When the Washington Post surveyed Americans and asked, “What are you afraid of?” the largest portion, 25.3%, reported a fear of public speaking. As a professional services marketer, public speaking opportunities can be critical to the overall success of your company. Demonstrating your credibility and promoting brand awareness through public speaking often gives you the visibility you need to start driving qualified leads. This means that marketers don’t have the luxury of avoiding their public speaking fears.
Whether speaking in front of a crowd excites you or makes you break into a cold sweat, we came up with four tips to help put you at ease and improve your skills.
Focus on the Basics
One of the most effective ways to hold your audience’s attention is to maintain good eye contact throughout your presentation. Looking people in the eye makes them feel as though you’re speaking directly to them rather than to the general group. This individualized attention places greater responsibility on each audience member to listen to and react to what you’re saying, rather than diffusing the responsibility to the room.
Even if you’re speaking in a large lecture hall, eye contact can still be used to your advantage. Have you ever been to a concert where the performer points to the crowd and fifteen people scream “he pointed at me!” This is because in a large group, it can be difficult to tell exactly where a presenter’s eyes are focused. Shifting your gaze to different sections of the room can make many audience members feel you’re speaking directly to them (even if you’re not).
Connect with Your Audience
Humans are naturally drawn to storytelling. We’ve done it for thousands of years, starting all the way back with cavemen and continuing through to today’s digital world (SnapChat stories, anyone?) This innate human attraction to stories is key knowledge for any public speaker. According to the Harvard Business Review, “experiments show that character-driven stories with emotional content result in a better understanding of the key points a speaker wishes to make and enable better recall of these points weeks later.” This means that by structuring your presentation as a narrative, you boost the chances of your audience connecting with and remembering your speech.
There are many ways to weave storytelling into your presentation. For example, you can hook your audience right from the start by telling a powerful story as the introduction to your speech. Alternatively, you could tell short personal anecdotes throughout your presentation to make it more relatable. Keep in mind, stories that appeal to a person’s emotions or self-interests tend to be two of the biggest motivators. Just remember to clearly link back to the key takeaway so your audience can effectively follow your thought process.
Get Rid of Fillers
We’ve all sat through speeches and presentations chock full of “uhh’s” and “umm’s.” These filler words are often used to avoid awkward silences, but they end up distracting from the main points at hand. Our advice is to opt for those “awkward” silences, which actually aren’t awkward at all. Many people speak much more quickly in front of an audience than they would naturally. Making a conscious effort to speak slowly and take deliberate pauses will make it easier for the audience to understand what you’re saying and reduce your use of filler words.
It may seem like a minor piece of a presentation, but pre-planning the transitional words that guide your listeners from one point to the next makes a huge difference to how smoothly it flows and how well it is perceived by the crowd. Once you’re armed with the right transitional phrases, it’ll be easy to throw those distracting “uhh’s” and “umm’s” right out the window.
There is nothing worse than listening to a speaker who is unrehearsed. It’s painful. So, read your presentation out loud over and over. This is your dress rehearsal so it should be done full out, not just lackadaisically while watching television in the background. Practice every part; the transitions, where you’ll pause for the audience to reflect, what words you’ll emphasize, even your body language. If possible, practice in front of one or two people who can give you useful feedback. You should know your material so well that even a flash mob in the middle of your speech couldn’t throw you off.
Although public speaking is intimidating for most, there’s certainly no reason to fear it more than heights or (*shutter*) clowns. As long as you’re prepared with our four tips, you’ll be walking the walk in no time. The butterflies may never fully subside, but it’s like most things in life – the more you speak publicly, the easier it’ll become. We encourage you and your team to take on every viable speaking opportunity extended to you in order to hone your skills and boost brand awareness. Just remember: eye contact, storytelling, pauses and practice all make perfect.