Speaking in front of strangers — whether during an interview or while presenting to a group of business executives — is a useful skill, no matter where you are in your career.
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If you’d rather slowly remove your toe nails with rusty pliers than deliver a speech in public, chances are you’re missing out on a great opportunity. No, not the opportunity to never wear sandals in public; the opportunity to win your employer’s admiration and emerge as a leader at your company.
With such a competitive job market, adding skill sets to your resume definitely won’t hurt your chances of landing a job or getting promoted. Having a reputation as an effective and engaging speaker garners copious amounts of respect in the business world — especially because speaking in public terrifies so many people.
While often assumed an easy task to perform, effective public speaking requires confidence that can be difficult to muster when your ultimate focus is simply not to pass out in front of your largest (monetarily, of course) client.
But how can you be an effective — nay, entertaining — public speaker when you’re struggling to keep your lunch down?
Well, you may not receive an invitation to kick Ellen out of her Emmy host position any time soon, but the following tips will help you keep that tuna melt right where it should be post-conference meeting:
1. Demand the f****** room
First impressions really do make a difference, so the way you enter a room sets the tone for the presentation.
Do you look put together, polished and poised? Or do you look haggard and like you spent the entire night stressing over your presentation — or worse, up all night producing a hastily written speech?
This point is about more than just style; you also need to walk in with confidence.
Demanding the f****** room is about walking in like you own the place, head up, shoulders back and with a strut that can only be rivaled by Tyra’s finest. (Click here to Tweet!) Looking confident will help you feel confident.
Eye contact brings people together. An audience will feel particularly connected to a speaker when they’re engaged both audibly and visually.
When walking from one side of the room to another, lock eyes with someone on the side you’re walking to and use them as a “pull” bringing you to the other side of the room. This creates an illusion of connection and helps your audience feel more engaged with the presentation.
Uncomfortable making eye contact? Stare at the spot between their eyes or right above their heads. They’ll never know the difference!
3. Stick to what you know
Trust yourself! You’ve been selected for the honor of addressing a group because you’re knowledgeable. Use this knowledge and the fact that your boss sees this in you as a foundation for your confidence.
This knowledge should be the basis of what and how you present. Don’t spout off about statistics you’re not sure of and topics you’re not briefed on; focus on materials and facts you can support. This confidence and solid understanding will shine through to your audience and make your speech more effective.
4. Slow down the race to the finish
Often when someone is nervous, they end up speeding through their speech faster than North Carolina takes away voting rights. Reminding yourself to take a breath will force you to slow down your speaking patterns and leave more time for your audience to digest your inspirational words.
Timing and strategically placing pauses can also be effective when trying to emphasize a point. Try it!
5. Put yourself in your audience’s shoes
No one likes a cold fish. The only thing worse than someone who isn’t prepared is being the person who has to listen to someone who isn’t prepared.
Being prepared doesn’t just mean jotting down a few notes or ideas five minutes before the presentation, especially if you’re already not an effective extemporaneous speaker. Prepare an outline with bullet points, and stick to it.
Going off script, particularly when you’re nervous, only leads to catastrophe (except in the rare circumstance where personal stories or pleas will cause the client to fall back in love with you).
Being a good public speaker takes practice, confidence and did I mention practice? You may even find you love the art of public speaking and consider a career change! In any case, these steps will help in your journey of becoming a better speaker (ahem, winning over your boss), but remember to give yourself some grace.
You’ll have some stumbles, some word flubs and some PowerPoint issues. Don’t be afraid! Just breathe and use what you know. And remember to always know where the closest trash can is… just in case.
Sarah Colomé, M.S. is an educator, advocate and the SOARS Booking Director for A Long Walk Home, Inc. Based in Chicago, Sarah has traveled both nationally and internationally as a competitive collegiate public speaker and teaches on topics related to social justice and diversity, health education, sexual violence and persuasive speaking.