Public speaking is hard. In fact, research shows 75% of the population struggles with a fear of public speaking. However, there is no easy way around the fact that public speaking is an important life skill, both in college (you will likely have a required class on the topic) and life in general (most of us have to communicate our ideas to an audience on a regular basis). Luckily, with a few strategies the pain of speaking in front of others an be minimized.

What’s the best way to deliver an impressive speech?

The first rule of public speaking is, if you can swing it,  don’t use notes.

In order to teach you this, I’m going to skip forward to a future video and show you a mnemonic technique called the loci system. For more on mnemonic techniques, see my previous blog post on this topic. To use this system, make a funny image to represent each point in your speech. For example, this is your speech for the upcoming Student Congress Presidential campaign:

  1. Short personal introduction
  2. Experience as high school Student Congress President
  3. Civic engagement
  4. Leadership
  5. Honesty
  6. Reminder to vote

Now, create an action-filled, mental image for each talking point. The crazier the better- bizarre images will make the speech less forgettable as you try to remember the next point.  Let’s give it a try.

  1. Short personal introduction – imagine yourself juggling while dancing saying “me!” “me!”
  2. Experience as high school Student Congress President – an image of yourself in your old student congress chambers pounding a gavel down hard on a large, wooden desk
  3. Civic engagement – Picture your favorite volunteer organization’s staff stuffed together, cheering you on as you speak.
  4. Leadership – Imagine a young boy with a whistle and baton marching a group of kids around in a circle
  5. Honesty – Picture Abraham Lincoln giving you a thumbs up and a wink
  6. Reminder to vote – picture a gigantic ballot with a large pencil checking off your name

For each of these mental images, try to make it as vivid as possible. Hear, see, and smell each scenario. Make it alive in your brain. Now place each item in a part of the room in which you will speak. For instance, you might place the first image to the left of the stage, the next image to the left up the aisle, the third in the back of the room under the main “exit sign.” ect. Once you place all the images and associate them with those locations, go over them several times in your mind.

Finally, try giving the speech in the room. When moving from point to point, merely move through the next location in your mind, starting with the first. The crazy mental images you created will inform you of your next point. Easy…and with no outline. You’re a pro!

What are some other strategies to become a great public speaker?

Unfortunately, learning to speak in front of others is more than memorizing your speech. And trust me, you will have to give many presentations in college. If this task sounds terrible to you, try to ease the burden with these tips:

  1. Practicing stress relief techniques.
  2. Use visualization to see yourself doing great. It works! Many world-class athletes practice visualization to prepare them for their big event.
  3. Use mnemonic techniques and repetition to memorize your speech. If you know it by heart, you are less likely to get stuck.
  4. Practice the speech  in the same room in which you will present, if possible.
  5. Don’t use your PowerPoint as a crutch. It will lessen your confidence and make you look terrible when you look back at the screen. You want to tell a story, not bore your audience with endless un-synthesized points.
  6. Try being “out of the ordinary” by using less known presentation alternatives like  Prezi. The novelty might put you above the competition.
  7. Present with your audience in mind. What do they want to hear?
  8. Watch yourself present in the mirror. It might be weird at first, but it will help you with your delivery.
  9. Finally, speak about something you are passionate about, if possible.

This blog post is part of a series on how to be successful in college.