A couple of months ago, I started organizing small trainings at work, to help my colleagues develop their communication skills and use communication tools to improve their work impact on the business. The first thing I did was sending out a small survey to know which topics would interest them the most. And to my surprise, what came out first by a mile was the subject of “public speaking“. So I brainstormed a little bit, did some research and put together a one hour, very interactive workshop.
The workshop was very well received so I’d like to share some of my findings with you.
Why is it important that you master public speaking?
The first exercise, after a round of introduction, was to discuss this question. Why is it so important to master public speaking, and why is it important for anyone, not just professional speakers?
Here are a few answers to consider:
- To be taken more seriously by your colleagues, clients or superiors
- To learn how to convince, to win people on your side
- To look professional
Like I said, public speaking is not a skill needed just by professional speakers, but by anyone in business. It’s also a very useful skill in your social life and can even help improve communication at home.
When are you subject to be presenting or speaking in public?
The most obvious situation is when delivering a speech at a conference, but there are many other situations in which you will find yourself speaking in front of others. Let’s review some of them:
- During a team meeting
- In your one-on-one meeting with your manager, whether it is an annual review or a weekly meeting
- When visiting a supplier, service provider or client
- At a job interview
Sometimes you might be speaking in front of one person only, like during a job interview. But the same principles still apply. You still have to look composed, find your words, appear professional and convince.
What types of presentations can you face?
In terms of how you deliver your presentation or speech, we can also identify various situations:
- You might be in front of a crowd, presenting some powerpoint slides – the most common situation when we talk about “presentations”.
- You might simply be sitting around a table during a meeting, with slides projected on the wall, or maybe just with printouts.
- Or simply you are answering questions that arise in the middle of a meeting, without any support material.
I wanted to address these various situations, because they all require some kind of preparation, as we’ll see later.
What scares you the most when speaking in public?
Now, this one is an interesting question, and if you do a quick search on internet, you’ll find that public speaking is actually a very common fear, sometimes ranked higher than fear of death!
So why are we so scared to speak in front of people? Again, there can be a few reasons, as came out during our workshops:
- Fear of embarrassing ourselves.
- Fear not to be taken seriously, or not be listened to.
- Fear to forget what we want to say.
- Fear to be judged.
Are all these fears justified?
I guess indeed if we deliver a very bad speech, turn all red in front of everyone and leave the room, yes, we might lose our credibility. So the best weapon is preparation. Preparing for the content of our speech or presentation, but also preparing our mental attitude for getting out there in front of people, appearing confident and doing a great job.
So let’s take a look at a few tips to help you improve your public speaking skills.
Watching your body language
I’m sure you’ve already heard many times that body language is an important part of your communication. Heck, some people are even specialized in studying body language and use that during interviews or other assessments. Yet we do little to prepare ourselves to send the right “messages” with our body.
I’d like to show you a little video to give you just three important tips on how to improve your body language. It’s just a couple of minutes, so make sure you watch it:
Here are a few additional tips that you can also apply in your daily life:
- Give a firm handshake when meeting someone
- Don’t cross your arms or legs, keep an open position
- Keep eye contact, but don’t stare
- Don’t be afraid to use space if you’re on a stage or standing in front of people
- Relax your shoulders
- Nod when people are talking, show that you are listening
- Don’t slouch, sit up straight
- Smile or even laugh if appropriate
- Restrain yourself from touching your face or neck
If you have another 18 minutes to spare, I would highly recommend watching this popular Ted talk from Amy Cuddy, on how your body language can also shape who you are.
Dealing with impromptu speeches
If you want to become more comfortable when speaking in front of people, you can work on your improvisation skills. There is quite a difference between delivering a speech that you prepared yourself and suddenly having to answer a question in front of others. You can see how you could easily get stressed, search your words and struggle to deliver anything coherent.
The idea here is to practice impromptu speeches, by speaking for a set time on any subject. It doesn’t matter too much if what you say doesn’t make sense, the point is to speak and get at ease with improvisation.
I learned this exercise when I attended a ToastMasters meeting last year, and here is how it goes: You will need a group of people willing to practice with you. One person will select some random subjects or questions, and ask people in the room to stand in front of everyone and speak on this subject for at least one minute.
Here are some funny questions that can generate some interesting speeches:
- What was the strangest food you have ever eaten?
- Describe how to tie a tie or shoe laces, without using your hands
- What is your idea of the perfect ringtone?
- what would you do if you won a million dollars?
When speaking in front of others, remember these few tips:
- Speak loud enough
- Slow down
- Watch your Er, Ah, Hum..
- If you loose your thread, keep calm, mark a pause and start again.
If you want to take public speaking to a new level, I highly recommend visiting your local ToastMasters group. They hold meetings everywhere in the world and you can attend one as a visitor without any engagement to see if it is for you. When was the last time you went outside of your comfort zone or tried something new?
Question: What tips do you have to share?