Guest post by Allison Shapira:
Even if you’re not afraid of public speaking, I’m betting you still get butterflies in your stomach before you speak. As a public speaking coach for over 15 years, I’ve seen it up-close: most people get nervous before a speech, presentation, or important meeting.
Yet the fact remains: whether you have a formal leadership role such as CEO or you are a young professional looking to move into leadership, public speaking skills are critical. No matter what you do, or what stage you are at in your career you have something powerful to say, you have a right to say it, and you want to be able to say it with clarity and authority.
Public speaking is a skill, not a talent. You don’t have to be born with it; I truly believe that each one of us can be a powerful public speaker with practice and feedback. The more you use this skill and the more you focus on making progress, the better you become. Read books on the subject, join a Toastmasters club to build those skills, or recommend your organization bring in a public speaking expert to design a communication training program.
Public speaking is something we do every single day. From phone calls to webinars, presentations to meetings to town halls, we have daily opportunities to speak in public. It can happen anywhere in the world, at every stage in our career, no matter our background. Each day, look at your calendar and determine where you want to have an impact in your communication. Prepare a few points in advance of each meeting to help you speak concisely and thoughtfully. Practice out loud a few times to make sure your words are genuine and conversational.
We all get nervous. If you feel nervous before a presentation, remember that you are not alone. The fear of public speaking is universal, and most people will sympathize with you. Most of the time, everyone in the audience wants you to do well. Take the time to breathe deeply before your presentation and remind yourself why you truly care about your subject. Remind yourself of the impact of your words on others; that will center you and fill you with purpose.
It’s about being authentic, not perfect. Nobody wants to hear a perfect speech or presentation; they want to feel that the speaker is authentic and genuinely cares about their subject. Forget the need to be perfect and you’ll reduce a lot of your stress. This is not an excuse to just wing it – you still need to prepare and practice – but don’t get caught up in endless revisions of a speech. If you know your subject and care about your audience, you will inspire your audience.
It’s about connecting with your audience and building trust. Giving a speech or presentation is an opportunity to build a relationship of trust with your audience, whether it’s one person or a thousand people. By making eye contact with your audience and taking the time to engage with them instead of just talking at them, your message will connect with them on a personal level and you will create more buy-in around your ideas.
It’s about exercising leadership with your voice. Every time you speak, your words have an impact on others. Recognize the incredible power of the spoken word to change the way people think, feel, or act, and be intentional about how you plan to responsibly use that power. It’s not just about giving the speech and going home; it’s about using your words to mobilize others to take action, whether it’s forming a new employee network in your organization or recommending a new strategic course for your company. Take action based on your words.
Next time you’re preparing to speak — at a board meeting, a community function, even in a small group of a few peers — think back to these truths. They’ll remind you of the little things that can get lost in a flurry of public speaking anxiety. They’ll help you become a better communicator and have a powerful and positive impact on the world around you.