Public Speaking Classes: Introduction to Public Speaking

By Chris Kolmar - Dec. 4, 2020

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Do you have glossophobia? If you do, don’t worry – you’re in good company. Glossophobia is a fear of public speaking and, according to research, about 75% of people have this anxiety.

While having a fear of speaking in public is common, it’s not something you should passively accept. Not being able to speak in public can hurt you professionally, even if you’ve chosen a rather solitary career track. There’s a good chance you’ll have to do some public speaking at some point, whether giving a presentation, telling your team how to do a task, or simply introducing yourself to your new co-workers.

Why You Need Public Speaking Classes

You don’t aspire to be a newscaster or a politician, and that’s okay. You don’t have to pick a speaker job. And you don’t have to master the art of public speaking to that degree. But a class in public speaking can help you in many ways throughout your life.

It’s a pretty safe bet to say that you’re going to need to speak in public at some point in your life. Even in grade school and high school, giving a presentation is something you have to do. When you’re out of school, you’ll have toasts to give at special occasions, work pitches, introductions to make; the list of times you will have to speak in front of a crowd goes on and on.

Taking a public speaking class can help you overcome your soul-crushing fear of speaking, make you appear more confident, and it can help you give a better speech.

How Public Speaking Classes Will Help You

Consider a speech class or a public speaking course as one of the first steps toward being more marketable in your job search and a bonus when it comes to the rest of your life.

In a class on public speaking, you’ll learn how to effectively write a presentation that will be delivered orally. It’s actually different than a written presentation, and there’s a bit of an art and skill to the delivery. Just this tip alone is enough to give your work life a boost.

But there’s a lot more involved in a public speaking course. It might take one course, or you may find you need a few of them. Some of the skills you’ll learn or topics you’ll touch on can include:

  • Tips that help you speak clearly and enunciate, so you’re easy to hear.

  • You’ll be instructed on poise and how to carry yourself.

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  • Practicing when it doesn’t matter helps you gain confidence and experience.

  • Watching others learn this skill can make it easier to relate and improve.

  • It’s more than the words; learn to use body language effectively

  • Start to read the audience and gauge their reaction to you.

  • When you’re more advanced, you might learn to pivot and respond to the audience, to become more impromptu in your presentations.

It’s important to note that taking a course in giving a public speech or a presentation shouldn’t just be for people who are scared or inexperienced. Even professional speakers know the value of taking a class or brushing up on their skills. They practice all speeches alone and then in front of an audience to make sure they’re coming across in the best way possible.

When they speak, they want to have the right cadence, emphasis, pace, inflection, and they want to have a persona they present to the audience. Taking advanced courses or having a private lesson to sharpen speaking skills is a fantastic way to stay on top of the game.

Public Speaking Skills

If public speaking is just not your thing, you probably watch people who do it and think they were just born with that gift. That some people are naturally able to speak in public while others simply can’t.

While not being afraid of speaking in public might be an innate skill, the rest of it is learned. That’s right. Somewhere along the way, these people learned how to do this. And that means you can learn it, too.

Effective public speaking requires a handful of skills. Each one takes practice and sometimes outside help to nail and perfect. Pull them all together, and anyone can give a speech and look like a natural while they’re doing it.

The skills you’ll want to focus on if you’re going to become a more effective speaker include:

  • Speech writing. The words you say matter. Few people are charismatic enough to pull off a great speech with no content to back them up. Don’t get us wrong, it can happen and sometimes does, but most people need to have great words behind them.

  • The opener. You’ve probably seen sitcoms talk about the opening joke of a public speech. It’s a popular plotline and not entirely untrue. Opening with a joke can be an effective way to get your audience’s attention and get them on your side.

    But in some situations, a joke isn’t the best approach or even appropriate. In these cases, you still need to grab their attention with your opener. A great opener requires a lot of thought, solid writing, and good delivery. It may not seem like a skill at the outset, but creating an effective one most definitely is.

