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Mastering the art of public speaking

Yes, it terrifies many of us, but for a business owner, improving public speaking skills can be a real asset.

In business, we spend a considerable portion of our week working on different ways to increase our business. We network with colleagues, pitch projects and upsell our clients. Yet, one of the best ways to build and promote your business and personal brand is often overlooked: public speaking.

It strikes terror in the hearts of many and in numerous surveys has ranked higher than death as one of our greatest fears! Whilst for some the thought of speaking in front of a group can make their palms start to sweat and heart skip a beat, if done correctly, public speaking can be a fantastic communication skill and an effective and powerful way for business owners to connect with their clients. Positioning yourself as the face of your business via public speaking builds trust and rapport, two of the key foundations for a successful business relationship.

Speaking at events or holding your own workshops is one of the best ways to boost your profile and showcase your expertise. You will benefit from having a captive audience and have the opportunity to establish yourself as an expert in your industry. If you’re up on the stage speaking, then you must know what you’re talking about, right? Speaking at events also comes with additional promotional opportunities in the marketing of the event as well as it being a great hook for publicity opportunities.

Public speaking is more than standing up and speaking on stage in front of an audience and more than a speech at your best friends wedding. To be an effective public speaker you must engage and connect with your audience. This will come with practice and product knowledge, but it is interesting to learn that the words you speak on stage aren’t anywhere near as important as the way in which you deliver them.

Imagine having the confidence and clarity in your message when speaking to your staff, your colleagues or your clients. The measureable outcomes include increased productivity, performance, profitability, sustainability and of course passion, which are all crucial components of a successful business strategy. So when you look at public speaking like that, sounds like a fear worth conquering doesn’t it?

Conquering your fear

For some who’ve conquered their nerves, the biggest issue could be that they’re unsure on what to speak about in the first place! The stage isn’t only reserved for motivational speakers, so no matter what your background is you can always draw on something that demonstrates your expertise. When choosing a topic on which to speak, it is advised to make this quite specific. You’re competing with your audience’s busy minds and waning attention spans, so the words you speak must make an impact. Examples of how to take a broad category and streamline into a niche topic include a naturopath talking about natural ways to beat the winter coughs and colds, an accountant who can share tips on how to optimise your tax return or an HR manager who could talk about ways to motivate and retain the best staff. You get the gist, there’s a topic for everyone out there.

So you’ve defeated your nerves and you know what you’re going to talk about, next all you need is an audience. Networking events and business groups such as your local chamber of commerce regularly host events which feature a guest speaker and are a great way to cut your teeth as well as connect with your community. Do your research and by simply offering yourself as a free guest presenter you will soon find your diary full.

Mastering the art

As a professional speaker trainer and after delivering more than 500 presentations myself, I’ve discovered that the methods for being an effective public speaker are the same for someone presenting to a stadium of people as they are for a boardroom of people. Here are my top tips for mastering the art of public speaking:

  • Know your audience: Before any presentation, identify the unique needs of your listeners so you can tailor your message specifically to them. What are their buying habits, their hobbies, their likes and dislikes? Of most importance, what are their biggest hurdles in business?
  • Get real: Don’t just pretend to understand what your listeners want, understand why. Being genuine and real in your presentation is even more important than its content and will see you win time and time again. Shed your own layers and share your own personal story.  Being relatable makes you likeable and from that connection you’ll have confirmed customers.
  • Make a connection: Work with your listeners. Build a bond and form trust. Make sure they know you ‘see’ them and that you ‘get’ them. It’s imperative for you to speak their language and approach them as an understanding member of that group, not an outsider.
  • Tell the truth: Speak your truth! This will make your relationships stronger and your message more potent once it is understood that what you have to say (even the bad stuff) is authentic and congruent.
  • Tell a story: Top presenters know and understand that to get their message across to their audience their story must be relevant, get the audience engaged and contain a message that urges action. Adding stories to your presentation avoids monotony, the number one audience killer! Decide on the message you want your audience to connect to and use a story (personal or otherwise) that connects with that message. Always finish your story on a high and filled with the emotion that you wish them to act on.
  • Opening and closing:  Your success as a speaker will largely depend on the impact of your opening and closing statements. Your opening is the first and most important opportunity to gain rapport and trust with your audience. Include things like questions, metaphors and compliments that connect with your content. A good closing should link back to your opening statement and can include things like a call to action, quotations or an emotional climax.

And lastly practice, practice, practice! Practice in front of a mirror. Practice using your friends/dogs/children as an audience. Practice in the shower if you like, because the more times you can go over your content and get clear on it from every angle, the more ready you will be to face your audience.

Your ability to communicate your message, yourself and your value is one of the greatest assets that you can possess. Learning to be authentic, credible and at ease in front of an audience large or small is a vital component of a marketing strategy ensuring long term relationships, niche communication and extraordinary results.

In business, your ability to be authentic in your communication can be your most valuable tool and will keep your customers returning. Exceptional presentation and speaking skills are your number one asset when it comes to obtaining a competitive edge in today’s economy. You’ll be certain to stand out from the crowd, with strategies developed that influence attitudes and outcomes while creating profitability and increased market share.

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Carren Smith

Carren Smith

Carren Smith is CEO of the Quantum Leadership Group and founder of The Art of Public Speaking coaching and seminar series.

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