you is, in advance of these activities prepare a speech or talk. You don’t have to complete a draft, just a rough idea will be an excellent starting point that you can roll out for some of the following challenges.
Day One – Present at Your Lunch & Learn
If there are lunch and learns in your office, this is a great one to spread your wings in. Offer to present at yours. It allows you to share ideas and practice public speaking in an environment you feel comfortable in. If your office doesn’t hold lunch and learns, organize one.
In the meantime, raise a topic of interest in a meeting. There are probably numerous ideas that have been swirling around your mind and you’ve been hesitant to speak up and share them. Today is your today! Put yourself out there and pitch in.
Day Two – Speak at a Local Meet up
Speaking at a local meet up will provide you with a larger audience and may allow you to speak in front of a crowd of one hundred. This might seem like a brave step to take on day two of your 30-day challenge, but it’s the right time. I’ll tell you why. Often, our fear of public speaking is rooted in the idea that we will be judged and/or humiliated
It can be easier to speak in front of people you don’t know. Look for a meet up in your local area that is in your industry or realm of interest. It doesn’t matter where you are, you will likely find plenty of meet ups to choose from (https://www.meetup.com/). You may have to wait to speak at a local meet up, but once you have chosen one, you can begin the process of writing a talk and practicing.
Day Three – Hold Team Meetings
If you hold team meetings in work, this is the ideal place to flex your public speaking skills. You can volunteer to chair a team meeting. If you don’t already hold team meetings, perhaps you can suggest one. If you’re in a management position you can simply call a brief meeting to highlight sales figures or any other information that you may share in an email.
It will only take five minutes and it’s an easy way to increase your comfort in speaking in front of a group, even if it’s a small one. Allow others to ask questions if they have any, it’s a good habit to get into. When you speak publicly, there’s generally a question and answer session following a presentation.
Day Four – Speak at a School
If you have children, this will be easier to arrange. However, offer your services to a local school. You can tailor a talk to the audience and present a relevant topic. The great thing about speaking to kids is it’s easy to read the crowd. You’ll know if you start to lose them and it will force you to reconsider your approach and change tact.
Nothing will improve your public speaking skills more than a crowd of children. You have no choice but to think quickly on your feet and adapt. If you can’t get access to speak in a school, try your local community center or your church. There are always opportunities for volunteers and if you have an important message to share, they will welcome you with open arms.
Today, you may only be able to arrange an appointment to speak. However, at the very least you should draft a short speech and start rehearsing it.
Day Five – Speak at a Conference
Find a conference in your local area and sign up to speak. Smaller conferences tend to be supportive of presenters just getting started. There’s no better way to force yourself out of your comfort zone than preparing a speech for an upcoming conference.
You will need a rough draft of your talk ready before you can apply to speak at any conferences. However, this is something you should complete now and start the application process. Once you sign up for a conference, you can begin the process of firming up the rough draft. It may be a month or longer before you will know if you have been accepted. Its progress, though, and once you get through the rest of the 30-day challenge; you will be more than prepared to knock it out of the park.
Before you go on a search, think about what topic you would really like to discuss and feel comfortable presenting. Look for a conference that is relevant to your interest. Your rough draft should be about three paragraphs. It should be a rough outline of your talk with the problem and the bullet points that cover how you will present a solution for it.
Day Six – It’s All About Taking Baby Steps
Some of the previous days have been easier than others, but it’s all about taking baby steps. The only way you will improve your public speaking skills is to put in a lot of effort and time. So far, you have signed up to put yourself out there and started the process of crafting a message that will pack a punch. In between those tasks, you have taken small steps to speak publicly within your comfort zone. Good job!
I want you to think back about the times you have spoken publicly in the last few days. How has your body reacted? Have you noticed yourself getting less nervous? Your palms don’t sweat quite as much, you’ve resolved the tremble in your voice, and you feel a little more comfortable looking up from the piece of paper where you scrawled some notes.
Pat yourself on the back. After each public speaking engagement, no matter how big or small, make a note of the improvements that you have noticed in your own behavior. Start your journal today. At the end of the 30-day challenge, you can look back and see just how far you’ve come!
Day Seven – Give Kudos
Stand up, in front of everyone present, to give kudos to someone you appreciate. This can be in the workplace or at the dinner table in front of your family. It really doesn’t matter how big the crowd is, the point is that you are standing up and giving an off the cuff speech of appreciation to someone in your life. It’s nice to acknowledge the effort of others, it’s even nicer to do it in front of a crowd.
