A recurring theme in conversations about what makes a good leader is communication. A critical aspect of communication that some business leaders overlook is public speaking. For many, speaking in public causes a great deal of anxiety. However, leaders are frequently called upon to deliver motivational speeches or even to discuss the current state of the organization. Business leaders need to work diligently to develop their public speaking abilities, especially if the thought of speaking in front of an audience makes them nervous. Following are a few tips to keep in mind if you want to become a better public speaker:
1. Practice in front of a small audience.
One of the quickest ways to build confidence as a public speaker is to practice in front of a trusted audience. Before delivering a long, planned speech, leaders practice in front of friends, family, and trusted colleagues, who can provide critical feedback. Often, people have no idea how many times they say “um” or fidget while delivering a speech. Asking someone to record your talk can also help. While this mainly applies to planned speeches rather than impromptu addresses at company meetings, it will build your confidence in both realms. Breaking bad habits can make people feel incredibly empowered.
2. Recognize and develop a personal style.
Everyone takes a slightly different approach to delivering a speech, and embracing a personal style can make people feel much more comfortable in front of a crowd. Personal style not only pertains to the language used and overall structure of your speech, but also to how it is delivered. Many individuals prefer to completely memorize a speech before they deliver it, while others would rather use notes to guide them. If you do not use a prepared speech, you could run the risk of going off on a tangent. In this case, having some sort of mechanism to stay on track can be important. Importantly, your notes should not serve as a crutch, but instead should help you to feel comfortable and confident.
3. Slow down and embrace the pause.
Many speakers struggle with slowing down when they first start speaking in front of larger audiences. Nervousness can push us to speak more quickly so that we can finish faster. A great strategy for speaking more slowly is to take long pauses. Speakers should pause for longer than they think is necessary, as this puts a great deal of emphasis on key points. Moreover, the use of long pauses can help you to connect emotionally with your audience. Eye contact is also important for maintaining this connection, as it gives the speaker clues about whether the audience is following along or becoming lost.
4. Use body language to connect with your audience.
Leaders should not be afraid to use body language as a tool for connecting with their audience. Sean Stephenson wrote an entire book about how former president Bill Clinton used body language to engage his audience. According to Stephenson, Clinton used physical gestures to forge real, emotional connections, such as touching someone’s forearm during a particularly poignant statement or maintaining appropriate facial expressions. Your face has an amazing ability to express joy or empathy, and using facial expressions appropriately will make you seem genuine and connected. While eye contact is an important aspect of body language, if is too prolonged it can come across as aggressive. While strong body language involves some degree of subtlety, it can be learned with practice.
5. Hook the audience early on in your speech.
When speaking, leaders should always have some type of hook to get their audiences’ attention. While some people may consider hooks to be gimmicks, they serve an important role in getting people to listen to you. Research has shown that the heart rate of listeners begins to decline as soon as a speaker takes the stage. A speaker should understand how to get an audience’s blood pumping again. For those who do not like the “hook,” another way to think about it is that speakers should express their main point within a minute of starting to speak. If the audience does not see your point before then, they will disengage.
6. Look for different opportunities to speak.
The best strategy for overcoming your fear of public speaking is to talk in as many different forums as possible. Increased comfort with public speaking will come across as confidence. In order to become accustomed to talking in front of an audience, it is important to speak in a variety of situations. Leaders who only speak in front of their colleagues may feel out of place at a conference. Likewise, individuals who give long and highly planned speeches may struggle with short, impromptu talks. By taking on a range of challenges, individuals will be prepared for whatever situation they may encounter.