It’s well documented that public speaking is among our greatest fears. Most people actively avoid making speeches — and those who do muster the courage typically struggle with nervousness leading up to a big talk. But if you want to grow in your leadership role, this is one skill that you will have to master.
I have been speaking in public for more than 50 years, and to this day I’m still not perfectly comfortable in front of a group. I still experience a certain amount of stress whether I’m talking to 10 people or 1,000 people. But I have gotten used to managing this temporary uncomfortableness — and so can you.
Practice is your best friend for becoming a better public speaker. Delivering a speech is like any other skill in life — the more you do it, the better your skills will become. My advice is to take every possible opportunity you can to speak in public, no matter what the venue. There’s no time like the present to get started facing this universal fear.
10 tips for better public speaking
Preparation and practice are essential components to your public speaking success.
Keep your topic focused on a few key points: too many topics in one speech can confuse the audience.
Start with a bulleted outline, but use whatever words that come to mind to keep your talk conversational and engaging. Avoid reading speeches; this may come across as staged and insincere.
Review and revise your notes so you are comfortable with the flow of the speech when the day arrives.
Practice as much as you can. Speak in front of a mirror, use a recorder and maybe have a friend listen to you. The best teacher of all is watching yourself on a video (before and after your speech).
Visit the venue well ahead of your speech so that you are comfortable with the surroundings.
If possible, mingle with the audience before your talk so you can make eye contact with a few friendly faces during your speech.
If you are using PowerPoint or any other support materials, make sure all is in working order ahead of time.
Discipline yourself to speak slowly. Nerves can cause us to race through our speech, but a measured cadence will always lead to better comprehension of the message.
Dress professionally — the audience is listening, but they are also watching.
Find a coach
Another great way to get over the fear of public speaking is to seek out coaching wherever you can find it. A great example: Prior to a selling tour to take our company public, my team was invited to spend time with a speaking coach in New York. We thought we had a great pitch, but after watching ourselves on video it became clear we needed help. By the end of the day our slide deck went from 40 slides to 10 — and our spoken words were crisp and right on target. Bottom line: Our stock offering was oversubscribed by a factor of six! The coaching was well worth it.
Not sure where to start? Draft your own coach: A lot of business executives are more than happy to work with willing students. Just ask!
Delivering an effective speech among audiences of all sizes is an essential business leadership skill. As you are working your way up the ladder, do everything in your power to build and refine critical verbal skills. You won’t believe the doors that open when you become a more confident speaker.