This might just make the idea of public speaking a bit more palatable. So, who are you going to thank? You might find you enjoy it so much it’s a daily occurrence in your life.
Day Eight – Keep It Simple
Think of a topic that you’re incredibly passionate about. It might be a sports team, a sports competition like the World Cup, a television show, a hobby… it should be something you could easily talk about for hours on end. Now, write a talk on the subject, but limit it to just three minutes. It should be simple and to the point.
Find a way to present your talk at some point during the day.
Day Nine – Something About Nothing
This is your opportunity to create a presentation, one about absolutely anything or nothing. The purpose of this exercise is to hone the physical aspect of presenting. It’s something that may vary from talk to talk, but ultimately, the framework remains the same.
So, create a presentation about any subject, and have fun with it. As fun as visual aids can be, they tend to distract from your speech. If you absolutely must use slides, avoid using bright colored backgrounds like red, pink, and orange.
Solid, dark backgrounds and light words create an impact, but you should keep the information as limited as possible. No more than three bullet points should appear on a single slide. Ideally, it can be a simple line of text. Additionally, you should use the same font on every slide and be consistent with your color theme.
You don’t have to present this to anyone, but you should practice it in front of the mirror. Focus on your body language, and how you use your hands. Try to keep your arms relaxed at your side and use your hands only to make a point.
Day Ten – Sell It
Every interview that you have attended has been an opportunity to sell yourself. When you get a job offer, it’s a clear sign that you did the job well. When you present a pitch to investors or potential clients, and you win the contract… it’s a sign that you got the job done.
Every interaction that we have is a selling opportunity, and it always involves a measure of selling yourself. People buy people and your ability to speak publicly will influence your ability to sell yourself.
Bear that in mind as you complete this next exercise. Write out a 30-second sales pitch to sell yourself. Think of a relevant situation that presents a problem and how you will solve it. Who will you help and how are you going to do it? You have three to five sentences to write your pitch. Go.
Take time to practice in front of the mirror, whether it’s something you plan to use or not.
Day Eleven – Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader?
No, you don’t need to put your wits against a child. What you should do, though, is to explain your idea to children. What kind of pitch do you plan to give, and can you make it simple enough for a child to understand? Look, children don’t have the same level of experience in the adult world, so ideas need to be a bit simpler for them to digest properly.
Practicing your talks on a child is the perfect way to ensure you aren’t using overly complicated words or too much jargon. You might think jargon shows how much you know, but it can turn people off if they don’t know it.
Forget buzzwords and using the thesaurus to make yourself sound smarter. This will help you simplify your ideas, but it’s going to sharpen it up and ensure it’s clear and concise. That’s gold.
Day Twelve – Small Talk
Small talk can be more awkward than speaking publicly, which is why you should practice it as often as possible. Go out of your way to strike up a conversation brimming with small talk. Maybe try to engage the barista while they prepare your coffee.
Discuss the weather, talk about the origin of the beans, just get used to the rhythm of a simple conversation. While this is your assignment for today, this is something that you should continue to do from here on out. You should make a point of engaging someone in small talk at least once a day, whether it’s someone you know or someone you run into by chance. The more you engage in small talk, the more comfortable you will feel with it. You might be surprised by how much more comfortable you feel about speaking publicly when you become adept at small talk.
Day Thirteen – Perfecting Your Posture
You had a task previously to focus on your body language while delivering a presentation in the mirror. This goes a step further. You might think that your posture is no big deal. However, first impressions are lasting, and your posture can influence what others think of you on first meeting. Make a point of perfecting your posture today.
Push your shoulders back and straight up straight. Your hands and arms should be relaxed at your side, not stuffed in your pocket.
Always make eye contact with people when you speak to them. It won’t just make a difference in how they perceive you; you will feel more confident as well.
Day Fourteen – Variation Experimentation
When you practice your speech, pitch or presentation, don’t use the same speech pattern or vocabulary repeatedly. Not only will you get bored rehearsing, but it will also show in your voice and make you sound like a robot.
Phrase things differently, play with the words you choose and make different main points. This type of practice will help you avoid sounding robotic and over-rehearsed. It’s a far more natural way of speaking and it will show in your presentation.
Day Fifteen – Playtime With Pacing
We all speak at different rates but play with the pacing of your speech. You might find the slowing it down positively influences your presentation. Likewise, you may need to speed it up half a step. Record your presentation as normal and listen back to it
Are you speaking clearly enough? Try it again, but this time slow it down.
