Most of us aren’t naturally gifted public speakers. In fact, many avoid speaking in front of groups whenever they can. However, this fear of presenting can have adverse effects over the course of your career.
David Blum*, a communication skills trainer at Well-Spoken Joe, explains that people who are uncomfortable with public speaking are at a disadvantage in the workplace.
“It does very little good to be a ‘technical expert’ or marketing master’ if you cannot effectively communicate your ideas to an audience,” says Blum. Skilled presenters are usually the ones who get the job offer, who get the plum project, and who get the promotion. In fact, one study found that people who present at work earn $9,000 per year more than their counterparts who don’t present.
Blum suggests making five small changes that will greatly improve your public speaking skills
Show your passion
Like any good story, a presentation is only as interesting as the person who is presenting it. Even if you’re just giving your weekly status report, find something to speak about that’s meaningful to you. Your audience will only be as engaged in a topic as you are. If you’re bored they’ll be bored too, says Blum. Let them see your energy and passion! Having trouble getting your energy levels up? Check out Tony Robbins’ pre-speaking ritual which includes incantations, affirmations, and a ton of energized movement.
Fake it till you make it
Whether you’re negotiating your salary or presenting to an audience, experts agree that confidence is essential to communicating persuasively.
“Speak confidently, loudly, and clearly. Let your audience see and hear that you believe what you’re saying,” says Blum. Public speaking, like any other valuable skill, requires practice. The more you present, the more confident you’ll become.
Take a deep breath… and slow down
The average person speaks 125 words per minute. If you find yourself racing through your presentation at a much faster pace, pause, take a breath, and slow down. When you speak too quickly, the audience will assume you’re nervous and won’t receive your message. Speaking more slowly will also help you establish credibility with the audience. According to Blum, a young professional who slows down a fast-paced speaking style can instantly sound more authoritative. Need more help slowing down your motor mouth? Check out these presentation tips by Diane DiResta, author of Knockout Presentations.
Use your hands effectively
“Most people use their hands when they speak, but very few use them in a way that supports their words,” says Blum. He suggests looking for opportunities to gesture while you’re thinking through and rehearsing your presentation. For instance, are you describing something big or small, expanding or contracting, over here or over there? Use your gestures to help drive home your points. Check out these hand gesture tips by Matt Abrahams, author of Speaking Up without Freaking Out.
Have mini conversations
Do you have a fear of speaking with people one-on-one? For most people, the fear of public speaking only creeps up when your audience involves a group of people. To combat this anxiety, Blum suggests having “mini-conversations” during your presentation. Instead of speaking to “the room,” direct your presentation to specific individuals in the room.
“Having these few-second mini-conversations will calm your nerves, improve your eye contact, and engage your audience,” says Blum. Still having trouble making eye contact? Try staring at the foreheads of individuals in your audience. It will still look like you’re making eye contact without causing you to feel more nervous.
Have a tip that’s worked for you? Share it in the comments section below!