You have been chosen to conduct the meeting next week — how are you feeling? Nothing can frustrate your career faster than not being able to speak in front of groups. Although CEOs are expected to be successful communicators, speaking is not just for C-level executives but for all employees. Let’s face it, the workplace is full of speaking opportunities: meetings, presentations, trainings, seminars, boardroom discussions, interviews, etc. And if you can’t articulate and present your ideas you will not be seen by your peers as a leader.
Public speaking can bring up the biggest fear in all of us. Even the most experienced speakers such as Bill Gates, Dr. Phil McGraw, Mark Victor Hansen and others feel fear. In fact, it’s very common and natural to feel some level of fear when presenting.
What’s more important is how you manage that fear. The fear does not have to rule your experience. The more prepared you are the better your public speaking experience will be. Public speaking is a skill that can be learned and developed through practice.
It doesn’t matter if you are the president of an organization, an employee, or an entrepreneur looking for funding for a project — the time will come where you will have to articulate your ideas. Most people find they hit a glass ceiling in their career if they do not actively develop the leadership skill of public speaking.
Learning to be a speaker or developing into a better speaker can open new doors for you. Here are some quick tips to cultivate your public speaking skills:
1. Prepare – Make sure to do some research on current information if it is appropriate. Write your speech to include an introduction, some main points, and a conclusion. Decide if you will use the assistance of visual aids. However, don’t use the visual aids such as PowerPoint as a crutch. There are a lot of resources available online to help you when it comes time to write your speech, so use them.
2. Humor – Your presentation should include stories, anecdotes, or quotes that directly relate to your topic. Humor embraces your audience and it helps to build rapport with them. Laughter can put your audience and yourself at ease. Consider your audience when determining how much humor to incorporate into your speech. Don’t worry if you’re not good at telling jokes or don’t view yourself as funny; humor can be developed with practice and resources.
3. Eye contact – Be authentic and make eye contact with your audience. Direct eye contact shouts confidence. While in Texas earlier this summer, I attended a presentation on a topic of interest. When the speaker walked out on the stage, he never took his eyes off of his notes through the entire speech. Not only did I feel disconnected from the speaker, I could have read the notes myself.
4. Language – When practicing your speech record yourself. Listen for inflection, rhythm, volume, paceand pitch. You need to project your voice to be heard, maintain interest, and be perceived as credible. Body language can enhance your speech. So even if you are nervous you don’t need to show it. Try not to fidget. Keep you posture tall and straight, both feet planted flat on the ground, your head up, and don’t forget to smile.
5. Practice – Prepare your speech thoroughly and practice it often. Through practice, you will develop your confidence and calm your nerves. You want your speech to be authentic, not canned, so rather than reading your speech to the audience, prepare keyword notes. This will leave room in your presentation for spontaneity.
A good rule of thumb is to memorize your opening sentence, know your main points, know your stories, memorize your closing remarks, and practice for time. Practice your speech standing up — it will increase your energy level. If at all possible, practice your speech in the room where you will be giving your presentation. This will allow you time to get comfortable with the room.
When fear takes over, it causes the speaker to react in one of three ways: bury themselves in their notes, find refuge in their visual aids, or fix on a point on the back wall behind the audience. The effectiveness of a business presentation, no matter how large or small the audience, is largely dependent on the manner in which it is delivered. Nervousness stimulates us so use it to your advantage to get fired up and focused. It is imperative that you prepare your material and yourself well.
Record yourself if you can. Recording your performance is the next best thing to coaching. On video we see ourselves as our audience sees us. Try to be objective, remember this is an opportunity to develop your skills. If you want professional support, consider hiring a coach.