Tips, Resources & Inspiration for Giving Presentations & Speeches in School
Glossophobia, the fear of speaking in public, affects 89 percent of the population. While avoiding presentations may seem like a simple solution, the fact is these fears can result in impairments in the areas of graduation rates, earnings and the likelihood of moving into a managerial or leadership role. College is a good place to overcome those fears and become a confident public speaker. This guide offers expert guidance, tips, and strategies for excelling in front of any audience.
6 Reasons to Take a Public Speaking Course
Whether learners are pursuing art or zoology, being able to speak clearly and confidently in public will always serve them well. Looking for other reasons to take a public speaking course?
You’ll use this skill your entire life.
No matter the industry, companies always value employees who can express themselves well verbally. Even individuals who don’t work in communications frequently need to present their work or findings to various groups of people, and that’s not likely to change as they move up the career ladder.
You could have a leg up on the competition.
When deciding from a group of recent graduates with similar educational and work experience, being able to communicate a company’s brand or mission could make the difference in who gets hired.
You’ll improve other types of communication.
The focus of the class might be on public speaking, but this type of training isn’t limited to getting up in front of groups. Individuals who complete public speaking courses often improve their day-to-day interpersonal skills as they learn how to articulate and tailor what they want to say.
You’ll build confidence.
Standing in front of a group of strangers sounds like an anxiety-inducing exercise to many, but not to those who are well-trained in the art of public speaking. By conquering fears surrounding public speaking, students can build confidence not only when it comes to giving presentations, but also in many different aspects of their lives.
You’ll learn things.
Part of being able to speak confidently about a subject is knowing it backwards and forwards. In the process of preparing for a presentation or public speaking engagement, individuals often engage in deeper research than they would otherwise.
Your listening skills will improve.
Public speakers who want other people to listen to what they have to say quickly learn that they must reciprocate to be successful. Listening to other people’s speeches helps learners understand differing perspectives, introduces new information, and provides ideas for better ways of delivering content.
How to Ace Public Speaking
Like many other disciplines, public speaking is an art. Learning how to stay focused, read audiences, and entertain while also educating takes time, but anyone can be a confident and engaged speaker if they put in the time needed to improve.
How to Give a Great Speech
Learn More about Public Speaking
Get Inspired by Great Speakers
Outside of learning strategies and practicing delivery, listening to impactful speeches can also inspire a student to greatness. Whether addressing an impending war, celebrating the promise of the 20th century, or relaying harrowing tales of Nazi Germany, the speeches below are glowing examples of confident, articulate, and mesmerizing delivery.
John F. Kennedy
Inaugural Address: January 20, 1961
In the long history of the world, only a few generations have been granted the role of defending freedom in its hour of maximum danger. I do not shrink from this responsibility—I welcome it. I do not believe that any of us would exchange places with any other people or any other generation. The energy, the faith, the devotion which we bring to this endeavor will light our country and all who serve it – and the glow from that fire can truly light the world.
And so, my fellow Americans: ask not what your country can do for you – ask what you can do for your country. My fellow citizens of the world: ask not what America will do for you, but what together we can do for the freedom of man.
The Perils of Indifference: April 12, 1999
Video & Transcript
Indifference elicits no response. Indifference is not a response. Indifference is not a beginning; it is an end. And, therefore, indifference is always the friend of the enemy, for it benefits the aggressor — never his victim, whose pain is magnified when he or she feels forgotten. The political prisoner in his cell, the hungry children, the homeless refugees — not to respond to their plight, not to relieve their solitude by offering them a spark of hope is to exile them from human memory. And in denying their humanity, we betray our own. Indifference, then, is not only a sin, it is a punishment.
And this is one of the most important lessons of this outgoing century’s wide-ranging experiments in good and evil.
We Shall Fight Them On the Beaches”: June 4, 1940
The British Empire and the French Republic, linked together in their cause and in their need, will defend to the death their native soil, aiding each other like good comrades to the utmost of their strength. Even though large tracts of Europe and many old and famous States have fallen or may fall into the grip of the Gestapo and all the odious apparatus of Nazi rule, we shall not flag or fail.
We shall go on to the end, we shall fight in France, we shall fight on the seas and oceans, we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air, we shall defend our Island, whatever the cost may be, we shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender, and even if, which I do not for a moment believe, this Island or a large part of it were subjugated and starving, then our Empire beyond the seas, armed and guarded by the British Fleet, would carry on the struggle, until, in God’s good time, the New World, with all its power and might, steps forth to the rescue and the liberation of the old.
Remarks at the Fourth Women’s Conference in Beijing: September 5, 1995
Video & Transcript
If there is one message that echoes forth from this conference, let it be that human rights are women’s rights, and women’s rights are human rights, once and for all. Let us not forget that among those rights are the right to speak freely and the right to be heard. Let me be clear. Freedom means the right of people to assemble, organize, and debate openly. It means respecting the views of those who may disagree with the views of their governments. It means not taking citizens away from their loved ones and jailing them, mistreating them, or denying them their freedom or dignity because of the peaceful expression of their ideas and opinions.
Giving a Great Presentation
If you want to give a great presentation, a well-written speech is a must. But there’s a lot more to a presentation than just words. Learning how to engage with audiences, work within time restraints, and say goodbye to pesky nerves are all part of the process.
From the Expert: What Makes a Great Presentation
Doctor Janet Heller has more than 35 years of experience teaching public speaking, English, and many other topics around communication and has presented at dozens of national conferences and workshops throughout the country. Her insider tips on how to give a great presentation are relevant to anyone looking to step up their game.
Remember to breathe.
Take a deep breath before you start speaking, look at your audience, and remember to slow down. The last few sentences of your speech need to sound like a conclusion, so speak slowly and deliberately.”
