How to Conquer Your Biggest Business Fear: Tips for Public Speaking

How to Conquer Your Biggest Business Fear: Tips for Public Speaking

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. 

Create an Elevator Speech

Create an Elevator Speech

I recently had the opportunity to meet two very impressive women at an event (as I often do!). During the course of the conversation we began to discuss the events surrounding the Presidential election. One of the women told me that she had the opportunity to follow the family member of a Presidential candidate on the campaign trail. When I asked her how she able to do that, she responded by telling me she was a producer for a major network. I again responded with great enthusiasm and she said, “oh it’s really not a big deal. I just do it part-time…I’m really just a warm body, a hired hand.”

I was so disappointed to hear her response. I was very honest and told her that she really needed to develop an elevator speech that was not so self-deprecating. Her friend replied, “You’re right, she has won two Emmy awards for her work on national news shows! ” Clearly, this woman was accomplished and had built an impressive career. I suggested a few key points to add to her elevator speech so that in similar situations she would be more prepared to respond with a few key points highlighting her competencies and accomplishments.

I often talk to mentees about how to construct and practice their elevator speech. The speech should be about 1-2 minutes, start with a clear articulation of name, your role and a bit about the company you represent. In this story, the women I met could have said:

“I’m Sue Jones, producer at _____ network, where I have worked for ____ years covering such stories as ______.  I’ve had the pleasure of being called into action when needed for some of the most interesting stories such as _____.”  

Now obviously that can be tailored to feel more off-the-cuff, casual or less structured. Just please be sure to steer clear of self-deprecation or minimizing your real accomplishments, as tempting as it may be to appear humble. If you don’t have an elevator speech, write one today and practice it in the car, or even in an elevator while alone!

Teaching Confidence

One of the topics I’m asked about most often by younger women is confidence — how to gain more, project more, BE more. There are tons of articles on confidence — everything from body language to visualization techniques and more. A lack of confidence seems to be something that affects almost everyone at one point or another and I’ve written on my thoughts about the “Imposter Syndrome” I see so many women experience. I came across this article in Fortune by entrepreneur Beth Monaghan and it spoke to me. It’s her attempt to teach confidence, which I do believe is possible, and I found her advice to be spot on and extremely applicable in a workplace setting. I’d love to hear your thoughts after reading it – do you think successful women can help teach other women to become more confident? What is the best advice you’ve received to help build confidence?

“This Will Make You Make You Appear Less Confident” By Beth Monaghan, Principle & Co-Founder of InkHouse

Developing Your Leadership Presence – Philadelphia Business Journal

A recent article in the Philadelphia Business Journal offers “2 ways women can develop their leadership presence.”

Want the thumbnail? 1) Tout your accomplishments, and 2) use technical/numerical terms to discuss the impact of your work.

Read the article, then re-visit my thoughts on how to establish your executive presence here.

How I Learned Empathy as a Nurse

I recently received the same question at two different post-speech Q&A sessions and during an interview with the Philadelphia Inquirer:

What about your experience as a nurse prepared you to be CEO?

Well, firstly, that question kind of makes it seem like I was a staff nurse one day and the next day I was appointed CEO. In fact, my career journey took several turns from my start as a pediatric nurse in an infant and toddler unit to my current position. Still, I appreciate this question because it gives me an opportunity to talk about empathy.

As a nurse, I learned the importance of having empathy to do one’s job well. When you’re trying to teach a family how to care for a child with a new diagnosis, you want the best possible outcome for everyone involved. You try to understand how the family is coping emotionally as they recover from a health crisis in their child and are beginning to accept a potentially life-changing diagnosis. You need to try to understand their family dynamic, their knowledge and systems of childcare, their culture surrounding children. Challenges to good health are often multi-faceted, and no two families are exactly alike. Nurses regularly use empathy skills to know how an individual patient and his or her family will hear and respond to the healthcare provider’s message and use that to determine what the patient needs going forward.

Empathy and effective performance as a leader go hand in hand. As a leader in my organization, I try to put myself in the shoes of not only CHOP’s patients and families but its staff as well. I ask, how can I better enable them and support them to do their best work? Part of my mission is to get out of my office and hear from CHOP’s front line employees so that I can better understand the challenges they face and work to improve how we function.

I can also use that opportunity to tell them about important issues I see and bring the big picture of the organization to them. Together in these conversations, we figure out how they fit into that big picture and what we both need to do to get better. In order to make these effective discussions and not just opportunities for glad-handing, you have to start with empathy — an ability to listen and learn how people hear your message.

So many executive leaders don’t think about how their message will be received. They perfect their stump speeches and leave it at that. But understanding what your employees are going through is essential. When I give a talk, I do my best to find out who the audience will be, why they are coming, and what issues are important to them so I can bring nuance to my message. If I’m to give a talk on quality and value in healthcare, I’m not going to give the same talk to medical students as I do to senior medical staff. I will try to think about what the students know and what their world is about.

Put simply, I try to connect with them. And I learned how to do that as a nurse.