Public speaking. It can be uncomfortable, to say the least, resulting in sweaty palms, butterflies in your stomach and way too many “ums” and “likes” in your vocabulary. However, taking control of your time in front of a crowd can be sexy as hell. It not only adds to your list of strengths both in the office and out, but it also boosts your own confidence immensely, helping you to take on other challenges that come your way. Here’s how to tackle that fear in order to own your public speaking skills for a more successful career.
Learn from other public speakers.
Before getting up in front a large audience, watch someone else do it. It sounds so simple, but there is so much to learn from others who are both good and bad public speakers. Attend a large company meeting where presenters address the room. Sign up for a conference where panels speak to small groups. Or just join one of the spin classes at your gym where the instructor is pumping you up with every mile. All of these situations include public speakers.
Things to note include how fast they say their words; how long they pause between sentences or parts of their speeches; and how much enthusiasm they include in their tones of voice.
Kim Lachance Sandrow interviewed TED Talk presenter Simon Sinek in an article for Entrepreneur, and one of his top tips is to speak unusually slow. “[Your audience] wants you to succeed up there, but the more you rush, the more you turn them off,” Sinek says in the article.
If you want to one day be the head of a company or department, you’ll have to learn how to address a large group, so start taking notes from those you look up to in your industry.
Next time you have a small meeting with a committee at work, address them as if you were talking in front of a large audience. At your friend’s next dinner party, stand up and make a toast in front of all of the guests. If these are still out of your comfort zone, just talk to yourself in front of the mirror or a video camera. Whatever you have to do, practice, practice, practice.
If you were going on an interview, you may practice and prepare for that one-on-one conversation, right? It works the same way with public speaking; the only difference is you’ll be speaking to a larger group.
Connect with your audience beforehand.
Before a speaking engagement, know your audience and to whom you will be talking. Are you talking to people who already know a lot about your topic? Or are you addressing folks who have never heard about it before? These aspects should be taken into account before you’re front and center. Additionally, consider the time of day that you are speaking and how the audience may react.
According to Bruce Kasanoff in an article for Forbes, public speakers need to be cognizant of what is happening before and after their speech. “If you are the last speaker before the group breaks for cocktails, you better have a different approach than if your speech starts the day,” he writes.
This works the same way with your career. Holding an afternoon meeting regarding a promotion with your boss may be very different from having one earlier in the day. Consider your audience, who they are, what they know and when you are planning to speak to them so that it is an effective conversation.
Become an expert on the topic you’re talking about.
No matter what you are talking about, you should know it like the back of your hand. You wouldn’t present something to a board of directors and wing it, would you? No. So know everything you can about what you’re saying. This will prevent you from tripping over your words and somehow becoming that person who says “like” five times in one sentence.
Plus, if you know what you’re talking about, you’ll find it easier to be confident. The speech or presentation will come off as a more intimate conversation rather than one person talking to one large group of people. Your tone will be much more relaxed and people will find you engaging.
Channel your nerves into confidence.
According to Olympic gold medalist, best-selling author and inspirational speaker Nikki Stone, it is easier to mask anxiety with another emotion. “Playing up my emotions by really getting into the excitement of my story or working to honestly feel the disappointment I had experienced, I was able to mask the jitters,” she writes in an article for the Huffington Post. “It’s much easier to hide one emotion with another than it is to hide an emotion by suppressing it.”
So rather than wear your emotions on your sleeve, channel them into excitement, enthusiasm, humor or another emotion that allows you to gain confidence and keep going through your speech or presentation. By taking the negative nervous emotion and channeling it into a positive emotion, you’ll also be a more successful and impressive pubic speaker.
— Hilarey Wojtowicz