How to become a more confident speaker

Unless we are public speakers or singers, we can easily take our voices for granted. The only time we might notice we have vocal chords is if we have a problem with them, such as a cold or laryngitis, when the voice box can only manage a scratchy or hoarse whisper. Just think how hard it is to try answering the phone with no voice, whilst suffering with a bad cold?

Even though our voices are natural to us, many of us fear speaking out, especially in public. This fear can extend to an interview or an important presentation – and might even be present when taking up a hobby, dating for the first time in a while, or when making new friends.

But speaking out can be so therapeutic. Sometimes, when people are afraid to speak out, they can feel as if they are trapped behind a wall of anxiety. If only they could remove that barrier in their mind, overcome nerves and speak confidently with others, then the world could become their oyster.

The good news is that however daunting speaking out in public might feel – it is possible to learn how to use your voice to appear more confident, open up new opportunities and in turn, feel a greater sense of well being. Becoming a more confident speaker doesn’t have to be complicated or scary – it just takes practice. Below, we will look at how you can start to become a more confident communicator.

Getting started with speaking out loud…

During my years spent working as a coach, I have been able to help clients boost their confidence when speaking out loud, by asking them to create and practice their own one minute speech. This can be quite a fun exercise and will allow you to explore the different ways that you can make your voice work for you. You can perform your speech to a family member or friend – or even to yourself in the mirror.

Your speech can be about yourself, or about something you feel passionate about if you prefer. However, writing a speech about yourself can act as a helpful first step in feeling more confident in your own presence and authority when speaking aloud. Many people feel uncomfortable talking about themselves because they don’t want to sound boastful or self-indulgent. But learning that it’s okay to open up to others about your interests, passions and ideas can be incredibly empowering, and can help you steer away from the mindset that keeps you quiet, and allows you to fade into the background.

Your speech can be about your ideas, personality, personal experiences or passions. Once you’ve decided what you might like to speak about, you can then organise your thoughts under the following guidelines to create a one minute speech.

How to become a confident speaker by performing a one minute speech

To help you plan your speech, I will show you how you can use a helpful tool called, The Talking Wall.

The Talking Wall is a simple image, which is used to represent the nerves or barriers that might be preventing you from speaking out in public. On the wall there are nine bricks, each of which will represent some of the basic elements of good speaking practice that you feel least confident about and want to improve on. Focusing on developing and improving on the theme of each brick, will help you to structure and articulate your thoughts – which can ease your nerves when speaking in public. Once you’ve broken the wall down by addressing each brick, it can be remade into a pathway, which will allow you to walk forward as a more confident speaker.

When you’re creating your one minute speech, it can be a good idea to focus on those areas of good speaking practice that you’d most like to work on to be able to feel more confident. For example, the energy in your voice, or the speed at which you speak. Have a look at the Talking Wall example below, to see how labelling the bricks can help you with this. These are just a few ideas – you might want to come up with other ones that are more personal to you.

Once you’ve decided which area of speaking practice that you’d like to work on – the next step is to take some time to practice each one, using your one minute speech to guide you. We will now look more closely at exactly how you can do this.

9 examples of the different areas of spoken communication that, with practice, can help you feel more confident

1. Content

Consider what you would like other people to know about you. It helps if these are things you are particularly proud of, or that are unique to you – as this will make talking about them come much more naturally (which is helpful if you’re feeling nervous and are prone to forgetting what you want to say). You might want to speak about something you know that your audience will be able to relate to. You could talk about a specific life experience, why you enjoy a particular activity, or what a few of your quirks are. Remember you only have one minute, so it can be helpful to either choose one thing about yourself and talk about it in detail, or discuss several things about yourself – giving a more brief overview.

Once you’ve decided what topics you want to cover, try giving yourself three ‘hooks’ to help you remember your content. Thinking in threes is a helpful tip for speaking practice – point 1, point 2 and point 3 –  it has a natural rhythm and cadence. For example, if you want to take up drawing or painting, then you could use the example hooks below to help you remember the content of your speech.

Example
  1. What or who has made you interested in the idea of taking up painting or drawing?


    You are now retired or working part-time and you want to get stuck into something artistic, like drawing and painting.You’ve experimented with oil painting in the past but have never really stuck at it. Maybe mention a lovely painting or artist you like who has inspired you and explain why they’ve inspired you.