You should also take note of the length. If you only have a short time in which to present your idea, you may need to streamline the information and cut out some material.
Day Sixteen – Make a Record
Okay, so we have suggested this a multitude of times. However, it’s time for you to really go through with it. You’ve been practicing your speeches and presentations often enough, it’s time to put it all into practice and record it from start to finish. Ideally, you should have a small audience or present to yourself in the mirror.
Listen back to your recording and look for ways you can improve. You may realize your pauses are too short or too long, or that you um and ah too often.
Ideally, you can video your presentation to look for off body language and annoying habits that you fall into while presenting. You can iron all of these out by watching yourself back.
Day Seventeen – Tackle Audience Perception
When you stand before an audience and speak publicly, there will be a number of groups in the audience. There will be people who are keen to see you succeed, who care about you or are invested in your topic.
All of those people fall into the category of supporters. They are there for the right reasons.
Then, there is the other category. The bored people. They are the people who didn’t necessarily choose to attend, would rather be anywhere else or are simply off in a daydream. Ultimately, what you have to say and what you plan to do won’t have much of an effect on them.
I want you to really think about this. In neither of these categories will you find people ready to throw rotten tomatoes at your head if you trip up making a point. No one is there to summon a curse if you experience a blip.
On one hand, you have people who are there for the right reasons. On the other hand, there are bored people who feel no ill will toward you, they’re just not interested. If you’re a great public speaker, you may win some of them over, but that shouldn’t be your focus. Today, take an opportunity to speak publicly in any capacity and as you make eye contact with the audience, take note of the reactions you get. No one is glaring at you, are they? Remember that going forward.
Day Eighteen – Topic, Not Performance
When you are writing your speech, you don’t need to think about your performance. Instead, I want you to sit down and write a speech and completely focus solely on your topic. Throw yourself into research and delve deep into how you can communicate this topic in a way that will completely transform how the audience perceives it.
For example, if you’re a parent with children who despise vegetables, write a brief talk that will change their minds. If you aren’t a parent, focus on a subject that you know gets everyone talking and try to change their minds with your passion on the subject. Perhaps you feel differently to everyone in the office about how Game of Thrones ended.
What is the point of this exercise? You’re about to perform a talk that you feel and it’s easier to deliver on body language when you’re passionate about something. So, ask for feedback after. Better yet if someone can film it so you can see how much differently your body moves when you feel as though you’re just having a conversation.
Day Nineteen – Comfortably Cool
How you dress matters, but not in the way you think it might. You want to make a great first impression. You have gone to lengths to ensure you don’t have a stupid haircut, that your outfit is color-coordinated, and that you are looking pressed and sharp.
That’s good, you should do all of those things. It creates a positive impression on the audience. However, it’s important that you feel comfortable in your clothing. If your waistband is too high and tight, you may be prone to fidgeting with it as you speak which will be a distraction. You should take care in selecting what clothing you will wear ahead of a presentation.
When is your next big presentation? Go to your closet and select what you plan to wear. Get dressed as though you were leaving to do it right now.
Now, rehearse your speech in front of the mirror and move and act as you would if you were giving that talk now. Entertainers hold dress rehearsals for a reason, you should, too.
Day Twenty – Forget Perfection
As you continue rehearsing for your next big presentation, it’s vital that you forget perfection. It’s something that is impossible to obtain. You will never deliver the perfect speech. When you sit in an audience and hear a speaker, you might think they were perfect.
However, if you were to ask them, they’d likely point to a number of mistakes. The idea of perfection will create anxiety and stall progress. It’s okay if your speech isn’t perfect and trying to make sure it is will only ensure a robotic performance that won’t capture the attention or imagination of the crowd. Focus on making your presentation useful.
Day Twenty-One – Story Time
As you become more comfortable speaking publicly, you will evolve how you address your audience. For speeches heavy on facts and figures, this is particularly important. It’s difficult to digest a lot of heavy information at one time.
One of the most effective ways to maintain audience engagement is to share stories. People of all ages enjoy a story and it allows you to control the narrative by injecting humanity into your presentation. Add a story to the next presentation you are currently drafting.
Day Twenty-Two – Always Get Feedback
This should go without saying, but you should always ask for feedback after a public speaking engagement. It doesn’t matter whether you’re holding a training session or simply giving a talk.
