A Student's Borderline Professional Guide To Public Speaking

A Student's Borderline Professional Guide To Public Speaking

Learn to talk like a champ.
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Public speaking is a skill everyone has to engage in at some point in their lives. It might be in high school, when you’re professing your love to a fellow student in an elaborate prom proposal or trying to convince your classmates to vote for you for class president. It might be in college, when you’re presenting a thesis or trying to come up with the right thing to say to convince your roommate to stop leaving papayas on the counter until they rot. It might be even later, when you have to give a toast at a wedding or, God forbid, propose to someone yourself. Whichever way you come face-to-face with the prospect of public speaking, it’ll happen, and when it does, you need to be prepared.

You will experience crippling fear. There’s no way around that. But the proper way to face your fear is to try to scare it even more than it scares you. Instead of viewing your audience as average people who are just trying to go about their lives, imagine them as a tribe of drooling, spitting cannibals who want nothing more than to eat you. Think of them as serial killers leering at you from behind bars. Pretend they’re the scariest thing you can imagine. Faced with the prospect of certain death from the thing that scares you most, what’s a little public speaking? Speak with confidence and enunciate clearly as your audience leers and drools.

If you’re smart, you will have memorized your speech. But in the face of the aforementioned fear, you may well forget it. That’s OK! The key to any great public speaking affair is improvisation. When your mind goes blank, begin to say or do whatever pops into your head. Speak in tongues. Tap dance. Climb onto your podium – if you have such a thing – and accuse the audience of faking the moon landing or being the second shooter in the Kennedy assassination. Standing and talking for the length of your speech is boring. Improvise and liven things up, and give a speech your audience will never forget.

Inevitably you will fumble a word. When this happens, you’ll want to crawl into the ground and die there, but this will only draw the audience’s attention to your mistake! To throw them off the scent, begin adding your fumbled word into your speech wherever it will fit. Vary your inflection. Use the word as a question, a full sentence, a swear word. Repeat it three times in a row with increasing volume and conviction. With luck, your audience will decide that your fumble is, in fact, a word, and begin using it themselves in conversation.

Closing a speech is one of the greatest difficulties in public speaking. Whatever you do, don’t end your speaking engagement with “That concludes my remarks” or “Thank you for your time” or “Sorry.” “So, um, yeah” is a good neutral option, but you didn’t come here to be neutral. You came here to make an impression. So, at the conclusion of your speech, bellow “THIS IS SPARTA” at the top of your lungs and violently kick your podium off the stage and into the crowd. Your audience will treasure the memory – and the bruise they got from the microphone – for the rest of their lives.

Cover Image Credit: Brian Tracy

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