Public Speaking 101: How to Be a Hit

Public Speaking Nightmare? Here’s How to Become a Hit

african american man speaking to audience

african american man speaking to audienceWhat makes a speech unforgettable? Well, JeffriAnne Wilder, assistant professor of sociology and anthropology at the University of North Florida, says it’s about being authentic, doing your research, having a sense of humor, being creative and loving what you do. Wilder, who specializes in subjects of diversity, race relations and gender issues, credits 95% of her public speaking skills to her experience in higher education. Here are five tips on how you can ensure your work, school and other presentations and speeches are a hit:

Always keep it real: “Being authentic is so important when reaching out to an audience. Simply be who you are. People can detect right away if you’re really translating who you are or not,” Wilder says. “I have my personal role models, but if I went onto a stage trying to mimic their personality, it’s going to be inauthentic. It’s essential to be yourself and the audience will resonate with that.”

Be on your research grind and really know what you’re talking about: “No matter what group I stand in front of —whether it’s fifth graders or college students—the message is going to be the same most of the time,” Dr. Wilder explains. “Because of this, it’s important to tailor and customize your speech for the people that you’re trying to come across to. I essentially talk about the same things, but it’s important to shape the message for the right audience. People are taking time out of their day to hear what you have to say and it’s important to respect that.”

Don’t take yourself too serious: “I like to think that I’m funny and that I make people laugh,” Wilder says. “I may crack a joke and if it wasn’t funny, I may make fun of the fact that it wasn’t funny. I think it’s really imperative to break the ice in the beginning in a group of the unknown to make everyone feel comfortable.”

Do something different that will keep your audience engaged and enticed: “Reading straight from the paper or Power Point slides will make your audience members glaze over. People will start pulling out their phones and checking their Facebook and their e-mails,” Wilder says. “Think of creative ways to keep them engaged, such as calling out someone’s name, using pictures or weaving in and out of the audience. It’s a fine line because you don’t want to oversimplify nor overwhelm your audience. You want to set yourself apart from other speakers and make your audience walk away with something beneficial.”

Do it with passion and commitment: “I love what I do so much because I have fun,” Dr. Wilder exclaims. “Regardless if I’m speaking about racism or sexism, which are very serious topics, I have to make sure that I’m enjoying it. If you’re speaking in front of 5 people or 5,000 people, don’t lose focus on having fun. People will detect whether they like you or don’t like you quickly and if you’re not having fun presenting or speaking, they’re not having fun listening.”