Feeling anxious about public speaking?
It’s perfectly normal to be scared about giving a speech, but the good news is that speaking is a trainable skill! Meaning that with enough practice, you’ll be able to get more competent and comfortable with speaking.
In this article I’ll focus on 6 public speaking exercises you can do from home or before having to get in front of the audience.
Here’s what this is and is not about:
When doing some research, I noticed that most of the content on this subject is focused on calming yourself down before a public speech, rather than focused on becoming a better speaker.
I’ll be giving you public speaking exercises that focus on improving your skillset instead.
With the exception of exercise 1, these exercises are about improving over a period of time. If you have to speak somewhere tomorrow, you won’t have enough time to dramatically improve by then.
Instead, this is a long-term plan to become an amazing speaker!
Speaking Skill 1: Speaking Calmly
Here’s an easy way to ruin any speaking engagement:
If at any point you let the fear and anxiety take over, your breathing will become more shallow and faster. It’s the same kind of reaction to having a panic attack.
And it’s easily noticeable in your voice!
The result is speaking at a (too) rapid pace, possibly a higher-pitched voice, and you’d be making more mistakes as you stumble over the words you’re trying to quickly blurt out.
You’ll instantly come across as less authoritative and trustworthy!
What you want instead is to breathe calmly, and to embody that calmness and makes you appear more confident. Ideally, you want long, deep breaths that come from further down towards your stomach.
So the first task is a simple breathing exercise.
The Speaking Exercise to Train This:
I’d highly recommend doing this right before you start speaking.
Find a moment where you can be left alone for about 1 or 2 minutes so that you can do this in peace. You can also practice this at home of course.
Here’s what to do:
Start out by taking a pose in which you feel confident. You can try some power poses to get you started. Then for just 1 or maybe 2 minutes, all I want you to do is focus on your breathing.
Breathe deeply in through your nose and feel your lungs fill up.
And then exhale through your mouth again.
Make sure that these are slow, calm and deep breaths rather than having a rapid breathing pattern. Doing this will help you feel more confident while calming you down as well.
You’ll have that calm, slower speaking pattern when you get started!
Speaking Skill 2: Knowing What to Say
Are you familiar with Jerry Seinfeld?
He’s been one of the most popular comedians and he’s got his own TV show that is named after himself. There is no doubt that he has done very well for himself, but do you know why that is?
It is this:
When asked what the key to his success was in an interview he told the reporter that he made sure that he would write at least 1 joke every single day!
It is that habit that got him his success, not his performances.
This is now named the Seinfeld Method after him.
What Jerry realized is this:
Before even taking a new joke to his audience in one of his shows, he needs to first come up with the joke. And in order to create good jokes, he needed to write a lot of them.
It’s the same for you.
Not everything you write down will be gold, so you need to start writing things out for yourself. By practicing your writing, you will get better at wording certain things, which then translates to your speaking too.
Don’t feel overwhelmed, just take this one step at a time. Save or bookmark this page, so you can get back to it. Then read through this article, and pick 1 or 2 exercises and work on those skills first.
Then come back later to work on another one.
The Writing Exercise to Train This Skill
So, where should you start?
If you are doing public speaking regularly, you have a bit of an advantage here. The advantage is that there are probably some stories, metaphors and explanations that you already use consistently.
If that’s you, here’s your starting point:
Take one of the things you come back to over and over and write it out from different angles. How can you make it more fun, clear, simple, over the top, ridiculous or mysterious?
This is about playing around with words.
Your goal isn’t necessarily to write the greatest speech you have every single day. I just want you to get writing and see how the way you write about something can completely change things around!
This will do 2 things:
- You will get more creative in expressing yourself. Which is a great skill to have as a public speaker, since it allows you to adapt on the spot as well as paint colorful pictures with your words that make things clear.
- The second benefit is that sometimes you read what you wrote and you’ll be like “Damn, this actually is gold!”. You now have a new spin to part of your speaking gig that you can try.
So, where do you start if you don’t speak often?
You know the answer to that already.
You are most likely here because you have a speaking job coming up, so you want to prepare yourself for it. And that’s going to become your starting point.
Here’s your to-do list:
- Figure out what you will be talking about. Think of your introduction, stories, main information, ending of your talk, possible jokes to include and other things that will be in your talk.
- Once you have your main structure, start your writing habit by creating a written version of your entire speech. If you’re done with it, then the next day do it again, without looking at the other version(s).
