Public speaking tips for students aim to reduce anxiety that can interfere with giving presentations or speeches in class. These tips can also be helpful for those with social anxiety disorder (SAD)1 who have difficulty speaking in front of a group or telling a story among friends.
If you suffer from SAD and need to give a speech in elementary school, high school, college, or university, it helps to be as prepared as possible. Beyond preparation, however, there are strategies that you can use to reduce anxiety and fight the urge to stay home with a fake illness.
Public Speaking Tips for Students
- Talk about what you know. If possible, choose a topic for your speech or presentation that you know a lot about and love. Your passion for the topic will be felt by the audience, and you will feel less anxious knowing that you have a lot of experience to draw from when other students ask you questions.
- Practice. Even great speakers practice their speeches beforehand. Practice out loud with a recording device or video camera and then watch yourself to see how you can improve. If you are feeling brave, practice in front of a friend or family member and ask for feedback.
- Visit the room. If you have access to the classroom where you will be speaking outside of class hours, take the time to visit in advance and get used to standing at the front of the room. Make arrangements for any audio-visual equipment and practice standing in the exact spot where you will deliver your speech.
- Tell someone about your anxiety. If you are speaking in front of a high school or college class, meet with your teacher or professor ahead of time and describe your public speaking fears. If you’re in elementary or high school, share your fears with your parents, a teacher, or a guidance counselor. Sometimes simply sharing how you feel can make it easier to overcome stage fright.
- Visualize confidence. Visualize yourself confidently delivering your speech. Imagine feeling free of anxiety and engaging the students in your class. Although this may seem like a stretch for you now, visualization is a powerful tool for changing the way that you feel. Elite athletes use this strategy to improve performance in competitions.
- Realize the other students are on your side. Think about a time when you have been an audience member and the student delivering the speech or presentation was noticeably nervous. Did you think less of that student? More likely, you felt sympathetic and wanted to make that person more comfortable by smiling or nodding. Remember—other students generally want you to succeed and feel comfortable. If for some reason the audience is not on your side or you experience bullying or social exclusion, be sure to discuss this with a parent, teacher, or guidance counselor.
- Concentrate on your message. When you focus on the task at hand, anxiety is less likely to get out of control. Concentrate on the main message of your speech or presentation and make it your goal to deliver that message to the other students in your class.
- Rack up experience. Volunteer to speak in front of your class as often as possible. Be the first one to raise your hand when a question is asked. Your confidence will grow with every public speaking experience.
- Observe other speakers. Take the time to watch other speakers who are good at what they do. Practice imitating their style and confidence.
- Organize your talk. Every speech should have an introduction, a body, and a conclusion. Structure your talk so that the other students know what to expect.
- Grab the audience’s attention. Most of your fellow classmates will pay attention for at least the first 20 seconds; grab their attention during those early moments. Start with an interesting fact or a story that relates to your topic.
- Have one main message. Focus on one central theme and your classmates will learn more. Tie different parts of your talk to the main theme to support your overall message. Trying to cover too much ground can leave other students feeling overwhelmed.
- Tell stories. Stories catch the attention of other students and deliver a message in a more meaningful way than facts and figures. Whenever possible, use a story to illustrate a point in your talk.
- Develop your own style. In addition to imitating good speakers, work on developing your own personal style as a public speaker. Integrate your own personality into your speaking style and you will feel more comfortable in front of the class. Telling personal stories that tie into your theme are a great way to let other students get to know you better.
- Avoid filler words. Words such as “basically”, “well”, and “um” don’t add anything to your speech. Practice being silent when you feel the urge to use one of these words.
- Vary your tone, volume, and speed. Interesting speakers vary the pitch (high versus low), volume (loud versus soft), and speed (fast versus slow) of their words. Doing so keeps your classmates interested and engaged in what you say.
- Make the audience laugh. Laughter is a great way to relax both you and the other students in your class, and telling jokes can be a great icebreaker at the beginning of a speech. Practice the timing and delivery of your jokes beforehand and ask a friend for feedback. Be sure that they are appropriate for your class before you begin.
- Find a friendly face. If you are feeling anxious, find one of your friends in class (or someone who seems friendly) and imagine that you are speaking only to that person.
- Don’t apologize. If you make a mistake, don’t offer apologies. Chances are that your classmates didn’t notice anyway. Unless you need to correct a fact or figure, there is no point dwelling on errors that probably only you noticed. If you make a mistake because your hands or shaking, or something similar, try to make light of the situation by saying something like, “I wasn’t this nervous when I woke up this morning!” This can help to break the tension of the moment.
- Smile. If all else fails, smile. Your fellow classmates will perceive you like a warm speaker and be more receptive to what you have to say.
A Word From Verywell
It’s natural to feel frightened the first time you have to speak in front of your class. However, if you fear continues, interferes with your daily life and keeps you awake at night, it may be helpful to see someone about your anxiety.