Candidates with strong public speaking skills are in demand for the many occupations that require the ability to speak to a group. Dynamic and well-prepared speakers are highly valued by employers, and having this skill set can even help land you leadership positions and important roles.
Learn more about public speaking, why it's important, and how to improve your public speaking skills.
What Is Public Speaking?
Public speaking is a soft skill that requires excellent communication skills, enthusiasm, and the ability to engage with an audience. Soft skills are interpersonal skills that are less technical and more about how you interact with others.
Public speakers make presentations to a group. Presentations could range from speaking to a small number of employees to presenting to a large audience at a national conference or event. The same skill set and ability to be comfortable speaking in public are required regardless of the size of the group.
Why Employers Value Public Speaking Skills
The art of public speaking comes into play in many places. It's important not only in the delivery of speeches and public talks, but also in professional presentations, training events, and motivational speaking. Consultants, training, managers, clergy, sales representatives, and teachers, for example, all have a reason at times to speak in front of others.
A lackluster speaker can make a solid product or proposal seem less than enticing, while a polished speaker can add allure to an otherwise mediocre proposition.
Most professional-level roles require some amount of public speaking. It's often necessary to carry out functions like presenting findings, pitching proposals, training staff, and leading meetings.
Top Public Speaking Skills
When you want to highlight your public speaking skills in your cover letter or resume, or during an interview, be sure to go beyond stating that you have "public speaking skills." Go into detail about which aspects of public speaking you are good at, and provide specific examples of your skills and expertise.
Some of the most important skills for successful public speaking include the following.
Of course, public speakers must be able to speak well. That includes enunciating, speaking loudly enough, and using proper grammar without a lot of verbal crutches such as "um." It helps to be able to talk well in ordinary conversation, but public speaking is a kind of performance and, as such, requires practice and preparation.
Memorization is not usually necessary, because many people are able to speak in an unscripted way to some degree. However, you must be familiar enough with your material that you don't pause excessively, repeat yourself, or stumble over your words.
You also need to be able to pace yourself so that you finish on time rather than early or late.
Engaging Presentation Style
Presentation style includes vocal tone, body language, facial expression, and timing. The right style can make a talk that could have been boring become exciting and engaging.
Assessing the Needs of the Audience
Some audiences want a lot of technical detail; others don't. Some will enjoy humor; others won't. There are jokes that work in some crowds but not others. To draft a successful talk and to adopt the appropriate presentation style, you need to be able to assess the needs of your audience.
Before you begin speaking, think about your audience and what they hope to gain from your presentation. That can help you assess their needs, which can help ensure that your presentation is the best possible use of your time and theirs.
PowerPoint is a popular software used for creating slides. Not all public speakers use them, but slides are so common that doing without them is sometimes called "speaking naked."
It's not only important to understand the technical aspects of using the software, it also helps if you have the artistic ability to create slides that are aesthetically pleasing and easy to understand—or, you should work with a collaborator who can do so. Either way, you must know how to integrate your slides smoothly into the other aspects of your presentations.
Whether you prepare your talk ahead of time or just go with the flow, you must be able to construct talks that are rational, coherent, and easy to understand, and that cover all the points you want to hit.
Storytelling and humor help, and you must know how to use them. Public speaking is not only a form of performance art; it also requires writing skills.
Other Public Speaking Skills
The skills mentioned above aren't the only ones that are important to public speaking. The following skills and tips can make you an even more effective public speaker:
- Controlling performance anxiety
- Drafting an evaluation form that attendees are likely to complete
- Grabbing the attention of the audience with a powerful opening
- Handing out copies of slides in advance to minimize note-taking demands on the audience
- Maintaining eye contact with the audience and providing an energetic, animated physical presence
- Memorizing enough content so that the speech does not come off as a reading of notes
- Modulating vocal tone to emphasize important points and avoid monotonous presentation
- Organizing a logical flow to a speech
- Preparing examples that are relevant to the experience of the expected audience
- Providing compelling evidence to support themes
- Rehearsing the presentation and revising rough spots
- Researching information about the latest trends in an industry before presenting at a professional seminar
- Restating critical points at the end of a speech to cement key concepts
- Reviewing feedback and modifying the approach for talks in the future
- Summarizing the topics to be covered at the beginning of a lecture to provide context for attendees
How to Showcase Your Skills
Public speaking is a skill in itself, but it is also a collection of skills. Lists like this can help you name some of these skills so you can identify which jobs require the abilities you have.
Be sure to read job descriptions carefully. Even very similar positions can have different requirements, depending on what the hiring manager is looking for.
Mention Skills in Your Resume and Cover Letter
When you apply, you can use these skills as keywords on your resume or other application materials. Hiring managers sometimes scan through applications looking for these keywords to make an initial cut, so it's important to make it clear from the beginning that you have the sought-after qualifications.
Then, use your cover letter to highlight some of your most relevant skills.
Share Your Skills During a Job Interview
Be prepared to give examples of specific times when you embodied these skills, because your interviewer is likely to ask. If you've made public presentations or internal company presentations, share the details with the interviewer.
How to Improve Your Public Speaking Skills
Whether you feel like a public-speaking expert or you're new to it, there are always ways you can improve. You can brush up on your public speaking skills with these tips:
- Take a public speaking class or workshop.
- Practice in front of the mirror.
- Practice in front of friends, family, or colleagues; then, ask for feedback.
- Record yourself giving a presentation, watch the video, and take notes.
- Watch videos of accomplished public speakers you admire.