Grow Your Public Speaking Confidence: Tips For College Students
Grow Your Public Speaking Confidence: Tips For College Students
My name is Natalie Nation. I’m a grad student, future RD, educator, content creator, and mac and cheese expert! I love talking about college student issues to help YOU become more successful, confident and happy as a college student.
Today, I’m sharing my best tips to help you grow your public speaking confidence!
I LOVE Public Speaking!
Anyone who has met me KNOWS that I love public speaking! But I didn’t always.
I used to be scared of public speaking, and I know a lot of college students who would rather write a 10 page paper than give a 10 minute speech.
Here’s the truth.
The ability to educate, present, and motivate through public speaking is an incredible tool for college students to develop and use throughout their time in school.
Being a confident public speaker can also open the doors for unique opportunities out in the real world and definitely looks AMAZING on your resume and cover letter.
Whether you’re presenting in class, leading a club meeting, or persuading student government to fund your conference fee, there will always be opportunities in college where public speaking will benefit you!
The best thing about college is that you are a STUDENT and you get to learn and grow and practice and make mistakes without fear. Everyone around you is learning too!
Public speaking is intimidating–but so are you!
That statistic where people would rather be in the coffin than giving the eulogy? It’s so real! Public speaking can be intimidating. But YOU (yes, you!) can be intimidating, too!
When you speak, YOU are the expert. You might not always feel that way, but if you’re presenting on cell biology of a sea anemone (or whatever it happens to be), you’re the one who has put in the time to learn, to research, to put together a presentation, and you know the most.
Do you need to nail 100% of your presentation? NO! It can feel good, sure, but perfection is not necessary. You can (and you will!) make mistakes, but that is not important. Everyone makes mistakes.
Your confidence is the most critical piece of your presentation. Not your content, not your perfectly memorized script (more on that later), your CONFIDENCE.
I want to let you in on a secret.
In college, people want you to succeed.
Yes, you! They don’t want to see you fail. They don’t want to see you embarrassed. Your classmates, professors, mentors, club mates; they ALL want you to succeed just as much as you do.
Practice creates potential
Obviously, it’s going to be much harder to nail that pitch, speech, proposal, or presentation without practice. Remember, it’s not about perfection.
The purpose of practicing is to give you the potential to nail your presentation. Every minute you spend practicing sets you up to succeed.
So let’s practice smarter, not harder.
- Create an outline or bullet points. Make sure you know what you want to say. Write it out on a separate piece of paper or word document. Make sure you have an introduction, you clearly state your purpose or objectives (if relevant), and outline the main points that you want your audience to know.
- Practice talking about those bullet points. With each of your bullet points, figure out how to elaborate on those points. That’s the “meat” of your presentation–what are you teaching, and why is it important? Take some time by yourself to say these things out loud. Get comfortable saying whatever you want to say out loud.
- Don’t memorize–internalize. It can be easy to write out your entire script in the powerpoint notes and try to memorize it. But the problem with memorizing is that you will sound scripted and disconnected from your audience, not to mention, if you forget, you’ll be scrambling to “find your place”. Instead, internalize your talking points, but become comfortable with different sentences and different phrasing so that you can shift comfortably from topic to topic without relying on a script.
- Present to another person. Practice giving your entire speech to another person. This can be a roommate, classmate, sibling, friend–whoever it is, sit them down, stand in front of them, and run through your ENTIRE presentation from start to finish. Don’t get stuck in embarrassment or fear of judgement. Remember, people WANT you to succeed, so take yourself SERIOUSLY and use this time as a dress rehearsal. Ask your friend for real feedback too, don’t let them slide with just “good job!”
Day of: You’ve Got This!
The best thing you can do on the day of your speech or presentation is to plan your day to be calm and easy–get enough sleep the night before, eat a good breakfast, leave yourself plenty of time to get ready and practice if you need, and take some down time if you can.
Then, put on your favorite business casual outfit. I tend to fidget with my clothing, so I avoid outfits with fringe, ties or strings, or anything that needs constant adjusting.