  • Vocabulary. Yes, the words you choose matter. Whether you picked up a great vocabulary in college or you’re working daily to add to your word base, this is a skill you need to sound enlightened and like an expert.

  • Audience engagement. To really engage with your audience, you need to read the audience and develop a give and take. If you feel they’re responding well, don’t push but rather ride the wave of what you’re doing. If you’re losing them, it’s time to adjust and to pull them back.

  • Self-critique. Part of the entire process is being able to look at what you’re saying and doing and determine what’s going well and what isn’t. For example, if the audience is not engaging, is it the words you’re saying or how you’re saying them?

  • Thinking on your feet. You need to be instantly responsive. What if someone shouts a question at you. How do you respond? This can happen to world-famous comedians, someone giving a business presentation, or during a wedding speech. Being able to recover and respond quickly is key.

  • Critical thinking. Critical thinking is a lot like thinking on your feet. It will help you understand the vibe that’s going on and how to respond to it.

  • Body language. Does your physical presence signal people that you’re the person they should pay attention to? Or are you withdrawn and physically shrinking into yourself, encouraging them to start playing with their phones?

  • Affirmations and visualizations. The positive approach is everything. If you’re thinking, “I’m totally going to bomb.” Then you’re probably going to bomb – and maybe in stellar fashion. Learning a positive mindset and some tips for staying upbeat can help more than you realize.

  • Manage the nerves. Everything sounds great, but when you look at the speaker, they’re rocking back and forth. That’s the old nerves coming out. Learning to channel that nervous energy and make it work for you is a great skill to have when giving a public presentation.

  • Confidence. That’s a lot of skills to learn and master, but you can do it. If you don’t master it, at least you have a handle on how you’re supposed to approach public speaking. All of this knowledge gives you some confidence. Imagine how much better it feels going into a presentation having worked on the above skills.

How to Find the Class That Is Best for You

There are a few different approaches to taking a class on speaking. Each one has some benefits and some drawbacks, so let’s look at the options.

  • Private speaking classes. You can find a voice and diction coach or a public speaking coach who is willing to work with you personally and privately.

    On the positive side, this will obviously give you a more customized and tailored approach. You can work on the details of your particular issues, and they can help you with your speech.

    When it comes to the negatives, cost will play into it for many people. Private instruction is always a bit more expensive. There’s also a missing dynamic of having others in the class. This might be a better approach for someone who just needs a refresher.

  • College or school. Whether you go to a local college, tech school, or a night school, this can be a good way to learn some public speaking skills.

    The cost of this will be way more affordable than private instruction, so that’s a plus. You will also benefit from having other people in your class for feedback and mutual learning.

    Negatively, you might not live near a school that offers speech or public speaking classes. The times of the classes and the number of classes involved might not work with your schedule. You may also find that all of the coursework is tedious.

  • Online instruction. There are online classes where you can pick up some speech skills and learn the ins and outs of effective presentations.

    A benefit of online classes is that you can typically take them from anywhere and at any time. However, some might require set class times. Another plus is that they’re often very affordable, and you might feel more inclined to take what you need and not worry about your grade. It’s more about your knowledge in this situation.

    Negatives to online instruction are that you’re still really missing out on live classmates that respond to you speaking and that you get to watch. Other than that, online is overall a good option.

  • Self-taught. You can do it by yourself. It’s possible, but not easy.

    A positive to teaching yourself to be a good public presenter is you can go at your own pace and comfort level. It’s basically free. You can refresh whenever you need it because you have the tools internally.

    A big downside of teaching yourself to be a great oral presenter is that it takes discipline – a lot of it. You also lack the expertise of a professional orator and the feedback of a class. For some people, this is just too big of a mountain to climb.

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Chris Kolmar

Author

Chris Kolmar

Chris Kolmar is a co-founder of Zippia and the editor-in-chief of the Zippia career advice blog. He has hired over 50 people in his career, been hired five times, and wants to help you land your next job. His research has been featured on the New York Times, Thrillist, VOX, The Atlantic, and a host of local news. More recently, he's been quoted on USA Today, BusinessInsider, and CNBC.

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