Tips for Becoming a Polished Public Speaker in any Situation
Your sweaty hands nervously fidget with the papers on the conference table. Your knees are weak. You are certain that everyone around the conference table can hear your heart pounding in your chest and smell your fear.
You think to yourself, “Sheryl Sandberg never appears nervous when she gives a speech. Why can’t I be that polished?”
You can become a polished public speaker in every situation. What you need is practice.
You are not the same young woman delivering a mediocre book report in fourth grade. You are a rising star whose light shines brighter everyday. Today is your day to take action and make yourself into the polished, professional speaker that you know you can be.
Master a few speech basics. Make sure your speech provides a takeaway for the audience by charging them with taking action in response to your speech. For example, a sales manager’s speech might include a challenge to meet five potential clients this week or using the new technique just shared. Share an anecdote to which the audience can relate. If you share a personal experience that made you weep, tell the audience that. Let them relate to you personally. Make eye contact with the audience. Connection with your audience will aid in driving your message home.
Study some master speechmakers. Former presidents, powerful CEOs, and world leaders can provide great inspiration for your own speeches. You do not have to deliver your speech in exactly their style; however, until you have your own style, you can borrow elements from some of the greats. YouTube provides an excellent source for public speakers from whom you can learn a thing or two.
Mom was right; eat a hearty breakfast…or lunch. Even if you think you are too nervous to eat, eat a meal containing protein an hour or two prior to your speech. The amino acids in protein stimulate production of the brain chemicals dopamine and epinephrine to keep you alert. Coffee alone will not provide the sustained boost you need to be at the top of your game.
Never wing it. The professionals often look like they are speaking extemporaneously; they aren’t. While their delivery may make the material look “off the cuff,” chances are slim that the speaker has not prepared. You don’t want to memorize and deliver a “canned” speech, but you do need to prepare. Know your material and understand your purpose.
Double-check your equipment. Does your microphone work properly? Static, cutting out or insufficient volume will make your audience edgy and detract from your message. Can you see over the podium? Do you want a podium at all, or would you prefer to stand directly in front of your audience.
Expect the unexpected. Even after checking everything in advance, it is inevitable that sometimes mishaps will occur. Some people are great at winging it. The rest of us require Plan B and Plan C. Make it look like you are a pro at thinking on your feet by preparing for some of the potential mishaps that could happen during your speech. If your PowerPoint presentation fails, what will you do? Perhaps you could print a set of your slides just in case. Practice projecting your voice for the day when the microphone doesn’t function. Everything that you practice in advance will feel like old hat and look less fear inspiring when it occurs on stage or in front of your colleagues.
Practice. One of the best ways to become comfortable speaking to audience, large and small, is to practice. Thankfully, there are many options to help anyone learn to be a more polished and professional speaker. Join an organization such as Toastmasters that provide weekly public speaking opportunities. If you want practice with both writing and delivering speeches in a more formal setting, take a public speaking course at a local college or through a continuing education program. Locate a nearby Meetup for public speaking, and hone your craft while commiserating with other terrified businesspeople.
If, despite abundant practice, double-checks, knowing your material cold, and learning from the masters, the audience still stumps you with a question you had not anticipated: pause and fake it ’til you make it. As tempting as it might be to deliver the first answer off the top of your head, pause for 10 seconds and regroup. Think through your answer. Your silence will have your audience’s rapt attention. They will be waiting for the brilliant answer that you just had time to prepare. Shining star, you will look like you do this all the time.12