Public speaking is an essential talent for building your business and advancing your career. Unfortunately, this activity ranks high on the list of people’s fears–right up there with tall buildings and handling snakes. But avoiding public speaking leads to a lot of missed opportunities.
The first thing to realize is that the nervousness most of us feel when speaking in front of an audience is perfectly normal. It is our body’s natural “fight-or-flight” response kicking in. Adrenaline is coursing through our veins and manifests itself in the form of a dry mouth, sweaty palms, or flushed cheeks.
I am frequently called upon to make presentations on business and legal issues. I’ve been public speaking professionally for more than 10 years, and I can tell you that the nervousness never truly goes away. It’s what one does with the nervousness that makes all the difference. My method is called the “Three Ps:”
1) Take a Position. Your speech should have a defined purpose. Are you attempting to persuade another to be your client or to hire you as an employee? Also, consider your audience. Are they on your side, or is your thought or idea in the minority? It’s much easier to preach to the choir. Being the odd person out might take a little more preparation and practice. Also, organize the speech so that the audience can follow along in their minds. Set the tone of the speech with a great introduction. Signal when you are moving from one topic to the next within the body of the speech. And knock it out of the park with a conclusion that leaves them wanting more. Good organization can reduce nervousness.
2) Practice like crazy. There is no better way to ensure that you are fully prepared to speak than to practice. There is no substitute. Consider videotaping your practice sessions and honestly critique your performance before actually delivering it to an audience. Rehearsing what you will say is the best way to deal with nerves and give off a polished impression.
3) Deliver the message with Passion. Use eye contact and gestures and speak with conviction. Your body language may be more convincing than the words you speak. Believe it or not, maintaining eye contact with your audience actually reduces nervousness! One more thing: for goodness sake, don’t forget to breathe! Breathing is good before, during, and after the speech.
Lastly, a word about visual aids. Transparencies, models, videos, and electronic presentations (like PowerPoint) are exceptional learning tools if used correctly. Unfortunately, they can be tricky to use and can be prone to technical issues. Murphy’s Law applies. Practice using the visual aid device so that you are comfortable with it. Don’t wait until the presentation to iron out any technical issues. Be sure to call ahead and make sure the venue has what you need and has someone to call upon should you run into problems.
Communicating with confidence will give you a distinct advantage over your competition. The skills are not easily acquired, but the benefits can be enormous. We all get nervous in front of a crowd. It is up to you to decide what you will do with that nervousness.
Donald R. Simon, J.D./LL.M., is president and CEO of Simon Business Consulting, Inc., a firm providing consulting services such as business and marketing plan development, media representation, and presentations on the basics of starting a small business. Send questions or comments to firstname.lastname@example.org. This blog is provided as a source of information and is not to be construed as legal advice or opinion, or to form an attorney-client relationship. For legal advice, please consult an attorney.