I’m sure you’ve heard the statistic that’s often cited – that when asked what their biggest fear is, more people reply public speaking than any other. This simple yet intimidating task is more feared than death or car accidents!
Yet, it’s a task that as a small business owner, you’ll likely be required to perform at one point or another. Perhaps it’s a new business presentation for a potential client. Or a speech in front of your colleagues. Or a business association meeting. These are tools that will enable you to grow as a professional while expanding your business opportunities, so don’t avoid them because of fear or lack of experience.
I’ve compiled my top 10 tips for public speaking in this article, in the hopes that more small business owners and managers will empower themselves to take a risk and see what opportunities public speaking may afford them.
1. SET GOALS FOR WHAT YOU WANT TO COMMUNICATE. Before preparing, writing content for or rehearsing any presentation, identify your goals for it. Do you want to teach your audience how to do something? Do you want to convince them to hire you? It may seem simple, but without a clear idea of your goals beforehand, the presentation can easily get off task and cluttered with irrelevant information. Identify your communication goals first.
2. MAKE SURE YOUR PRESENTATION FLOWS WELL You may not have given this much thought for many years, but remember when your middle school teacher demanded that all essays have an introduction, body and conclusion? The same is true for public speaking. Your speech must first introduce yourself and your topic, then proceed to the “body” or “meat” of the presentation, then conclude with a summary that relates to the goals you identified previously. This is a natural flow that will make sense to your viewers and help them to follow your points easily.
3. USE VISUAL AIDS WHEN APPROPRIATE. Electronic presentations with programs like PowerPoint and Prezi are often used these days to help emphasize key points or provide images that help understanding or interest. It’s important to use these as an enhancement of your words rather than a replacement for them or including extraneous information. Use bullet points to highlight key details and minimize the amount of text used – paragraphs or long sentences on a slide can create visual confusion. Some presenters opt instead for paper handouts or poster boards. The type of visual aid will depend on your topic and venue.
4. BE CONFIDENT (OR PRETEND TO BE). The most powerful thing you can do to be a good speaker is to believe that you can be a good speaker! Speak with confidence, maintain good posture, smile and act happy to be there. Trust me; your audience will believe it if you do. Part of maintaining confidence also entails dressing for your crowd – whether they expect a full suit or less formal, more casual attire – and being prepared with any handouts or details that may be needed.
5. KNOW YOUR SUBJECT WELL. This goes along with the previous tip, as knowing exactly what you’re talking about will boost your confidence immeasurably. Study up on your subject and brainstorm possible questions that people might have, along with how you might answer them. Go into the situation knowing that you’re an expert on your topic of choice, because the viewers will probably be able to tell.
6. MAKE EYE CONTACT. The best speakers make eye contact with audience members, which makes them feel personally valued and makes the presenter appear confident and knowledgeable (See tips 4 and 5). Focus on one person for just a few seconds at a time, then move to another area of the room. If it makes you feel comfortable, you can walk around the stage to be more engaging – especially if your set up is far from the audience.
7. VARY YOUR TONE. Surely you’ve seen or heard a speaker who talks in a monotone and manages to make even an interesting subject boring with his or her lack of varied tone. Many speakers struggle with this because it takes self-awareness and a concerted effort to avoid. You don’t have to go overboard, but act happy, act excited, and change up your tone throughout your presentation. It makes for an interesting speaker and attentive audience. It might just win you your next big client.
8. KNOW THE ROOM LAYOUT IN ADVANCE, IF POSSIBLE. Getting a preview of the room you’ll be speaking in is helpful in knowing how you’ll set up your computer (if applicable), how close the audience will be and how much room you’ll have to move around. All of these are helpful when it comes to the next tip…
9. PRACTICE, PRACTICE, PRACTICE! You may be like me and prefer to speak spur of the moment and not rehearse ad nauseam, but I still recommend running through the presentation a few times to get a feel for timing and to make sure that you remember your key points. Other people like to memorize and practice the speech many times, and that can be good too if it’s your style. Practice as many times as you need to in order to be comfortable presenting! Just make a point to avoid appearing “canned” as if you’re reading from script. Though rehearsed, your speech should be natural and conversational.
10. TAKE QUESTIONS AT THE END. Don’t forget to end your presentation by allowing your viewers the opportunity to ask you about any details they’re unclear about. Opening yourself up to questions ensures that they got as much value as possible out of the speech, and that your message is heard loud and clear.
It’s my hope that with these tips, a lot of practice and the right opportunities, public speaking will be a fear that you can get past for the good of your small business.
If you’re interested in further enhancing your skills, look into joining your local chapter of Toastmasters International. This organization, with thousands of clubs and members, promotes public speaking and leadership skills and offers participants the opportunity to gain valuable experience. Visit www.toastmasters.org for information, locations and meeting times.