Thursday, November 2, 2017

5 Tips to Develop Your Public Speaking Skills

This last mod of the Weekend MBA program at Purdue, I’m taking communications. It’s a class that comes fairly easy for me because I’ve spent the last 20 years intentionally working to become a better public speaker. When I graduated from undergrad many moons ago, I knew I wanted to develop as a speaker. I’d had a speech class in college, but the standard was so low, I could literally get up on days when no one else was prepared, extemporaneously give a speech, and get an A. Nice for the GPA. Not so nice for developing real skills.

Because I wanted to develop skills in this area, I intentionally sought a job in D.C. that would allow me to try, fail, and try again. I’m blessed that my bosses at the Leadership Institute gave me abundant opportunities.
I kept looking for them.
Today, public speaking is relatively easy for me. People often assume it’s always been this way. It hasn’t. Here are 5 tips that I hope will help you become more comfortable speaking.
1) Seek opportunities to practice. When the fear of public speaking ranks right up there with death, it’s often the last thing we want to do. Why on earth would we seek opportunities to do something that makes our knees quake, our stomachs tremble, and our vision blur? Because being comfortable speaking is an important skill that opens doors. So push yourself. Join an organization like Toastmasters.  The key is to practice.
2) Develop an area of expertise that you are passionate about. It is much easier to talk about areas where our passions lie. I can talk about the Monuments Men all day. I could elaborate on why I think it is so important to mentor young people consistently. You have areas of passion, too. Tap into those and your voice and gestures will be more enthusiastic and lively.
3) Watch other speakers. What do they do well? What could they improve upon? What can you learn from watching them? How do they engage with their audience? How do they use words and their voice to catch your attention. Imitate what you learn until it becomes natural to you. There are some masterful speakers to study.
4) Read Public Speaking Books. Wait. That sounds an awful lot like non-fiction, and we love fiction around here! There is a place for non-fiction and this is one of them. A lot of really smart people have written books sharing their secrets…we don’t have to learn the hard way. We can jump ahead to a new level of skill. There are a host of public speaking books out there.  A few I have in my library are Well Said by Darlene Price, The Exceptional Presenter by Tim Koegel, and How to be a Presentation god by Scott Schwertly. Others would add different books to this list. The key is to find a couple books, read them, and slowly incorporate suggestions into your speaking. The Exceptional Presenter has great tips on how to move, gestures, etc. Well Said has great basics on every aspect of speaking. Each has a strength. Taken together they form a strong picture.
5) Listen/Watch your speeches. Eric teases me when I listen to the podcasts or radio shows I’ve been a guest on. It’s not a matter of hubris, but a matter of listening to what I said and how and using that information to look for areas to improve. In the MBA class, each presentation is videotaped and we have to review and critique our performances. You should do the same. It’s only when you listen to yourself that you notice fillers (umms, uhhs, etc.) and note the speed you talk. It’s when you watch that you pick up nervous tics you’re completely unaware of. It’s not always comfortable, but it is a great way to learn.
What would you add to this list?


An award-winning author of twenty books, Cara is a lecturer on business and employment law to graduate students at Purdue University’s Krannert School of Management. Putman also practices law and is a second-generation homeschooling mom. She lives with her husband and four children in Indiana.


Bryan J. Fagan said...

You've hit on the one thing most of us are scared of. I recently spoke in front of an audience at a writer's conference. It was my first since college and the experience was interesting. I was extremely nervous until I got up there. Once I realized there was no turning back a calm washed over me and I surprised myself by how relaxed I was. Public speaking is not for everyone but I do suggest everyone give it a try. At least once. Thank you for the article. Excellent!!!

Robin E. Mason said...

Cara, this is so great! when i was preparing for my Senior presentation in college, i printed out my narrative (to go with slide presentation) and read it over and over. I recorded it on my phone and listened to it over and over. on the day of the presentation, i had it printed in extra large (16 or 18 point) font so i could scan quickly and easily to keep my place. turns out, i barely even looked at it, spoke as you said, with ease and familiarity and passion about my design, and only missed one minor point!
it really helped to have it recorded so i could hear myself, and practice - while i was driving, or cooking, or finalizing my drawings, or... whatever...

Krista Phillips said...

This is so good, Cara!!

I dread just the thought of public speaking. I had an executive coach help me with it a bit at my last corporate job, but I still dread it. Writing is nice because if you say something stupid, there is this fabulous delete button.

Not so much with public speaking!!!!