  2. How do you plan to go about learning to paint and draw?


    You hope to join the local art society and share your enjoyment with others, and make new friends.You are also planning on turning your spare room into a quiet space where you can go to practice.

  3. Where do you see yourself going with this talent in your future?


    If you develop your artistic skills, you would love to see whether you can top up your income by selling some of your artwork. But even if this doesn’t happen, you will still welcome the chance to be able to indulge in one of your favourite pastimes.

2. Structure your speech by having a clear beginning and end

The first nine seconds and the last nine seconds of any speech is what the audience remembers most. This is called the 99 rule. For this reason, it’s important that your beginning and end are clear and memorable.

Your nine second opening could begin with an interesting thought, fact or quote, for example “Sometimes an experience you take for granted as a child becomes a lifelong memory…” or “I found the artist in me very early on in life when I…” Or perhaps you could even start with a simple rhetorical question (one that doesn’t require an answer) such as, “Why did I choose to be a [insert profession here]?”

You can then move onto the middle section of the speech, where you will speak about the main point(s) you want to cover, for the next 40-42 seconds.

Your speech should end with a memorable line, for your audience to take away with them – something that sticks in their mind. You could try finishing with the same line as you started with – or you could tweak it a bit for effect. For example, “….so it’s true – I’ll never forget my grandma, but especially her beautiful quilt.” In our one minute speech, this should take nine seconds.

3. Delivery

While spoken words are important, you can appear more confident and help to bring your speech to life, by spending some time focussing on the way you deliver your speech. I have often illustrated this in training workshops by telling a tragic story with a huge smile on my face and excited gestures as if I’ve won the lottery. This confuses the audience no end because they immediately laugh and then realise that it’s not the right response, and that they are not listening to a funny story – but because I am laughing they are smiling. It proves a great point that it’s not just about what you say, it’s the way that you say it.

So, try using deliberate gestures to make your point. For example, open your arms and make eye contact with a smile rather than looking down and folding your arms or putting your hands in your pockets. Stand up straight, rather than hunching your shoulders, so that you can have more presence in the room while you speak. Open body language makes you look as if you are confident and you know what you are talking about, which is more interesting to your audience.

To help yourself get used to using gestures more openly, consider acting out some silly gestures – jump up and down with excitement, wring your hands in anger, or become jittery with nerves, and so on. Notice how your body language and facial expressions change with each emotion. This amusing icebreaker can help you to take those first steps out of your comfort zone, and to relax your face and body.

4. Eye contact and smiles

Try to maintain eye contact with your audience at all times, and let your facial expressions reflect the feelings you are expressing. It’s good to practice keeping a smile and a positive demeanour as much as you can (unless your speech is about something sad). If you look happy then the audience will feel happy with you. If you look sad, then the audience will feel sad with you. And if you look bored, the audience will feel bored with you, and so on.

5. Energise your voice

Keeping up the energy in your voice, while you deliver your speech, will make it much more interesting. It can sometimes be hard to know exactly how to do this, but there are some exercises that you can do to help you get used to the range of different tones you could adopt.

You can practice singing a song, humming scales from high to low-low to high or putting on silly voices with a friend or in front of the mirror. You could also practice giving your opinion about something you do and don’t like, while adopting the appropriate tone of voice to reflect what you are talking about.

This will not only loosen up your vocal cords and help you relax, it will also allow you to get used to the different ways that your voice can sound, so that you can adopt the tone that is most appropriate for your speech. Try recording yourself on video, so that you can have a listen to how your tone of voice changes with your emotions. This will help you build greater awareness of how you look and sound when you’re speaking.

6. Power of pauses

This small tip has a big impact. If you want the audience concentrating hard, then a well placed pause is the way to do it. You might be describing something that happened to you and building up the story – then at the point at which you might reveal the outcome, pause for a second or so, then continue. This will naturally feel uncomfortable but will provoke a much greater reaction from your audience.

Avoid rushing through what you want to say, as it gives you less time to think and is more likely to confuse your audience. Even if you forget for a second what you want to say or have a slight attack of nerves, then using the pause is a great way to collect your thoughts.

When you finish your one minute speech, count silently to five before you move away, so that you don’t rush off, but allow your words to linger just a little longer. This will help the words of your speech sink into the mind’s of the audience.

