Student Success Centre

Public Speaking

If you want to practice your public speaking skills, think about visiting our “Stand Up and Be Heard” workshops through the Leadership Education Program. Find a calendar at


Have you got a big presentation coming up? Maybe it’s for class, maybe it’s for work, or even a wedding. No matter where you’re presenting, nerves are natural. Still, with a bit of preparation and practice you can avoid these common pitfalls of public speaking and make your next speech a success.


Being too quiet

We’ve all been there – sitting in a lecture and straining to hear the professor speak. It can be frustrating for the audience and force them to focus on trying to hear what you’re saying and less on digesting the content.

If you’ve got a naturally booming, outdoor voice this might not be an issue for you. But for many people – the soft spoken among us – projecting takes a bit more practice.

Fortunately, there are a few steps you can take to make sure your words are floating all the way to the back of the room.

First of all, if there’s a microphone available, embrace it. That takes the pressure off of you completely. Some people don’t like to use the device, and it certainly can be a bit off putting if you aren’t used to hearing your own voice, but depending on the size of the crowd, it might be necessary.

Practice never hurts either. Apologize to your roommates in advance and tell them you’re going to be doing some rehearsals in your apartment. When the time comes, don’t just say the words to yourself; belt them out the same way you hope to in the moment. When the time comes, it will feel more comfortable speaking at a high volume.

Lastly, it never hurts to check in with the crowd and make sure they can hear you. Stopping to ask can go a long way. If you’re worried that you might slip into a quieter speaking voice as you go along, write prompts to check in with the audience along the way. They’ll appreciate the opportunity to ask you to speak up if necessary and you won’t have to worry as much.

If you still find difficulty in reaching the back of the room, you may want to consider moving as you present, or even reconfiguring the room.

Too fast, too slurious

Its show time: you’re at the front of the room and have a lot to say. Between trying to get it all out, and the general anxiety and nerves that come with public speaking, it’s easy to start speaking a mile a minute. You might not even notice!

Two tips to avoid crushing your audience under an avalanche of words. First, know your stuff. It might seem simple, but really devote a lot of preparation time not just to the actual public speaking but making sure that you know the content backwards and forwards. Once you’re completely familiar with the content, it’s easy to shift your focus from what you’re saying to how you’re saying it. If you’re only somewhat familiar with the content you’ll be devoting all of your mental resources to recalling the information; you can’t spend much energy thinking about presentation style. That can lead you to slip into habits like speaking fast, or trying to get all of the information out before you forget.   

And don’t forget: silence is golden. It feels uncomfortable when you’re at the front of the room and all eyes are on you. But what might feel like an eternity to you is probably only a couple of seconds to the audience. Don’t be afraid to pause, take a deep breath and take your time. To you, it might feel awkward but in all likelihood your audience will appreciate a moment to digest what you’ve said before you launch into the next item on your list.

Losing your place

There are few moments more frightening and frustrating as a speaker then when you open your mouth to address an audience only to find that your thoughts have completely escaped you.

Losing your place in a talk happens to everyone at some point and it’s important to be prepared, but there are also some steps you can take to minimize the chances of it happening in the first place.

As a speaker it’s important to think about what control you have over your environment. If possible, try to keep the area tidy and free from visual distractions. Make sure your own cell phone is off otherwise an unexpected vibration might just be enough to throw you off your game. Is there a lot of excitement going on outside a window at the back of the room? Maybe close the blinds before you begin. Don’t forget to shut the door to limit distractions coming from the hallway either.

If you do find yourself losing your place, don’t be afraid to ask the audience for a cue and admit that you’ve lost your train of thought. You’re human, they know that.

If you want to practice your public speaking skills, think about visiting our “Stand Up and Be Heard” workshops through the Leadership Education Program. Find a calendar at