Don’t forget your notes.
Bring some notes with you so that if you do get nervous, you won’t forget the most important points. Work from an outline rather than reading your ideas, because talking is more interesting than reading to an audience. Don’t use note cards, as they are more distracting than sheets of paper.
Prepare under similar circumstances.
Ask your friends to listen to and make comments on your presentation. Ensure that people in the back of room can hear you, and make it a goal to look every attendee in the eye, if possible. Practicing in the same room where your speech will be given is ideal.
Make sure you keep to time limitations.
Time yourself or have a friend time you during your practice session. Audiences will be confused if your speech is far shorter or longer than the stated time.
Only bring the necessities.
Don’t bring pencils, pens, rubber bands, paper clips, or other distracting devices up with you when you give a speech. Twisting a pen in your hand, for example, can distract an audience from your ideas.
Pay attention to your movements.
Try not to sway violently, stand on one foot, or move frantically around during your presentation. This distracts your audience. Any movements made should fit your speech.
Learn More about Giving a Great Presentation
Harvard Business Review
How to Give a Killer Presentation
Harvard’s Dr. Chris Anderson provides a step-by-step plan for developing excellent stage presence and delivering a killer speech in this helpful article. He also includes lots of video examples to help students envisage what they’re working towards.
10 Tips for Better Slide Decks
Straight from the mastermind behind all TED Talk slide decks, this list of top tips will help any speaker create a meaningful presentation that truly adds to the topic at hand. Aaron Weyenberg covers not only the overarching goals of effective slide decks, but also delves into the nuances of consistency, transitions, and meaning.
How to Give Good Presentations
Harvard University Professor Dr. Daniel Jacob provides a comprehensive PowerPoint about the mechanics of presentations, what should be included, how to structure a talk, and how to meet the expectations of different audiences.
How to Give Highly Effective Lectures, Talks, and Conference Presentations
This thorough article discusses what makes for an awful talk, why good people give bad talks, rules of thumb for being effective, and the secrets of communicating information effectively. The guide also hones in on how to use visuals in meaningful ways to draw in an audience without distracting from the speaker.
An Introvert’s Guide to Better Presentations
Giving a presentation as an introvert may seem like the worst assignment ever, but the truth is that introverts are often the most prepared since the idea of being in front of people can seem so scary. Speaker Matt Haughey provides tips tailored specially to introverts and includes videos of himself speaking at large and small events throughout the country.
How to Conquer Public Speaking Anxiety
Communication expert Dr. Janet Heller has spent years working with college students to conquer anxiety and stop letting fear hold them back. She offers a few tips to learners who are struggling with the limelight. “I always tell my students that most audiences are friendly and supportive to speakers,” she says, noting that listeners want presenters to succeed. “If students are still nervous, a great way to calm fears is to practice their speeches or reports in front of a group of friends and ask for feedback.” Questions to ask listeners include:
Could they hear you from every corner of the room?
Did you look at all of them at least once?
Do they have suggestions for improving the speech?
Did the transitions within the speech make sense?
How did they feel about how you ended the presentation?
Dr. Heller also notes that she invites students to practice their speech and receive feedback in her office, and many other professors would be willing to provide these same services. Lastly, Dr. Heller stresses the importance of focus and balance. “Most students benefit from breathing deeply because that is soothing and prevents panting during presentations,” she notes. “I also suggest that students imagine an experience that they love before doing public speaking to get their minds to a happy and relaxing place.”
National Speakers Association
The NSA offers members access to in-person and virtual learning opportunities, a 3,500+ member community of accomplished speakers, and a range of other educational resources.
Oral Communication Center
Hamilton University’s OCC hosts a truly expansive array of resources designed specifically for college students who want to better their public speaking and presentation skills.
Prompster Public Speaking
This app, which is priced at $1.99, turns any smartphone or tablet into a teleprompter that displays text and can be easily moved up and down during a presentation.PublicSpeaking App
Provided by HiveBrain via GooglePlay and iTunes, this app provides guided meditations and a self-hypnosis program to help reduce anxieties surrounding public speaking.SpeakerClock
Students who struggle to stay within time limitations can use this this app, which displays large red LED digits showing how much time has elapsed and/or how much time is left.
Public Speaking Advice from the Expert
Dr. Janet Heller offers some final advice for delivering great presentations and speeches.
In your opinion, what’s the best way to learn how to speak publicly with grace, clarity, and panache?
Students need to practice public speaking as often as possible. They should participate in class discussions, do oral reports, and take courses on public speaking. Students should join clubs or nonprofit organizations that require public speaking events. Students should also try to speak up and give presentations during meetings at their place of work. The more people practice speaking to audiences, the easier this process becomes.
How can students use their time in college to become better public speakers?
Students should participate in class discussions, do oral reports, and take courses on public speaking. They should also consider joining clubs and other student organizations that require public speaking events, such as debate clubs, model political conventions, Model United Nations, etc.
What advice do you have to students who will soon be graduating and are worried they will relapse?
It’s okay to take time off between college and your career to take care of yourself. Be clear about long-term goals (health, life) versus the short-term (finding a job). Find a team (therapist, registered dietitian, psychiatrist, doctor) to support you through this big life change. Depending on the job you get after school, consider sharing with your company early in employment (maybe not during interview) that you have struggled with an ED in the past so they are aware of this if you need to take time off to take care of yourself.
Is taking a class the best approach or are there more organic ways that are also effective?
Because practicing public speaking is so important, students can benefit from a class that focuses on public speaking. The professor may have advice that helps the students deal with anxiety, make a presentation stand out, and use audiovisual aids when doing oral presentations.