How to Up Your Public Speaking Game

Researchers have found that public speaking ranks higher on our list of phobias than spiders – and even death itself! There isn’t a person on earth who isn’t anxious about being judged, making a mistake, or just looking incompetent in a public setting. Our fears are justified, but overcoming these fears and sharpening your public speaking skills can be a crucial step in taking your career to the next level. 

The workplace has become increasingly impersonal in recent years, yet the need for effective interpersonal skills is at an all-time high. The new remote work landscape has created a demand for a completely new skill set: online presentations. Still, as we transition back to hybrid and face-to-face meetings, the need for effective oral presentation skills is as important as ever. 

As a Professor of Business & Communication, I have witnessed the sheer terror on the faces of freshman students in my Speech 101 classes. It’s evident they fear death less than my class! I often get seniors who have delayed the class as long as possible and I’ve also seen students change their major entirely just to avoid the course requirement. They have come to my office in tears begging for mercy! If this sounds like you – there’s hope! 

For those who do survive my 16 week class, nearly every student can say they overcame their fear and gained more confidence. With that said, here are my pro tips for becoming a more effective public speaker:

  1. Practice, practice, practice. My students get up and say SOMETHING every single class session. Do they hate it? Of course. Does it help shake the nerves? Most definitely. Seek out opportunities to face your fears and practice your skills. Over time, it will get easier. 
  1. Be a subject matter expert. It’s really easy to talk about something you know a lot about. If you asked me to explain quantum physics to a crowd, I’d be quite speechless! If you have a topic that truly inspires and engages you, you will be eager to share it with the world.
  1. Know your audience. Whether you are presenting to a bunch of  kindergartners on Career Day or a panel of NASA scientists landing a mission to Mars – context matters! Understanding the demographic of your audience and their familiarity with the topic is an important step in preparing your speech. You want to anticipate their interest level and preconceived expectations, then meet them exactly where they are.
  1. Be on time. Even if you have 10,000 words of brilliant, ground breaking content to share, you are disrespecting your audience if you do not present your ideas in the allotted time frame. Once they start checking their watches and shifting in their seats, you’ve lost them. Sign off and get the hell out of there! The trick to mastering this? See #1!
  1. Keep them engaged. People’s attention spans are quite literally shrinking every year thanks to TikTok and other social media platforms. We have been trained to consume a lot of information in a short amount of time, and we have become primarily visual learners. In order to keep their attention, get them involved. Ask questions, use humor, and provide relatable personal examples. Be a storyteller. Compelling visuals (with very little text) is also preferred.  
  1. Dress to impress. There is nothing more distracting to me than a sloppy outfit. I worked in fashion marketing for many years so for me – clothing is a form of non-verbal communication! Your wardrobe can convey professionalism, expertise, and respect for your audience. Clothing that is too casual, wrinkled, sloppy, or inappropriately revealing communicates a message that you are unprofessional and even incompetent. This is probably the easiest part of public speaking to master: look good, feel good. Buy the suit.  
  1. Be yourself. Your tone of voice and your hand gestures should feel natural, not contrived. If you want your audience to be excited, show excitement! You are setting the tone for the energy in the room. Psychology tells us that we can turn our nervous energy into excited energy simply by saying out loud, “I’m EXCITED!” Remember: you are the thermostat that controls the mood and energy of your audience. If you are having a good time, they will feel it and respond accordingly.  

Public speaking skills are an important tool in your leadership toolbox and can set you apart from others when it’s time for a new job or promotion. If you can master a new skill that is so terrifying to most of the population, you will be #winning. As with most things in life, practice and perseverance will help you overcome your fears and learn to get comfortable with discomfort. You got this!

Want to learn more? 

I offer personalized communication coaching to improve your effectiveness in the boardroom and in your interpersonal relationships. I can walk you through these steps and provide coaching in other areas to take your life and career to the next level. Learn more at

About    —————————————————

I’m Dr. Tess Breen


Equipping leaders to transform their organizations.

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