As an entrepreneur, you will encounter public speaking one way or another: in staff meetings, selling your product in presentations with current or potential clients, and even in impromptu interactions with small groups. How comfortable do you feel when speaking to a larger audience?
Presenting your thoughts and ideas with confidence is a key element in your business. However, the ability to do so is dampened by a fear of public speaking that is more common than you’d think: according to a survey conducted in behalf of the presentation provider Prezi, out of 1000 Australian business owners and executives surveyed, 23.9% reported to be scared of embarrassing themselves when giving a presentation, 28.4% were afraid of boring their audience, and 22.7% said they worried about not being able to convey their message. An astounding 20% said they would do anything to avoid giving a presentation, including lying about their health, even though they were aware of that it could affect their reputation. Surprisingly enough, even though over 86% of business owners and chief executives believed that presentation skills are important for their career development and success, 30% of them didn’t spend time cultivating their public speaking skills.
An audience will often equate competence with confidence, and if you want to succeed in your industry, selling yourself short when presenting your ideas is not an option. Therefore, here are 3 tips to enhance your public speaking skills so your presentations will match your brilliance:
1) Prepare and practice
Knowing what you want to say and why you want to say it will help you deliver your message with confidence. Ask yourself who your audience is, what matters to them, how much they know about what you’re about to present, and how much more they need to know for you to accomplish the goal of your message. Being clear on these points will help you to develop content fit for your audience, and be able to deliver it within the time you have.
Persistence in the practice of speeches and presentations is key in voice training and confidence-building. Practicing the content of your presentation by yourself gives you the freedom to use pockets of time throughout the day with flexibility and helps you exercise your memory. However, also try practicing with colleagues, family members and friends, so they can give you feedback on your message and how you presented yourself.
2) Check your body
Before you enter a situation where you’ll have to speak in front of an audience, take a few minutes to be present to your body. Is your heart pounding fast? Are your hands sweaty? Do you feel fidgety? Remind yourself that you have the power to regain control over your body, and practice deep breathing. Deep breathing can help you slow down your heartbeat and bring oxygen into your brain, so you will feel calmer and collected. Relax your muscles, and allow your mind to settle. Once you’re grounded you can practice preparatory power posing, which according to a study published by Harvard, can enhance presentation quality and allow you to better maintain your composure, project more confidence, and present more captivating and enthusiastic speeches during a high-stakes social evaluation.
An interesting Ted Talk on body language given by social psychologist Amy Cuddy can give you some insight on how your gesture and postures can influence how others perceive you.
3) Connect with your audience
If you’re in a small group and you find it appropriate, try to greet every member individually. If the group is too big, create a space before your presentation to introduce yourself and acknowledge their presence with a light heart. The establishment of a genuine connection between you and your audience serves you as a reminder of that, just like you, they’re human. During your speech keep eye contact with individuals in the crowd, and be selective about it: as you speak, you will notice some faces who show interest and open-ness to your message, and inevitably, some who don’t. Identify those who reflect interest in what you’re saying and make eye contact with them at different points, and avoid making eye contact with those who display signs of disinterest. A fascinating study published by the US National Library of Medicine found that individuals who felt anxious about public speaking had a tendency to identify threatening elements (such as bored or disdainful faces in a crowd) faster than individuals who felt generally confident with public speaking. However, after a single session of an attention modification program that trained the socially anxious participants to focus on neutral (as opposed to disgusted) faces in the crowd, the participants showed a significantly lower level of anxiety and performed better than those who weren’t trained and paid more attention to the disgusted faces. Controlling your focus is key in how you will feel throughout your presentation, so become aware of the positive social signals that the audience is giving you (such as a smiling face or a face that’s showing interest.) As you practice this more and more, you will train yourself to become more receptive to positive facial cues.
The most important thing to remember is that no matter where you are in your public speaking you will always make some mistakes, and you can always get better. We invite you to practice these skills and let us know in the comments how they helped you – because we’re confident they will make you more confident.