Did you know that American’s number one fear is public speaking? Research says the phobia of public speaking even trumps our fear of death. That means people would rather be the subject of a eulogy than the person giving it! Ummm… crazy! After countless years of public speaking engagements (i.e. SXSW, rStheCon, Create & Cultivate, new business presentations, etc.), I thought it could be helpful to put together some of my best tips for public speaking.
Furthermore, I’ve learned difference between great public speakers and, well, only decent ones. I’m definitely not perfect, as I’m still refining the craft. However, one thing will always remain true…
Public speaking skills are invaluable, no matter the profession or industry.
Why are Public Speaking Skills Important?
Verbal presentation skills are the single most important skill I bring to work every single day. In fact, once you are promoted to the vice president level at our public relations agency, speaking engagements are a requirement. They’re part of your job description, and a key differentiator of the role and responsibility at the firm.
To be considered a thought leader in your respective industry, you need to be able to thoughtfully speak on the topic.
Sure, you can write about it in a book, blog, or column in a newspaper, but some of the best channels to showcase your expertise is through public speaking opportunities. Think panel discussions, podcasts, broadcast segments, interviews, radio shows, and the like.
Take Jeff Bezos, Founder and CEO of Amazon. He’s not sitting in his office in Seattle writing blog posts and white papers every day. Rather, he’s consistently speaking at major events, hosting press conferences, being interviewed on podcasts, and talking to broadcast stations.
Another great example is Amber Venz-Edits, co-founder of rewardStyle. She’s regularly doing national broadcast segments about affiliate programs, influencer marketing, and tech trends on CNN and Bloomberg. Her calendar is also filled with keynote speeches and panels at major tech and retail conferences.
Jeff and Amber are not only well-respected because of the brands they’ve built, but also due to their ability to speak eloquently about their respective industries and companies in public.
Practice Makes Perfect
Like anything, practice makes all of the difference. As an adult, it’s easy to simply avoid public speaking situations. However, if you want to be viewed as a thought leader at your job, you’ll need to take active steps to seek out such opportunities. Start small. No need to jump in headfirst at the very beginning.
When you practice, there are a few key things to watch. For example, whenever I media train a client (and yes, that’s actually a thing), I ask them to go home and practice their talking points in front of a mirror. Afterwards, I either tape them doing a “mock” speaking gig, and/or ask them to go home and have a friend/family do it.
Practicing in front of a mirror, and especially taping a mock speaking gig, typically shows you two things:
#1: Strange hand movements.
Most people talk with their hands. It’s a natural and often engaging way to speak. However, for many, these movements can be very distracting. Some people fidget with their jewelry or touch their hair. Be aware of any quirky gestures and work to minimize them.
Next time you watch Keeping Up with the Kardashians, count how many times Khloé fusses with her hair when speaking to people. Even though she’s so funny and fabulous, it’s so distracting! At the same time, some hand gestures help emphasize a great point. Barack Obama and Oprah are experts at this. Find any video of them, and you’ll see them use their hands as the ultimate non-verbal of “trust me” or “this point is important.”
#2: Words you use over and over again.
Typically, it tends to be “um” or “like” or perhaps a term of agreement such as “totally” or “yeah.” When you’re being interviewed by someone (or on a panel discussion), most people opt for one agreeable word, such as “for sure” or “yep.” You’ll be surprised how often you use the same word when you’re nervous or in high stress situations. Be aware of your word(s), and try to find new ways to mix things up or omit them as much as possible.
Attack the Fear of Public Speaking Head On
Easier said than done, right? However, in order to get over any fear, I truly believe it must be tackled directly. And not just once but over and over again.
Thankfully when I was younger, I joined countless theater and dance groups. I become very comfortable speaking (and singing) in public. I was even the lead in my high school musical. Imagine singing several solos in front of an entire student body judging your every note! Not for the faint of heart.
Several of my friends have decided to take improv classes to become more comfortable with public speaking. I LOVE this idea. Maybe even get a few friends together and enroll in one for fun? Improv is a great way to learn how to think on your feet, lean on others for help, and stay positive throughout the process. Plus, it teaches you that humor is always a good thing 🙂
How You Look Impacts How You Feel
I always feel better when I like the outfit I’m wearing. Don’t you? I feel less self-conscious, and I’m able to better focus on my talking points.
Get a blowout. Make time for a manicure. Buy a new lipstick you love. In short, take a little extra time with your appearance. Moreover, make sure to choose an outfit in advance; something that makes you feel confident.
I always pick a look that’s knee length or longer with a moderate neckline. I mean, you don’t want to flash the audience when you sit down on a stool or chair. Keep it clean people – LOL! If you’re at a loss of what to wear, record a few episodes of LIVE with Kelly and Ryan or the Today Show and take notes.
A few tips I give clients during media training: avoid clothing with busy prints (sorry, Missoni!). If you’re being recorded (IG stories, live streaming, etc.), a print can often be incredibly dizzying for the audience. Also, avoid neutral hues that are too close to your skin tone – try a contrasting color instead.
Furthermore, just say no to big jewelry that could impact a microphone (think bangles, large necklaces, or massive earrings). You don’t want any distracting or clanging to overpower what you’re actually saying!
Lastly, remember that color psychology is a thing! Black is a power color. Blue is the most calming hue for the eye. Red exudes sexuality. Yellow is friendly and happy. Think about the color you’re wearing and the unconscious cues they may be sending the audience.
Prepare, Prepare, Prepare
I’m constantly amazed when people tell me they “wing it” when it comes to speaking opportunities. To truly be an effective public speaker, you need to prepare talking points in advance. Sure, they can be simple bullet points, but you need a guide of sorts to help you stay on track. Granted, if you’re in a profession where you give the same pitch or speech again and again, you’ll eventually know the points by heart. However, if it’s your first time discussing a topic, practice will absolutely be your best friend.
Research says people lose interest after you make three points. Therefore, keep your talking points tight. When speaking on a panel, the organizer usually emails most of the questions in advance. As such, try to find options that align with the points you feel comfortable making. If needed, reach out to the moderator to share which questions you prefer and which you’d like to avoid. No need to try and force a response to a topic that’s outside of your comfort zone. Chances are, someone else on your panel is better equipped for it!
Give the Audience Tangible Takeaways
Sure, people want to hear your story, insights, and advice. But above all – they want practical takeaways they can use. There’s nothing worse than hearing someone ONLY talk about themselves without providing tangible tips or thought-provoking points.
By all means, speak to your experiences and provide personal anecdotes, but also be ready to share resources or to-do’s. Prior to a speaking gig, I always say to myself, “what are three things I want the audience to walk away with that they wouldn’t have otherwise?” And… “what insights can I offer that no one else can?” Often, your audience has paid to be there. If not monetarily, then with their time. Do what you can to make it worth their while!
What are your best tips for public speaking?
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