There’s no doubt about it, public speaking can be scary. Sweaty palms, a racing heartbeat, shaky hands — and that’s before you’ve even looked up to see all eyes focused on you! But if you’re planning on starting or expanding your own business, it’s a necessary skill to master. No matter what type of business you’re in, being comfortable at public speaking will work to your advantage when it’s time to ask a group of investors for more money, present at industry conferences, or even when someone asks “what do you do?” at a cocktail party.
Fortunately, public speaking is a skill. That means no matter how scary it might seem now or how bad you believe you are at it, you can practise and improve. And if you need a push in the right direction, these 9 tips can help. Sure, you may never become a motivational speaker or give your own TED Talk, but you will gain the ability to confidently address a room and hold your own.
How to Get Better at Public Speaking
Get as much information as possible.
Before working on your speech, get the basics down. Who will you be presenting to? How long is your time slot and will there be questions afterward that you should prepare for? How big is the room? What sort of tech tools will be available to you, if any, and are your own computer’s programs compatible with them? Knowing these answers means you won’t be fumbling the day of your speech and can concentrate on giving the best performance possible.
Understand your end goal.
When it comes to public speaking, it’s important to know what you’re trying to achieve at the end. Are you giving a sales pitch or reporting on that quarter’s performance? Are you giving an inspiring speech about how you reached your current role? Understanding what you want people to do or how you’d like them to feel at the end of your speech will help in preparing the content.
Know your audience.
Along those lines, knowing your audience is important. Giving entry-level advice isn’t going to be helpful to a group of senior managers. What are the concerns this audience has and how can you help address them? Your speech should be tailored to the problems or hopes this group and offer a compelling reason to listen.
Once you’ve got your speech written down, it’s time to get familiar with it. Get comfortable with the intonation and pauses. If possible, practise your speech in front of someone else. Have them take note of when you make eye contact and verbal tics like “like,” “umm,” and “uhh,” which can be distracting to listeners.
This is a good time to practise body language as well. Obviously you don’t want to stand in front of people with arms crossed over your chest, but having your arms hang limply at your sides isn’t great, either. Set up a mock podium so you can have a few run-throughs with your notes, get used to your own hand motions, and have a friend judge how natural you seem.
We’ve all sat through a meeting where a 10-minute presentation dragged on for half hour. Don’t be that person! Part of being an effective public speaker is being able to make your point in the allotted time. Time yourself when you first begin practising your speech and again when you’re more comfortable with it. You might be surprised by how much time you’ve added on by improvising — or how you’ve shaved off a minute or two as you’ve become more accustomed to it.
Use visual aids when necessary…
Slides can be really useful during longer presentations, particularly for information that lends itself to visuals and graphics. If they make sense in your presentation, take advantage of them.
…but don’t overdo them.
There’s nothing worse than listening to a speaker who’s effectively reading off PowerPoint slides. Any visual aids should be complementing what you’re saying, not distracting the audience. Don’t forget to include these in your practise sessions, too, so you know when to click through.
Speak up more!
One of the reasons public speaking can be so terrifying for people is that they just don’t do it often. While seizing formal public speaking opportunities is great, that shouldn’t be the only time you flex your speaking muscles. Raise your hand to lead more casual work meetings or events. Join (or even lead!) a Meetup group that focuses on public speaking or another interest of yours. Pop into local Toastmasters meetings, an international group that helps develop public speaking skills. The more you speak in front of people, the more confident you’ll feel.
When you get up on that stage, start your speech with a smile. Not only will it help you feel better, it’ll put the crowd at ease, too. And no matter how your speech goes, you got up there and did it, and that’s the most important part!