Very few people are able to avoid public speaking altogether, whether in a room of 250 people for a wedding speech or a small panel at the workplace. And yet, 77% of American adults feel at least some anxiety when speaking in public or preparing to speak, according to the National Institutes of Health. But not speaking well can certainly impact career mobility, not to mention business performance.
Whether you’re preparing for a team presentation, sales pitch, panel discussion, or awards speech, it’s important to keep honing your public speaking skills. As uncomfortable as it may be, set a goal this New Year to improve your performance, whether you’re new to sales or a seasoned pro. Here are five ways to make it less scary.
1. Train alone first. If you think you can make remarks without practice, think again. Don’t try to improvise – the pressure of people watching you expectantly could cause you to lose your train of thought. Write everything down, then expand or cut the material as needed to fit the schedule. Then deliver it yourself, out loud, to familiarize yourself with the information and be sure to include everything you want to say. Delivering it to a one-person audience will put less pressure on you at first and help you craft your presentation well.
2. Moderate your speech. When we speak in front of others, we all naturally tend to speed up. Practice speaking very slowly (more than you think is necessary) and time your presentation at the slowest pace. Do not be afraid of silence; pauses add interest to your remarks, and unnecessary filler words such as “ah”, “uh”, and “like” can be distracting. Also take a few deep breaths to slow down your breathing and thoughts and subsequently your speaking rate.
3. Ask for a test audience. Ask a colleague or two if they can take a few minutes to listen to your presentation, in person or virtually, and offer some honest feedback. Talking in front of a few friendly faces will simulate the delivery in front of the real audience and also let you solve problems ahead of time. Also consider tapping into the “offstage beat” – take a few minutes up front to generate a positive mood that will inform your overall performance when you’re in front of the band. Having notes is fine, but don’t look down and read them.
4. Look for opportunities to talk. Sharpen your speaking skills by finding podcasts or panels where you could speak and offer to be a guest. It’s a bit more conversational than a speech in front of a full room, but it will help you become more and more comfortable just speaking in front of a group of people. Just talking more in team meetings (ask if you can host a few) or in a Twitter space can help you feel more comfortable. Once you feel confident in front of different audiences, it will make formal presentations even easier.
5. Organize workshops. If you’re responsible for a sales team, make public speaking a priority for them in the new year as well. Host a series of training sessions and encourage giving and receiving constructive feedback. Some may be seasoned speakers but may have picked up bad habits, like too many filler words or not enough eye contact. If some are reluctant, ask them to present on a topic they like, even if it’s outside of work. Highlight the positive aspects of each presentation in real time, while asking the team to provide you with feedback afterwards on condition of anonymity.