Once you arrive at the conference room, classroom, auditorium, or wherever you will be public speaking, it’s GO time. At this point, you’ve prepared yourself as best you can. You might still be quaking in your (adorable, business casual) boots, but you’re nearly there!
Always take the time to introduce yourself and your topic clearly and professionally. It doesn’t matter if you are presenting to a class of your best friends or a room full of strangers, this is a 10 second way to immediately show just how confident you are.
Which of these introductions sounds better?
“Hey, uh, I’m Natalie, and my topic is Parkinson’s disease,”
“Hello everyone. My name is Natalie Nation, and today I will be presenting on medical nutrition therapy for the treatment of motor and non-motor symptoms of Parkinson’s disease,”
Need I say more?
Two more things that will instantly make you sound more confident, whether or not you feel that way, is to SPEAK UP and to SLOW DOWN.
Speak loudly enough that everyone can hear you, and then turn up your voice volume one or two more notches.
People tend to want to speak more softly when presenting. It can be intimidating to know that EVERYONE can hear you.
But that’s the point! You are the expert, and you want people to hear what you have to say.
Once you’ve turned your volume up, slow down. Slow it way down. You will always speak faster than you think you are, so it’s important to consciously force yourself to slow down.
Slowing down will help people to understand you better, but it will also give you the time to really think about what you are saying and to prepare for what is coming next.
Maybe your embedded YouTube video doesn’t play.
Maybe you lose your place and have a brain fart.
Maybe you mispronounce a word.
These things happen, and it’s okay. Remember, you’re in college, a place of learning and growing. Part of that process is knowing that it’s okay not to be perfect.
The key to mastering mistakes is moving on with confidence.
If your video doesn’t play, try saying “Thanks for your patience.” instead of “Sorry, I didn’t practice this.”
If you mispronounce a word, try saying “Excuse me, I meant _____.” instead of “Sorry, my bad.”
If you forget your place, try saying “Please give me a moment to collect my thoughts.” instead of “Sorry, I’m nervous.”
Notice a theme here?
Moving on from your mistakes does NOT mean you need to apologize. If it’s an accident or something out of your control, that’s no reason to say sorry, because it wasn’t your fault.
No excuses or apologies are needed, just acknowledge the mistake briefly and move on.
Public Speaking Anxiety is REAL
It is 100% possible to be both incredibly nervous and still be confident as a public speaker. Before I prepare for a speech, my heart starts RACING, even though I know that I’ve prepared myself to succeed.
Everyone has their own tricks for dealing with stage fright. I usually tell myself that I don’t have time to be nervous before the speech, but that I’m allowed to be nervous about it later.
Mostly successful for me? Also, yes!
You do what works for you! Plant a friend in the audience, wear your favorite shirt, take 10 deep breaths, whatever it takes.
Something that not a lot of people talk about is this: Public speaking nerves are incredibly common, but for people with anxiety disorders, these nerves can be escalated into other symptoms–insomnia, panic attacks, etc.,–that can truly impact your ability to be successful in the classroom.
You are deserving of the opportunity to succeed, and there is no shame in asking for help or needing accommodations to make that happen.
Speak to your professor about accommodations that can be made for you, or approach your disability resources center to get documentation in place.
Students with documented anxiety are eligible for classroom accommodations that allow them to be successful as a student without exacerbating their mental illness.
These accommodations might include presenting to the professor alone or with a smaller audience of friends, or handing in a different assignment in place of a presentation. Take advantage of these accommodations if you need them.
It takes TIME to build public speaking confidence.
It took me months to be able to film a YouTube video without pausing every 5 seconds to look at my script, and my heart still races before I stand up to present in class, and I blush BRIGHT RED like nobody’s business when I talk. NBD though, because I set myself up for success and I know that being nervous doesn’t mean that I won’t do a good job.
But with time, and practice, and probably some mistakes along the way, you can build your public speaking skills and confidence! You will get there!
Check out THIS video, where I talk even more tips and tricks for public speakers!
GROW YOUR PUBLIC SPEAKING SKILLS: My Best Tips and Tricks! Public speaking is the #1 most common fear. For most college students, presentations and speeches …