A Musician’s Art to Public Speaking

CATEGORIES: Student Tips
Professors are masters of public speaking --it's their entire career!

I love public speaking. I like being in front of crowds, proving that I know what I’m talking about and making people believe that I’m a fantastic public speaker. The truth is, I’m not. Public speaking is something that takes years to excel at and I’ve barely scratched the surface. There is one thing that I’m good at when it comes to public speaking though: I don’t get nervous. I’ve never been afraid of crowds, and that helped figure out a trick to think about when you’ve got to give a speech.

Anybody (even me) can be a great public speaker!
Anybody (even me) can be a great public speaker!
Here’s my trick:
• I think of the speech as a song. If you think about it, most songs are only a few minutes long, I’d say the average is about four minutes. The speeches I give are rarely over 10 minutes, which is basically a really long song people stop listening to halfway through.

• Practice extensively. Type out your speech in a big font (I recommend at least 14 pt. and don’t go over 20 pt.) and practice in front of a mirror. If you’re working with a group, run through it a few times with the other group members as an audience. Your favorite artist records their songs hundreds of times before they finally release it to the public.

• Plan out your breaths. I do this with every speech I give. I’ll read through it a few times, figure out the natural rhythm and then draw a big vertical line between words where I think I should breathe. Think of this speech as a music score, every breath is marked. I’ll even write in the margins if I think I should pause for effect, take a really big breath or stare someone down.

• Rhythm is everything. In music, there’s a conductor that tells the band how to play. Fast, slow, loud, soft, you get it. In public speaking, you’re the conductor. If you go too fast, no one will understand what is being said. If you go too slow, your audience will get bored or think that you’re stalling to figure out what to say next. Finding the sweet spot is what makes your speech, your song, work.

• Some of the best songs are only 90 seconds long. Think of your favorite television show, whether it’s Big Bang Theory, Scooby-Doo or Suits. All of those shows have catchy openers that immediately catch the viewer’s attention. Speeches work the same way! No one wants to listen to you talk about the effects of using dryer sheets for 50 minutes. Speeches are far more impactful if the point is made quickly and effectively, it’s up to you to figure out how to do that.

• Nerves will always be there. I may not get nervous in front of crowds but I do worry about other things. Will this speech get my group an A? Will it offend anyone? There will always be something in the back of your mind that causes worry; it happens to every great performer. The best figure out how to use their nerves as fuel.

It’s OK to be afraid of public speaking. Glossophobia (speech anxiety) is a real thing and it can be terrifying to get in front of crowds. You have to figure out what works best for you and do it. Start small, practice, research your speech and remember you CAN do this (even if you don’t believe it). I hate clichés, but…
Fake it, till you make it.
I hope these tips have been helpful to you and that my song analogy isn’t something only applicable to myself! If you’ve got any questions or need help preparing for a big speech of your own, as always, feel free to email me at neerland@iastate.edu.