woman speaking to group of people

There are few people in this world who genuinely love public speaking. If you’re returning to college to finish your education, there is a good chance that you’ll be required to take a public speaking class or give a few presentations as part of your coursework. The good news is, there are lots of things you can do to improve your skills.

Be prepared

The most important aspect of public speaking is being prepared. Before you write your speech, get clear on the message you want to communicate. Each element of your speech should connect to that message and anything superfluous should be cut. Next, write your speech on notecards or type an outline. You can write it out word for word or just list bullet points for each topic. Although you should practice your speech enough that the notecards won’t be necessary, they are still helpful in case you freeze or get off topic. Speaking of practice, there is no substitute for running through your speech out loud, either in front of friends or the mirror. If the presentation will include a PowerPoint, pamphlets, or other extras, be sure to practice with these elements. Also, time your practice sessions to make sure your speech stays within the allotted time frame. For presentations or speeches that will be given with a group, it’s helpful to do a dress rehearsal together.

Avoid “death by PowerPoint”

Many professors expect a PowerPoint or visual aid to accompany a speech. While visual aids are useful, they can also be incredibly annoying if not done properly. When designing your slideshow, keep the number of words on each slide to a minimum, use high-quality images, and choose colors and fonts that are easy to see. Also, avoid animated transitions, word art, or sound effects, as these can make your presentation look childish. Prior to presenting, run through your slideshow in presentation mode to identify and correct any formatting issues. Most importantly, slideshows should emphasize the information being presented, not act as a prompter for your speech. If your audience could read the slideshow and get the same message without listening to you, you’re doing it wrong.

Connect with your audience

Delivering an impactful speech comes down to connecting with your audience. Show your audience your passion for your topic. Even if you think your topic is boring, try to find at least a few interesting aspects and highlight those points. Also, try using a bit of humor or telling personal stories to make your speech more human. Just be cautious not to share anything inappropriate or risqué. Utilize engaging body language and vocal tone to avoid appearing like a robot. Filming yourself during your practice sessions can be an excellent way to gauge the non-verbal elements of your speech.


It’s natural to be nervous before giving a speech. To relax, utilize techniques such as visualization, deep breathing, or meditation, that will help calm your nerves. Try to get a good night’s sleep beforehand and eat a nutritious meal to give you the energy and enthusiasm you hope to show your audience. Also, keep the caffeine intake to a minimum to avoid additional jitters. Choose an outfit and accessories that make you feel confident and polished. Today is not the day to try out a new pair of heels or fashion trend. Lastly, plan to arrive a little early so that you have time to collect yourself before taking the stage.

Public speaking isn’t easy, but it is a skill that you can improve with practice. By being fully prepared, creating effective slideshows, connecting with your audience, and learning to relax, you’ll be a pro in no time!

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