If you’re not comfortable with public speaking – and nobody starts out comfortable; you have to learn how to be comfortable – practice. I cannot overstate the importance of practicing. Get some close friends or family members to help evaluate you, or somebody at work that you trust.Hillary Clinton
It’s quite normal to be petrified of public speaking. Most people just accept that and never do anything about it. But if you want to lead people or get your ideas across, public speaking skills are absolutely essential.
Rallying and motivating your team, pitching to clients, presenting your business idea to investors, accepting industry awards… think of all the opportunities can could easily pass you by if you don’t have public speaking skills. Speaking to an audience is not exclusive to professional life either. What are you going to do when your best mate asks you to be best man, or you want to speak at a funeral, or stand up for a cause? Learn to speak to an audience with confidence and you’ll have something really valuable in your back pocket to use at a moment’s notice.
This article is not called “Become a great public speaker in one week” for a reason. Public speaking takes practice practice practice. But the sooner you start, the sooner you’ll be a confident speaker.
The elements of public speaking
Speaking consists of 4 things:
CACS. You do not tackle all four with the same intensity at the same time. Like learning anything, if you dive in too hard too soon, things could get messy. Create a plan that you can work through methodically, knowing that you are on track to becoming a great speaker.
First step confidence
The first thing to do is get used to having the attention on you. You can practice this without even stepping onto a stage. How?
Whenever you are in an audience or a group where the speaker or presenter asks “Does anyone have a question?”, you ask a question. Anticipate those situations and take advantage of them for ‘confidence practice’.
The next step is to add a small audience, by speaking in front of small groups of friends or family. We are not talking full on speeches here, simply saying a few words at social gatherings to people who are familiar to you.
For example, before a meal with friends, thank the person who organised it. Or at a birthday gathering, simply raise a toast and say a few words about the birthday boy/girl.
Take it a step further, by doing a mini-speech after a social dinner. Make the host feel special, focus on the message and appreciating others and your nerves won’t stand a chance.
Top tip: Focus on what you are GIVING with your message, and start to forget about YOU. Get used to thinking about the value for others. This takes the heat off and helps you become a better speaker much more quickly.
Expand your audience and content
Now it’s time to take your speaking practice into the work environment or your community. Make a list of all the speaking opportunities you can think of, and ones you can create.
At work, is there a regular company meeting that you can contribute to? How about starting a ‘show & tell’ with your team where you talk about your project, or share ideas or discoveries? Take things up a notch by giving a leaving speech for a departing colleague. Or how about a welcome speech for a new joiner?
In your community, look for opportunities with local government forums, planning hearings and committee meetings where the public are invited to participate.
Neighbourhood watch groups, local business groups, civic societies, community groups and local charities – here are a bunch of opportunities to give presentations, with the bonus of talking about something you’re passionate about. When the content is important to you, you’re less likely to take notice of nerves. Think of the difference you could make – it’s a win win.
Start adding skills
Now you should be ok with standing in front of people and speaking, which means you can focus on improving the structure of your speeches and your delivery.
This means adding colour and a splash of drama by varying your pitch, your speed, adding movement and using pauses at the right moments.
This is where feedback is really important. Ask colleagues or friends to evaluate you, or even better, join a speaking group like Toastmasters. Their system is geared up for providing well thought out, constructive feedback.
Back to work
With your skills developing nicely, maybe it’s time to take part in a pitch, or speak at an industry conference. Sign yourself up!
Who knows where your new speaking will take you. Just knowing you’re able to confidently say yes when someone asks you to ‘say a few words’ is an amazing life skill to have. Just don’t let it go to your head!