- Repeat that process a few times and reread everything. For each section, try to find the best way to say or explain it from the ones you have written down.
- This is optional, but highly recommended: Don’t just read it yourself, but share it with some people you trust for feedback. Bonus points if these people have experience with writing and/or speaking.
- Once you have the core of what you want to say, you’re now free to experiment and perhaps be a bit more goofy with your writing.
Get that creativity moving!
The better you get at (creative) writing the better you’ll be at using that same language in the spoken word too. So, make writing a daily habit for yourself!Get this free training to make building habits that stick easy!
Speaking Skill 3: The Art of Comedy
This is crucial in pretty much all human interaction
Even when you’re doing public speaking in a business setting, you need to find a way to work in some humor. Otherwise your presentation will quickly become incredibly dry and boring.
A few ways to spice up your talk with humor:
- Share personal stories & metaphors to make your points in a more fun way than dry facts. This spices up your talk quite a bit.
- Direct a joke or two at an (uncomfortable) truth or problem. It’s a lighthearted way to address something that your audience already knows and can relate to.
- Consider jokes at lift people up. If your joke comes at the expense of others, especially those present, it can lead to resentment.
You can work on these when you’re writing as well.
But, that’s not the point of this exercise!
The key to a good joke or story is the delivery itself, rather than the joke itself. Your gestures, voice inflection, movement, using a different voice and things like that are what get you the response you want.
Here’s a breakdown from a single joke from Louis CK:
So that’s going to be the next one of the public speaking exercises!
The Public Speaking Exercise to Use
If you look at the breakdown above, you’ll see that there is way more to telling a joke successfully than just choosing and speaking the right words.
That’ll be your challenge!
For starters, I want you to think of the comedians that you enjoy watching and take a few of their jokes. And then practice those as if you were doing standup comedy yourself.
Your goal is simply this:
The reason for doing this exercise is so that you can get better at placing emphasis on certain words, use pauses effectively, and use both your voice and body in a way to support the joke.
Because, if you can do that with a joke, you can use it everywhere!
Not just with public speaking, but in casual conversations as well. You’ll be able to use the same techniques when making a serious points too and using a pause to let the words sink in.
So, you got the jokes to practice with.
What I would recommend doing is watching the comedian him or herself perform the joke and take note of the things they do to get the laughs. Then I want you to practice delivering it the same way.
Bonus Tip: Set up a camera.
It’s often hard to analyse what you’re doing well and not so well in the moment, so when you do this, or any other public speaking exercises, record yourself!
You’ll be able to watch it back and look for the key elements you identified before.
The reason to start with someone else’s jokes is because these comedians write a lot of jokes, and the ones that do best have been proven to work. So you know that the things you practice actually do work!
The next step is to implement these things into your own stories and jokes.
What can I do to spice up parts of my speech? Where can I add these subtle elements so that the response will be better?
Do that and you’ll be well on your way!
Bonus Tip 2: Just like before with your writing, you might want to get some
guinea pigs people together to test this on. It’s not needed, but it can help finetune things for you.
Speaking Skill 4: Learning to Cut Out “Uhhs”.
You’ve definitely heard people do this.
Whenever someone is speaking, but uhh… they’re not 100% sure of what they want to, uhh… articulate, they uhh… they start making these “uhh” noises when they speak.
It can get pretty awkward real quick!
Both in conversation and public speaking, having these uhh will make people think that you’re unsure, don’t know what you’re wanting to say or nervous.
Not exactly what you want…
But there’s a way to fix this:
The truth is that sometimes you DO need a moment to think of what you need to say next. Instead of saying “uhh” while you think, try to train yourself to pause instead.
A pause allows your previous words to sink in.
It also helps you come across as more calm and collected especially when you pause at the end of a sentence, an important word or one of your main points.
Here’s the key to it all:
When we speak we often don’t allow many pauses. We feel we have the need to continue speaking, which is why our mind uses “uhh” and other similar things to fill the void.
But, we’re often way more lenient on others!
Meaning that what you think is too long of a pause, probably is not. Just realizing that should put you at ease for a bit.
The Speaking Exercise to Practice This Skill:
Your exercise will be this:
Set up a recording, so that you can watch it back later and set a timer for 3-5 minutes. Think of a book, movie or story you really like and start telling that story within the set time limit.
In particular, I want you to get as few “uhhs” and “aahs” as possible.
Count them afterward.
This exercise helps in a few ways:
- The main focus is for you to replace your ehms with short pauses instead.
