Everybody’s had that dream: Standing in front of a crowd with no idea what you’re supposed to say as the crowd grows restless. Conventional wisdom—and survey research—tell us that people are more afraid of public speaking than almost anything else, including death.
Improving your public speaking skills is an important task for managers, as both leadership and your company’s vision rely on your ability to communicate. Ideas, plans, correctives and directives — all of them will involve public speech at some point.
Some may seem born for it, but for the rest of us it’s important to find ways to be as comfortable as possible. There are plenty of strategies that can keep us feeling confident when speaking in public, and they all come down to the work you do beforehand. Here are three steps you can share with your leadership team to help them send the right messages.
Step One: Use Research to Craft an Engaging Topic
You need new, interesting and current information to communicate effectively. Your presentation needs to be, and more importantly feel, worth your audience’s time. Whether speaking to a conference, a reporter, your employees, or the public, you need something new and impactful to add. Remember that no one enjoys a dry recitation of facts, or repetition of things they already know. As you craft your topic and focus, ask yourself the following questions:
- What’s your big new idea?
- What’s the question you’re answering?
- What problem are you trying to solve?
- What connection are you trying to make?
- What are you adding to the conversation?
Researching around these goals is the best way to make sure you’re presenting effective public speaking that’s genuine—and most of all, interesting.
Research can take many forms: You can study up on written materials, even assign other people to help you with the raw research, but you can also interview stakeholders and subject matter experts for greater perspective. As you research, keep your notes handy so you can jot down stray ideas, interesting facts, or even just striking ways to word things. You may not use every single fact or point you come across, but it will greatly increase your confidence to know more about the subject than what you’re strictly presenting.
Step Two: Preparation is 90% of the Task
Preparation is all the work of organizing, writing and editing your presentation. There’s no right or wrong way to do this, as long as you create a system that works for you. Once you’ve gathered your information, you can sort through it and start organizing, outlining, writing and editing. Every minute you spend perfecting your presentation is another moment of public-speaking anxiety you can avoid, because you already know where you’re heading.
Your outline shows your material from a top level down, so you can see what’s missing or redundant, and come up with ideas to fill in those blanks. It’s like consulting a map before going on a hike. Outlining can also show you danger spots, or moments where the audience’s attention might wane.
Start your outline with a clearly defined big idea and your three (or more) main sub-points that develop out of that idea, which should seed the answers to any questions your audience might have. What audiences crave is a story, so use your public speaking skills to give it to them: Arrange your presentation in a dramatic way that asks and then answers a central question. This is the question you will be answering along with your audience, who needs to feel they’re a crucial part of this story.
And telling a story is exactly what you’re doing, even if it doesn’t feel like it. After all, your listeners’ experience is going to have a beginning, a middle, climax and an ending. By constructing a narrative that takes people on a journey, you are bringing your big ideas to life and answering questions your audience didn’t even know they were going to have.
Step Three: Practice is Your Key to Effective Public Speaking
Improving your public speaking skills is a matter of practice. What kind of practice? Well, there are two kinds: One is the “muscle memory” you build up from simply standing in front of crowds to address them, which accrues over time. But the other kind is specific to the individual presentation, and it’s the secret ingredient that will make your presentation sing: Once you’ve outlined and prepared your work in whatever form is most comfortable for you (notecards, slides, bullet points), the next step is to deliver it, over and over.
Feeling silly? Better to feel silly alone—in a conference room, or in your office, or looking in the mirror—until you have either solved the problem or made peace with the silliness. Experts suggest timing or recording your presentation, as well as keeping a few other things in mind, such as:
- Checking your speed/time and knowing when to pause
- Being aware of your breathing
- Avoiding distracting hand gestures
- Knowing how and when to incorporate visual aids
- Cutting down on repetition and filler words like “um” or “uh”
- Emphasizing or memorizing key points in your notes
- Rewording or breaking down complex phrases or ideas (use a building blocks approach)
And finally, remember that you don’t need to learn anything by rote: Your notes, in whatever form they take, are only there to help you bring your story to life. They’re not the main attraction. You are!
Ready to Use Public Speaking Skills to Energize Your Workforce?
Improving public speaking skills is necessary for managers because it’s a major part of leadership. You need to be able to communicate your company’s needs and mission and motivate workers to get the job done. But you don’t have to lead in the dark—Monster is here to help. Tap into our knowledge base for more free managerial resources to boost the performance of your workforce.