Public speaking is among one of the most commonly cited fears. Even among the most confident leaders and those who consider themselves to be experts, there are many opportunities to improve. In my role as CEO, I am frequently called upon to speak in front of others. These speaking engagements can range from national forums to town hall-style meetings at my own organization. Though I’m experienced, I’ve come to appreciate what an art public speaking really is and how much skill development and PRACTICE is consistently needed to take your abilities to the next level.

Villanova Commencement Speech 2015

Until recently, my public speaking skills have been developed through simple trial and error and learning a few tips from coaches. However, to prepare for a high-profile national speaking engagement, I decided to consult with internationally acclaimed speechwriter and presentation transformation specialist, Lynda Spillane of The Persuasive Word. She’s worked with many heads of state, presidents, and CEO’s to help them improve their public speaking skills. She has helped me to really move to the next level of professionalism in my public speaking. I want to share a few tips I’ve collected over the years, both from my own experience and from experts I’ve worked with:

Speaking at the J.P. Morgan Healthcare Conference 2017

  1. Be careful of reading. If you have an occasion to speak from talking points, it is important to know that what works well for reading consumption, does not work well for speaking. In other words, if something reads well it doesn’t always sound the same when you are speaking it.
  2. Ditch the slides. NEVER read from long, dense slides. If you use slides with lots of text, the audience will read them while you’re talking and they won’t listen to you! If you are compelled to use slides, I repeat – PLEASE don’t read each line of your slides.
  3. Harness your nervous energy. Don’t aim to rid yourself of all nerves before a speech; a bit of nervous energy is okay. Like other types of performances, it helps to keep you on your toes.
  4. Put the audience first. The most important aspect of public speaking is your relationship with the audience. It is not about you, it is about them. Don’t focus on what you think about your own performance, focus on the experience for the audience.
  5. Slow down. One of the most common mistakes in public speaking is that most speakers talk too quickly. Remember that the audience needs time to process what you are saying.
  6. Speak up. In addition to speaking too quickly, many people don’t speak loudly enough. Even if you have a microphone, take a deep breath and make sure you’re projecting your voice.
  7. Breath. When you get to the podium, take a deep breath, look at the audience, taking your time to look around the room. Make eye contact with them. It will help to build anticipation for what you are about to say. Once you begin, take a deep breath before each sentence so that you can complete the sentence without running out of air. This sounds easy but it actually takes some practice.
  8. Fake it ‘til you make it. Even if you’re as nervous as can be, there is no reason to share that with the audience. Don’t begin with a self-deprecating statement (read more about that here) and never insinuate that you don’t belong there or that you are nervous.

I highly recommend hiring a coach if public speaking is a regular part of your job. Another coach I’ve worked with is Barbara Pachter of Pachter & Associates. Where have you found helpful advice for conquering public speaking? What are some of your tips? Share them with us!

If you’d like to learn more about working with Lynda Spillane, you can visit her website here.