7. Be mindful of your audience

Audiences may be of different ages or gender, and they may be familiar with your subject matter, or maybe not. Being mindful of this will mean adopting the appropriate language choices and expressing yourself clearly. You should never assume that the audience already understands the topic you’re talking about, unless you know this to be a fact.

If you want to make sure that your audience remains engaged in what you’re talking about, then it’s your job to keep them interested by keeping your speech accessible, interesting and jargon free.

8. Speak from the heart

Quite simply, you must believe in what you say so that your speech is authentic and can flow easily. In your one minute speech about you, you should believe so much in what you are saying – speaking earnestly and honestly – that there will be no doubt in you or your audience that you are speaking from your heart. Believing in the content of your speech, will help you to have belief in yourself and in what you are delivering – which can ease any self-consciousness or nerves.

9. Practice makes perfect

You can never really practise a speech enough, as there is generally always room for improvement – so it’s important to allow yourself as much time as you need to become happy with your speech.

Even during a short one minute speech, if you’ve rehearsed well and then are feeling nervous at any point, you will be much less likely to forget what you had planned to say. Also, the better you know your speech, the more you can concentrate on practising and experimenting with good delivery. It’s a bit like driving – the better you understand the gears and how to work the pedals, the more time you can spend looking out for road signs and hazards, or simply enjoying the view.

You can practice with the help of a friend, by recording and watching back video – or even alone with a mirror. You can repeat your speech as many times as you wish, until you are satisfied with your performance. Try to get a friend to give you some constructive feedback, so that you have a good idea of what you need to work on from an audience perspective.

You might find this process of practicing your speech a little uncomfortable to start with. If you’re not used to speaking out, then even doing so while you’re alone using a mirror, can feel like a big step that takes you outside of your comfort zone. But you might be surprised how much easier it gets with repetition, and how much more comfortable you start to feel with hearing your own voice.

Once you’re happy with your one minute speech, you could consider starting a video diary, where you can record other thoughts, speeches and messages as you go through the year. It should become easier every time you record something.

How to time your one minute speech

Starting with a one minute speech is a good way to get a feel for how time passes when you are speaking, and can act as a useful benchmark for any situation where you might be required to introduce yourself in the future. In social situations you won’t usually need to worry about time (like you might have to in interviews or presentations), but this exercise can still be helpful for learning to speak clearly and effectively in any given time frame.

Once you have the basic content and structure of your speech together, then you can focus on getting it to time. You could ask a friend to hold up a green card 30 seconds into your one minute speech, to remind you that you are halfway through, and then a red card at 50-51 seconds to give you time to round off and make a strong ending. If you’d rather practice alone, then you can use a clock or a stopwatch to time each segment.

Turning your Talking Wall into a pathway, so you can walk forward...

Once you’ve created your speech, and broken down the Talking Wall using the nine-point plan, you should hopefully feel more confident about using your voice in the areas of your life where it matters to you most. Below is an example of what your Talking Wall will look like once you have broken it down into a pathway. With each brick under your feet, rather than blocking your way, you will now be ready to go and talk the talk!

A final thought…

Even those who have never suffered from shyness or feeling socially awkward, will find themselves having to work on some things like content and delivery, when they are public speaking, or attending a job interview or giving a presentation. Some of the best and most confident speakers spend hours, days or even weeks, practicing important speeches. So, remember, there’s no shame in putting time and effort into learning how to speak more confidently. Try to be kind and patient with yourself during this process, and stick at it – no matter how alien it feels. You might be surprised how much more confident you feel speaking up in a range of different situations and circumstances after just a few run throughs of your one minute speech.

Would you like to get in touch with Janie to find out more about the different coaching services she has to offer? You can visit her coaching profile, here.

We’d also love to hear about your experiences of speaking. Are you working on finding your voice by becoming a more confident speaker? Email us at [email protected], or leave a comment below.

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2 thoughts on “How to become a more confident speaker

  1. Avatar
    Gillian Caldicott on Reply

    I’d add joining Toastmasters International to this list. Whether you’re a practiced and accomplished speaker or a complete novice it’s a great way to regular feedback on what you’re doing and how you’re doing it.

    1. Avatar
      Helen on Reply

      Hi Gillian. I was a Toastmaster for many years in New Zealand and loved it. It’s a very friendly way of building confidence in a highly supportive environment.

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