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Essential Speaking Skills
All about the art of public speaking.

5 Tips for Better Public Speaking Skills

My manager and I were remarking recently that I’m a bit of an odd duck- I have no problem with, and even enjoy, getting up in front of a roomful of strangers and giving a speech or presentation. And yet, I would rather hang myself with the phone cord than actually talk on the phone. (I know some of you super sourcers out there are cringing as you read that.)

I don’t know where my deep-seated hatred of the phone came from, but I know exactly how I got to be so comfortable speaking to groups. I’m not a fantastic speaker on the level of a Steve Jobs or Guy Kawasaki, but the truth is, since that’s not how I make my living, I’m content for the moment to be a Pretty Good Speaker. And I think Pretty Good is a level of skill within reach for most people, if they can do a few simple things.

What’s best? Since most people have such a dread of public speaking, getting confident enough to become a Pretty Good Speaker will still put you head-and-shoulders above the rest of the pack, and as we all know, presentation skills can only benefit your career. So consider the following tips.

  • Get comfortable in front of an audience. If you’re in school while you’re reading this, you’re in luck. Your school probably has a drama program, and almost certainly has a public speaking class. Take classes that will require you to regularly have an audience that will critique your performance more than the content of what you have to say. If you’re not in school, you have to work a little harder, but Toastmasters is an excellent organization- essentially a group of people who practice giving speeches and critiquing each other.
  • Get an ego. We’re all taught that it’s good to be humble, but that catches up with us in public speaking. Remember- you’re giving the presentation because someone wants to hear what you have to say. You’re the expert here, so act like it.
  • Get interested. One of the most horrifying public speaking sins is delivering the presentation as if you aren’t interested in the material you’re covering. If you aren’t interested, why on earth am I interested? It’s amazing how much difference an enthusiastic speaker can make. When I was sent to training at the MISF, one of the presenters was from our corporate Marketing department, talking about the importance of MISF’s brand and how critical it was that we provide a unified, consistent application of it. Boring stuff, right? Wrong. It was the best presentation of the week, because it was delivered by someone who was passionate about the topic. We couldn’t help but be interested in what she had to say. Why is Steve Jobs so revered as a speaker? Sure, he’s charismatic, but a lot of that charisma comes from being excited about the products he’s presenting.
  • Get a prop. Use visual aids that you can refer to during the presentation, especially if you haven’t gotten comfortable with looking at your audience. This DOES NOT MEAN you should use PowerPoint. PowerPoint, for most people, is a crutch for weak speakers and makes you stare at some screen behind you instead of engaging your audience. By visual aids, I mean real, tactile objects that you can use to help you engage the audience. I learned this one from my dad- he’s a minister and became known for his visual aids during the sermon. I went back to visit a church he had preached in about 10 years before, and when the congregants realized whose daughter I was, they all fondly recalled the sermon in which he flicked plush pigs from the lectern. Added bonus: holding on to something can help calm those fidgety nervous tics.
  • Get conversational. Don’t try to use a bunch of fancy vocabulary and sentence structure if that really isn’t how you talk. You’ll just trip over it when you get nervous. Instead, talk to your audience like you talk to your peers (maybe clean up your language a bit, if you’re like me), and you’ll be far more comfortable in your delivery.
None of these tips are particularly earth-shattering, and all of them are easy to say than to do well. But they’re worth working on, and will immediately elevate the level of your presentations.

“5 Tips for Better Public Speaking Skills”