You can engage with the audience directly through a Q&A or pass around feedback slips they can complete anonymously and pop in a box as they leave. Just remember as you sift through them that you have to take the good with the bad and determine what advice works. Ultimately, what you want to know is what worked well, what didn’t, and what would they change.
The answers to those three questions should tell you everything you need to know. Hold a meeting today and ask for feedback once it’s concluded.
Day Twenty-Three – Planning
Planning is a no-brainer, but it’s worth repeating. Take out the talk or speech you have been working on. Read the introduction. How is it? Think about how you judge a book. No, not by its cover.
You generally read the first paragraph and know immediately whether it’s going to hold your attention. Some people won’t even read beyond that first paragraph if it doesn’t catch their attention.
Your introduction is the first paragraph of a book. How attention-grabbing is it? Check out some of the first paragraphs of your favorite books, as well as bestsellers and put some of that learning into re-crafting the intro to your speech.
This will help you with thinking on your feet. You never know how an audience will react and you have to be able to roll with the punches and change things up. Plan for every eventuality. You also never know when you’ll be asked to make an impromptu speech.
Day Twenty-Four – Think Positive Thoughts
You might not realize it, but your ability to think positively might just influence your ability to communicate clearly. One of the biggest barriers to public speaking is fear. Often, our fear is driven by the negative self-talk we allow to go on.
We are engaging in self-sabotaging behaviors and holding ourselves back! From today onward, visualize yourself successfully delivering your public speaking engagement.
Practice positive affirmations daily to boost your self-confidence and improve your ability to think positive thoughts.
Day Twenty-Five – Managing Your Nerves
Nerves are inevitable, even once you become accustomed to speaking publicly. If you think about how often you have sat through speeches, presentations, and talks, it’s fairly rare for someone to noticeably slip up.
You might envision the worst-case scenario, but that outcome is incredibly rare. You have prepared, you have rehearsed, and you are ready to take the stage. Learning to manage your nerves is a key part of that.
So, today you should work on deep breathing exercises. This will instantly calm your nerves and is a great way to psych yourself up before you take the stage. Firstly, exhale deeply, expelling your breath entirely.
Now, inhale deeply through your nose (counting to four) and hold it for a count of seven before slowly exhaling through your mouth (counting to eight). That cycle is just one breath, repeat this three to five times.
Day Twenty-Six – Structure & Content
It’s time to take your presentation out again. You reworked your introduction to hook your audience, now it’s time to look at the structure and content of your speech. Any speech or talk should have a single purpose, and every part of your speech should connect back to that.
Now, look at your own presentation and ask yourself if there is a cohesive message being communicated. Does it all tie back to your core message? Try to add in key moments with examples and stories that illustrate the point.
These are often referred to as beads by professional speakers. Those beads should be threaded together so that all of the beads connect. Think about that as you rewrite your speech. You aren’t working on this line by line, instead, work from story to story.
Day Twenty-Seven – Smile
We have already made a point of discussing body language, but even when you are aware of yours, there is one thing we often forget. Smiling! Make sure that you smile as you greet your audience. Smile as you say hello and thank them for attending. Not only will it put them at ease, but it will also help you calm any remaining nerves.
Go out of your way to smile at everyone you meet today, whether you’re leading a meeting, speaking public or not.
Day Twenty-Eight – Just Be Yourself
People buy people, and they will relate to your humanity if you allow it to show. No matter what, allow yourself to shine through. They will be more receptive to your message if they feel as though you are being authentic.
Day Twenty-Nine – Power Through
We all make mistakes, and if you make a mistake when speaking publicly, you just have to keep going. Do not let a slip-up derail your entire talk.
You should be comfortable enough with silence to let it do some heavy lifting for you.
A long pause or a bit of silence can allow you a moment to recover from a slip-up, but it can also give you time to collect your thoughts and correct your breathing. A long pause will feel longer to you than it will to the audience, but you can keep count if it helps. Today, run through your full speech and record it.
Put everything that you’ve learned up to this point into action, including some tactical pauses. You can also use silence to drive a point home. Go through your speech and insert pauses at appropriate moments and rehearse it now.
Day Thirty – Just Say Yes
From now on, when a public speaking opportunity arises say yes to it. The more you do it, the more comfortable you will be speaking publicly.
Take every chance you get to put your skills to the test. You never know, you may turn this into a full-time career.
Remember, when you speak publicly, you keep yourself in the minds of others, create connections, or are viewed as an adviser or thought leader in your industry. That can only be a positive.