- The timer puts you in a situation where most people feel pressured to talk fast, leading to more errors. Making it perfect for this public speaking exercise!
- Storytelling in a way that’s compelling is an important skill as well as art. While not the main focus, you’ll learn how to paint the picture and bring the world to life!
Start using your body, pauses, and inflections in addition to your words.
- And finally, because of the timer, it will help you get better at conveying the right information concisely. With limited time, learn how to identify what you should and should not include.
Speaking Skill 5: Analyzing Great Speakers
Great communication is not an accident!
When you see a great speech or interview, note that those people do most of that on purpose. There are some things that happen unconsciously, or are simply that person’s character, but most of it is purposely done.
Which is great for you!
Knowing this, you can learn a lot from watching some of the best speakers in the world. But you can’t just watch and listen to other speakers, and expect to learn automatically.
You need to analyze it!
You need to look at a certain speech (perhaps a few times) and identify the things they do to get the desired outcome.
The Exercise to Practice This Skill:
Start with someone you admire, or whom you know is a great speaker.
Then find a speech or clip to analyze.
Some things you could use:
- Press Conferences
- Late night shows
Important: This exercise is a lot harder than it looks if you’re not familiar with doing this. Trying to break down everything at once would likely overwhelm you.
Instead pick out 1 or maybe 2 things and focus on those.
Some things to look for:
- How does this person make his/her choice of words. Why would they use these instead of others. Do they evoke emotion from the crowd?
- How does the speaker use their facial expressions? In an interview, do they smile when being sarcastic for example? What’s the effect or the interviewer?
- What parts of their words do they emphasize? Do they pause at certain moments? Why? Do they use different voices or inflections? How do you think the reaction would be if they did or didn’t do that?
- How is the person using his/her body? Big or small gestures? Does it fit with the content of the speech? Do they use all the space they have?
Those are just some of the things you could analyze.
That’s why this is a difficult exercise!
But once you get the hang of this, you’ll start noticing patterns. Certain things that multiple speakers do that consistently get the same type of results.
In other words, you’ll learn things you can use in your own public speaking!
Additionally, you can try searching on YouTube for breakdowns that other people have done. However, I would recommend trying to first try it yourself and see if you can point out the same things.
That’s where the real learning is!
Speaking Skill 6: Body Language
I’ve talked about this multiple times already.
At least 70% of our communication is non-verbal.
Professor Albert Mehrabian has done research and found that roughly 55% of communication consists of body language. About 38% of your communication is how you say things.
That leaves only 7% for the actual words you use!
Yet this last part is where most people put most of their focus. This is a shame because the perfect lines delivered poorly will result in a bad talk overall!
Notice how only exercise 2 here is focused on the words you use.
The rest is all about how you deliver them.
Here are 4 quick tips to using body language when speaking:
The Add-On Exercises to Practice This Skill:
These are extensions of some of the other exercises.
Because the truth is that it doesn’t matter whether you tell a joke, a story or just convey information, your body language should always be in line with your message.
There are 2 exercises you can add when you do any of the other public speaking exercises here:
The first one is to add movement to the other exercises.
For example, if you’re telling a story of how something blew up, expand your arms to the side to signify the magnitude of the explosion and raise your voice for the “Kaboom!”.
Things like that bring your story to life and keep people’s attention!
The second exercise is the exact opposite:
Not all movement is good!
So whenever you do a speaking exercise, I want you to pay attention to what you do with your body. Specifically, what kind of small movements do you make that do not contribute to your message?
In other words: fidgeting.
While I like fidgeting as a form of exercise, in public speaking it’s a nono! If you keep touching your hair or face, others parts of your body, nervously shake your leg and things like that, you’ll come across as insecure.
That’s what this exercise is about.
Do one of the other exercises, and if you notice that you’re fidgeting, stop yourself! Try to catch yourself in the act and stop that behavior in the moment.
Over time you can learn to stop any fidgeting habit you may have.
Becoming an Amazing Speaker
Again, public speaking is a learnable skill.
If you’re just starting on your journey, first figure out where you should improve upon first and then use the right public speaking exercise above to train that skill.
Here are the main areas to focus on:
- Speaking calmly and confidently.
- Knowing the right words to say.
- Using the inflections of your voice.
- Knowing when to pause for a moment.
- Using your body the right way.
Each of those areas are broad and will take quite a while to master, but even taking the first couple of steps will make you a lot better already!