If you’re like most people, you probably dread public speaking and try to avoid it at all costs. It’s nerve wracking to put yourself out there in front of a crowd. Even speaking up in work meetings can be unnerving. I’ve been there!
But if you want to climb the ladder at work, the sooner you can start to get comfortable with public speaking, especially in work and conference settings, the better. Great leaders know how to captivate an audience, no matter how large or small it is, and becoming comfortable with the sound of your own voice can help propel your career forward.
Confidence emerges with practice
As an introvert, I prefer jobs that involve working alone. But for over 13 years, I had to work very closely with other people and had difficult conversations with clients every day. When I became a manager, I had no choice but to get used to speaking in front of my department and our most important clients. It used to make my hands get all clammy and make my heart start racing. But even though public speaking didn’t come naturally to me at first, even in small settings, I gained confidence over time and got to a point when I didn’t even think twice about it. You can get over your fears of public speaking too if you give yourself a chance.
Practically no one is born a natural public speaker. Presentation skills need to be learned, rehearsed and developed over time. I was probably the shiest person in my class growing up, but thankfully I evolved over the years and stopped letting fear hold me back.
Some of the public speaking opportunities I had at work included teaching training classes, leading department meetings, and voicing my opinions in front of panels of CEOs and senior management. The more I put myself out there, the more opportunities and responsibilities I was able to take on. And fortunately that lead to promotions and more money. How did I manage to transform from a silent wallflower to a confident leader all while remaining an introvert? I used the below public speaking tips over and over again, and kept trying even when I stumbled. If you give yourself a chance to do the same, you’ll be surprised at what you can achieve!
1. Have a crystal clear, specific topic
First and foremost, figure out the specifics of what you need to talk about. You don’t have to be an expert on the subject, but you need to be comfortable enough with the material to sound coherent. Research and allot enough time in advance to compile all of your data points. The more focused you are when you speak, the better. Avoid going off on tangents or you’ll lose people.
2. Write down a comprehensive agenda
Any time you’re giving a speech or holding a meeting, get organized in advance. For speeches, write down an outline of your introduction, key points and conclusion. I like to write out entire speeches to organize my thoughts. This is super helpful for introverts like me who hate to be put on the spot. You don’t have to read your speech word for word when you’re in front of an audience, but it is a good way to practice, help yourself relax, and know that the words are there in front of you if you need them. Highlight in bold key words and phrases that you want to emphasize.
If you’re leading a meeting at work or a seminar at a conference, put together an agenda of all the topics you want to cover. Don’t wait until the last minute or you’re bound to forget something. Even though putting an agenda together may seem like a pain, they really do help a lot. Meetings can drag on forever without them. The best leaders are adept at holding focused and efficient meetings that are few and far between.
3. Anticipate potential questions
One of the biggest fears people have with public speaking is not being able to answer questions from the audience. The best way to get over this fear is to brainstorm a list of questions you think you might be asked and practice your responses. Talk to your coworkers or friends and ask for their input too. Even if someone asks you a question you don’t know the answer to, that’s perfectly ok! Take down their name and follow up with a response in a day or two. You’re not expected to know everything.
4. Time yourself. Seriously just do it.
A lot of times public speaking at work or at a conference involves a set time frame. Take too long and people will fall asleep. Take too short and people will think you didn’t prepare. Timing yourself is super important because what may feel like 30 minutes may only be 10 or vise versa. Most of the time people talk for longer than they realize, especially if they have a tendency to ramble or repeat themselves over and over again. Determine how long you want to speak and adjust your material until you close to your target.
5. Practice in the venue
If possible, try and arrange time to practice at the actual venue where you’ll be speaking. Get comfortable with the equipment, the height of the podium (if there is one), what it feels like to walk into the space, and look into the audience. Get used to moving your focus around the room – you don’t want to stare at one spot the whole time you’re speaking. Practice making eye contact with various seats around the room.
6. Observe your body language
Record yourself walking into the room and speaking. Are you slouching, walking too fast, looking down at the floor, or forgetting to look around? Observe how it feels to have proper posture, normal pace, eye contact, and maintain control of your hands and arms. Sometimes we don’t realize our physical habits until we actually watch a recording of ourselves. Pinpoint the areas you want to work on and keep recording until you get the results you want.
Before the big day of your public speaking event arrives, visualize yourself going through all the motions. Picture yourself walking with confidence, standing up straight, speaking in a calm and confident manner, smiling, and looking out to the audience. All these little mental steps will help keep your nerves calm.
8. Actively engage your audience
When you’re preparing what you’re going to say in advance, you should already know the demographic of your audience. Keep your material relevant to their needs and interests. While you’re speaking, keep them engaged by making eye contact, speaking loud enough and slowly so they can comfortably hear you, and put energy into your voice. If you’re enthusiastic about what you’re saying, your audience will be too.
9. Trust yourself and smile
Give yourself a pat on the back for having the courage to work on your public speaking skills. You’ve prepared, practiced, adjusted your material to a proper length, analyzed your body language, and visualized yourself succeeding. Now just trust yourself and smile! People smile themselves when they see other people smiling. Nobody in the audience wants you to fail. Your audience is there to support and learn from you. Think positively.
10. Don’t apologize, say thank you!
Resist the urge to apologize about any mistakes you make when you’re speaking in front of an audience. Nobody needs to hear you say you’re nervous or can’t remember what you wanted to say. Pause if you need to and just keep on going. Chances are your audience won’t even notice if you skip something or mess up. Be confident in your abilities because you have nothing to apologize about. It’s also good etiquette to say thank you when you’re done. Let your audience know you appreciate their support and the time they took out of their day to listen to what you have to say. There’s no need to ramble at the end, just keep your thank you short and sweet.
Keep it up and it’ll get easier
Congratulate yourself every time you put yourself out there and speak in front of your coworkers and clients. Even if you felt you messed up or could have done things better, don’t beat yourself up. There are thousands of people out there who don’t even have the courage to think about what you’ve managed to accomplish. Public speaking is a challenge, but keep it up. Believe me, it gets easier!
Untemplaters, are you afraid of public speaking? What’s your biggest fear? Does your job involve speaking in front of other people? For those of you with experience, what public speaking tips do you have to share?
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