Public speaking opportunities are career and business development opportunities.
If you can deliver an unforgettable presentation or speech (unforgettable for the right reasons) the business world is your oyster. It’s easier to get sales. It’s easier to get put on the cool projects. It’s easier to secure that promotion or new job.
It makes sense that you should look to improve your public speaking skills.
Here are the 7 ways to improve public speaking skills and the 1 lethal mistake to avoid.
1. Know what you’re talking about
The biggest mistake most people make before a presentation or speech is not understanding their subject matter. They try to speak about a topic that they only somewhat know.
Think about trying to explain something simply to a colleague when you only have cursory knowledge on the topic yourself. Your explanation will be wordy and filled with second-guessing; Potentially you’re going to confuse your colleague more than help them. Even if you can get the point across you probably still don’t know enough to answer questions.
This is the problem! When you stand on stage without a thorough understanding of your material you’re setting yourself up for a miserable presentation.
Imagine how confident you will feel when you know your subject matter inside out! Your confidence will shine through which will make the audience more likely to pay attention and trust you.
The first step to improving your public speaking skills is simple. Understand what it is you’re going to be talking about. Until you have a full understanding of your subject don’t undertake any further preparation.
2. Structure so you can remember
You don’t want to forget what to say, right?
So, you need to structure your presentation so that it’s easy for you to remember. You also want to structure it so that it’s easy for your audience to remember.
To do this, stick to 3 main points (or less) in your presentation. If you go over 3 it makes it harder for you to remember and harder for your audience to remember.
Once you have your 3 main points you’ll want to turn each point into a single key word to make it easy to keep in your mind.
Let me give you an example:
Imagine our subject is the “Mitchell Project kick-off”.
There are three things we will talk about:
- The background of the project
- Key dates, deliverables, and deadlines
- Project teams and leaders
Now we need some keywords to remember each of these points:
For further reading on structuring to remember, see 3 Simple Steps to Remember Your Speech.
3. Prepare for the inevitable
You are human.
It pays to be ready for those inevitable slip-ups. And that preparation doesn’t involve formal apologies or bowing and scraping. Instead, it involves putting yourself in the right mindset.
The mindset you need is “Mistakes will happen, and when they do I will deal with them.”
This mindset reduces the worry and the panic about being perfect. It relaxes you and by extension means you’re less likely to make mistakes (tension will only increase the likelihood of mistakes).
When a mistake happens, as it inevitably will, just handle it. First, assess the situation. Did the audience notice and was it important? If so, correct and move on. If not, just move on.
Important: Don’t say “sorry” unless it is warranted. Empty sorry’s will only irritate your audience.
4. Be the driver
Don’t let PowerPoint, Keynote, or Prezi drive.
The audience has come to see you and to listen to you. Your audience doesn’t care about your design skills or how many indented bullet points you can fit on a slide. They want to hear what you have to say, supported (if necessary) by your slides.
Don’t read your slides. Don’t let PowerPoint drive.
As my good friend Michael R. Virardi puts it, “Speak before you click. If you do so you not only appear confident but also in control. It sends a message out to your audience that you know what is to follow. Plus you keep all eyeballs on you and not on your slideshow.”
5. Practice, but don’t over-practice
It’s important to practice and get a feel for how it’s going to be on stage, but there is a very important consideration. Practicing your body language is a no-no.
The problem with practiced body language is that you are trying to time your body language to particular keywords. Which ends up looking ridiculous.
Think about a regular conversation with a friend. Do you employ practiced body language? And what would your friend think if you did?
Bonus: If you get step 1 and 2 of this article right, natural body language will be a breeze.
6. Be natural
Audiences respond to natural speakers. The type of speaker who appears to be in conversation with them. These are the types of speakers that audiences trust.
As you are practicing your delivery always ask yourself, “Is the way I’m talking or carrying myself natural?” If the answer is no then you need to change something.
7. Answer questions honestly
Honesty is the best policy. It always wins because the audience can see you are genuine and that builds credibility and trust.
If someone asks you a question that you didn’t hear, or you don’t understand, or you don’t know the answer to; be honest in your reply. Just remember to have an action, or request, at the end of your reply.
“I’m sorry I didn’t catch that. Could you please repeat it?”
“I’m sorry I didn’t understand the part about …. Would you mind rephrasing that part of your question?”
“I’m not the best person to answer that question. Let me get the testing team to contact you following my presentation.”
8. Don’t write out a script
This is a mistake you should avoid.
Writing out and memorizing a script is a sure-fire way of sounding like you wrote out and memorized a script. And no-one wants to listen to you recite from the notes in your head.
The good news is by following step 1 and 2 in this article you’ll save time, remember what to say, and engage your audience.
Comment below and let me know what you think.