Deliver a speech. Give a presentation. Share a few thoughts. No matter what you call it, speaking in front of a group — even a small one — tops most people’s dread list.
In fact, you may have heard public speaking is Americans’ No. 1 fear. (Hence the old joke that most people would rather be in the casket than delivering the eulogy.)
Still, learning to speak well is key to building business relationships, especially if you’re a Millennial early in your career. People sometimes blame young people’s lack of public speaking skills on the fact that they’re always “hiding” behind their screens, but a more likely explanation is they just don’t have much experience.
If you’re looking to improve your public speaking skills, here are some new and different tactics I wanted to share:
Old Advice: Focus on the Presentation
New Advice: Focus on the Preparation
Of course you’re going to work on the content of your presentation, but the point is your success is not about the speech itself — the main event is the practice you put in beforehand.
Since I give speeches for a living, I’m frequently asked if I still get nervous. That adrenalin still flows, sure, but it’s not from fear. I feel excited and energized. And here’s why: I always prepare. And then prepare some more.
I would never get up in front of an audience if I wasn’t prepared. I remember in one situation I was really put on the spot: A colleague was giving a speech and spontaneously asked me to step up to the stage and join him for some comments. Even though I only had a few minutes’ notice, I took that time to prepare by writing three points I wanted to make on the back of a business card to get my thoughts in order.
Remember that feeling of confidence you had when you walked into a test knowing you’d mastered the material? Being prepared gives you an air of confidence that shows people you know what you’re talking about. Make sure you go over your presentation at least a few times — out loud, standing up — before the main event.
Old Advice: Practice in Front of Your Family or Friends
New Advice: Practice in Front of Your iPad
The people you know best are going to be your toughest crowd and will make you feel the most uncomfortable. So, technically, if you can give your presentation in front of them, the real deal will be a breeze. But you might prefer to rehearse in front of the mirror – or your iPad, so you can replay your practice sessions and check your gestures, tone of voice, posture and the words you’re actually saying. You’ll be more relaxed and get more out of your practice time.
Old Advice: Try to Engage the Person Who Isn’t Involved
New Advice: Play to Your Fans
You know the guy who’s checking his email or the gal who has her arms crossed while you’re talking? It’s tempting to try to win them over, but that could be a losing battle. Instead, find the nodder and the smiler, and direct your remarks at that friendly face.
The majority of your audience is rooting for you – they want you to do well because it’s so very painful and awkward to watch a speaker bomb. Ignore the people who aren’t paying attention and focus on those who are.
Old Advice: Focus on Yourself and How You’re Feeling
New Advice: Your Speech Must Be About Your Audience
This is excellent advice I got from my speaking coach, Jane Atkinson. For example, when you are tempted to think about where your hands are gesturing or whether anyone will get your jokes, consciously focus on whether the audience members are hearing your message and you are giving them solid takeaways to implement. Instead of telling too many stories about your own experience, pre-interview or research your audience before your speech and share some of their anecdotes. If your energy is focused on your audience and how you’re helping them, you can’t lose.