No matter your major, and no matter your career choice, you will likely be faced with public speaking in your future. Whether it is in front of a class, in front of your boss, or in front of a packed stadium full of people, public speaking is all the same, and some basic preparation will serve you well whether you’re heading into a career as a politician, a schoolteacher, or anything in between.

1. Know your audience

The key to writing a great speech or presentation and delivering it well is knowing your audience. Are you speaking to a group of your peers, or a group of your superiors? Is this the kind of speech or environment that benefits from humor, or should you keep it serious? Is your audience well versed in the topic you’re speaking on, or is there an information gap you are seeking to fill? If you know the audience you’re gearing your speech or presentation to, you’ll be better able to craft that speech and cater to your particular audience. If you go into a speech or presentation without knowing your audience and catering to them in your speech, you run the risk of coming off to formal or informal, or your jokes falling flat.

2. Don’t exaggerate your vocabulary

If you’re going to give a speech, make sure you are using vocabulary that you are comfortable with. If you are giving a more technical presentation, full of words like antidisestablishmentarianism and modernity, make sure you are able to use them like an old pro, not a newbie to the world of public speaking. If you’re writing your own speech or presentation, be sure to use the kind of vocabulary you would use on a daily basis, though you might want to polish it up a little bit. If you’re giving a technical presentation, your vocabulary might change, but you should practice that upgraded vocabulary to the best of your ability to ensure a smooth delivery.

3. Don’t over-practice

As importance as practice is, and it is important, over-practicing is often worse than not practicing at all. When you over-practice, you risk a rote-memorization delivery that is not enjoyable for anyone involved. A good speech is practiced, but it isn’t recited from memory, verbatim. A good speech or presentation carries a sense of surprise. If you practice too much, you’ll grow tired of the speech and that will translate into the audience becoming tired of it before you even finish. Practice makes perfect, but too-much practice makes a problem.

4. Keep your eye on the prize

Every speech or presentation should be geared around an end goal, whether it is persuasion, education, or something else. Keep that in mind in both your writing of the speech and your delivery. If you want to persuade the audience, make sure to give a persuasive speech that clearly outlines what you want the audience to do or believe, and make sure to engage with your audience throughout, appealing to them as people and not bodies in chairs. If you’re giving an informational presentation, include definitions when necessary and stay on topic.  If you keep your eye on the prize, you’ll stay on topic in your speech and it will be successful.

5. Remember to look up

Whether you’ve memorized your speech or not, you probably have some notes to prompt you or drive your speech forward. When those notes exist, or you are reading from the written speech, people have a tendency to read the speech word by word, head down, and forget the audience in there. Avoid this at all costs! Remember to look up every once and awhile. It will help you pace yourself, keep yourself from going too fast, and it will keep your audience engaged. Public speaking is all about engagement with the audience, and no audience is there to be read to verbatim.

6. Smile

Smile while speaking in public, and frankly, in private. Whether you’re giving a persuasive speech or an informative presentation, a few smiles can keep your audience engaged and receptive to what you have to say. Even if you’re giving a serious speech, a smile is not a bad thing. Everyone needs a ray of sunshine sometimes, and a smile here and there throughout your speech will keep your speech from becoming a droning intonation that no one wants to listen to.  No matter the topic, no matter your gender, just remember to offer a few smiles.

Good Luck! You’re going to do great.