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7 common issues people face when speaking in public

ADRIAN MA, HOST:

At some point in your life, you will probably speak in public, you know, give a toast at a wedding or share your opinion at a town hall maybe. And whether this idea fills you with dread or excitement, Life Kit has some tips about how to improve your public speaking. Here's Kyle Norris with that.

KYLE NORRIS, BYLINE: The goal of public speaking is to feel comfortable, speak like yourself, and be present so you can connect with your audience. That's what Lauren Dominguez Chan says. She's a speechwriter who worked with U.S Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy during the early years of the pandemic. Dominguez Chan says, when you're going to talk in front of people, first figure out your core message by asking yourself...

LAUREN DOMINGUEZ CHAN: If my audience could only walk out of this room with one thing, what would that one thing be?

NORRIS: She says your core message could be a feeling, like wanting your audience to feel appreciated, or a call to action, like inspiring people to make art. Then brainstorm a bunch of vivid stories that relate to your core message, and make sure those stories engage the senses - think sight, sound, smell, taste and touch.

DOMINGUEZ CHAN: People remember these stories and images, and it's OK to have, like, way more than you can possibly include at first, just so you have material to choose from.

NORRIS: Once you begin writing, remember to write for the ear. That means write the way you talk with your friends. Dominguez Chan says short, simple words and short, simple sentences are the way to go to help make your presentation clear and easy to understand. With those stories in mind, Dominguez Chan then makes an outline, which she likes to think of as a roadmap.

DOMINGUEZ CHAN: For yourself and for the audience, where the main points are, like, big landmarks. And then the stories and the details will make it vivid and textured. And you can sort of figure out how all of these things fit together.

NORRIS: As for how you prepare your speech, Dominguez Chan says no hard and fast rules. Whether you write your speech word for word and read it from the page or from a screen, memorize it or use bullet points on 3x5 cards, find a system that works for you. Finally, practice your speech in the mirror, in front of a supportive person or at a place like a Toastmasters International club.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: I did note that we began one minute late, but that's OK. We can make that up.

NORRIS: Like at this meeting in Blaine, Wash., where they time everything down to the minute. Here tonight is Rachel Ohman (ph), who has grappled with a lifelong fear of public speaking.

RACHEL OHMAN: And it's gotten to the point where it's crept into even just talking to people that I don't know well one-on-one.

NORRIS: One way Ohman addresses her fear at these meetings is by improvising speeches on impromptu topics like the coldest I've ever been.

OHMAN: My brother and I had to walk a mile in 60-below weather.

NORRIS: I mean, here Ohman is, going from feeling terrified to now winging it in front of a dozen people.

OHMAN: I thought I had frostbite. And I was so mad when I got home. But that was definitely the coldest that I've ever felt.

NORRIS: At Toastmasters, the other members give you feedback about your overall presentation, your grammar and how many times you use filler words like um. Ohman says that aspect of focusing on the filler words she uses and trying to weed them out has helped her feel less nervous. Lauren Dominguez Chan says the point of all this preparation is to set yourself up for success, not perfection. She says, if you do stumble or lose your place during your speech, take a beat, and take a breath. For NPR News, I'm Kyle Norris.

MA: I should really be taking notes. For more tips and life hacks, go to npr.org/lifekit. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Kyle Norris