In addition to countless other responsibilities, many CEOs and business owners serve as the face of their brand. There may be no better opportunity to fulfill this exacting duty than by appearing before audiences as a public speaker. It’s a powerful way to showcase your business and communicate the depth of your industry expertise.
But the art of public speaking doesn’t come naturally to everyone. Even those who are adept in this field always look for ways to improve their performance. If you regularly receive invitations to address a public forum—or if you’re just starting out—here are tips for becoming a more compelling (and sought-after) public speaker:
View your material through the eyes (and ears) of your audience. Some speakers forget that the people they’re addressing don’t know as much as they do about a given topic. They fall into the habit of speaking “over” their audience—using jargon or technical language, rushing through complex material without offering sufficient explanation, and so on.
One way to overcome this trait is by breaking down your subject matter and finding ways to explain material in brief, easy-to-understand sections. Make sure people understand the first idea you want to convey before moving on to other topics. Use simple language as much as possible, to increase the likelihood your audience follows as you progress through your presentation.
Enhance your communications skills. Eye contact and clear enunciation are two of the most valuable skills a public speaker can possess. Rather than reading from a prepared speech, practice looking up at your audience and making eye contact with people in the back of the venue, in the middle and up front. This helps you connect with the audience and enhances their willingness to trust what you have to say.
When speakers get nervous, they often speak faster and lose people due to poor enunciation. Practice speaking slowly and making sure you pronounce clearly (and loud enough for those in the back to hear). This approach will lend greater impact to what you want to convey.
Vary speech patterns and use more body language. No one will pay attention for long if you simply stand before the lectern and deliver your speech in a monotone. Carefully review the content of your presentation beforehand and look for places to modulate your delivery, adding emphasis to key parts and vary the way you talk.
Equally important, adapt gestures and other body language to accompany your speech. “Make sure your gestures and words are synonymous,” advises business communications expert Jill Schiefelbein. If you itemize a series of key points, “make sure the numbers you’re saying match the number of fingers you’re holding up.” Also, walk around on-stage and “move to transition between points or stories or characters.”
Practice, practice, practice. Every public speaking expert says the same thing: Practice until you’ve got your presentation down cold. Rehearse before a small group of friends, colleagues or family members, and invite their feedback and suggestions. Rehearse in front of a mirror. Make a video of your presentation, then watch it with both the sound turned on and off. This will make you more conscious of how your body language syncs up with your words.
Practicing is an effective way “to combat your nerves when the time comes,” says serial entrepreneur Jennifer Spencer. “Muscle memory takes over your brain, and you begin to deliver your message without flaw.” It’s essential to “steady your nerves at kickoff time.”
Delivering an informative and engaging presentation will boost awareness of your brand and your status as an influential thought leader. That’s more than enough ROI to justify the time and effort needed to become a great public speaker.
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