8 Tips on Public Speaking for Government Leaders

Many of us dread public speaking and indeed, statistics show a vast majority of the popular has a fear of speaking in public. Here are a few simple tips to help you improve this often dreaded task.

For many of us, public speaking is something we dread (think of the little boy with glossophobia in the Google commercial). Statistics estimate that 75% of the population has a fear of public speaking. But public speaking is a fact of life and an important skill to master. In government, it is often the way to be seen as a thought leader and advance your career.

Whether you are one of the 75% that has some sort of speaking anxiety, or you are looking to improve your skills, GovLoop has put together some of our top tips to be a better public speaker. Hopefully these eight tips will ease your anxiety, boost your confidence and encourage you to take on more speaking engagements.

  1. Know the material. This seems like a no-brainer, but it’s important to do your research and know your stuff. This is true for a large keynote address or a small, department meeting. The more you know, the more confident you will be.
  2. Think about your audience.  What does the audience want out of your presentation? Are they peers or superiors? How much background do they have on your topic? You should know who you are speaking to so you can do a better job at tailoring the material to be most effective.
  3. Pace yourself. It is human nature to talk faster when you are nervous and rush through pauses. This is why it is important to practice, time yourself giving the speech (more than once) and remember to speak slowly. Plan to pause in certain areas of your speech by taking a drink of water or skipping to the next slide.
  4. Speak in short sentences and don’t use “big” words. Hearing someone talk is much different than reading the same information. Be sure to talk in short sentences and use conversational words. You want the audience to understand you so don’t go over the top.
  5. Watch your hands. We all do certain things when talking like twirl our hair, wave our hands around, or stand still behind the podium. This isn’t always a bad thing, but you don’t want it to be distracting. Practice talking in front of a mirror to see what your habits are (or even better, practice in front of the people around you).  Then be aware of these habits when on stage.
  6. Make them laugh. Everyone appreciates a well-timed joke, especially during long speeches or meetings. Use humor to engage your audience and keep things light. But remember, you aren’t a stand up comedian so don’t plan too many jokes. Otherwise you may not be taken as seriously as you’d like.
  7. Tell stories. Statistics show people remember information better in the form of a story. Good public speakers engage their audience by telling personal stories. Depending on your speech, this may not be as easy. But try to weave in fun or relatable anecdotes to make your talk more memorable.
  8. Be yourself.  You were chosen to speak for a reason so there is no need to be someone that you are not. While watching good public speakers is beneficial to pick up tips, you want to be comfortable and natural with your delivery. From what you say to how you look, be yourself and show your passion.

Public speaking is tricky, but in order to advance your career, it is a must-have skill. It’s important to remember that public speaking is nerve-wracking for many of us, but there are people here to help.

Steve Ressler is the founder and president of GovLoop.com.