Do You Hate Public Speaking? Do These 7 Things

Public speaking has always been an important skill for executives, but in the past few years it has become even more crucial.

In large part, that's because of the rise of video. Since video is now easy to pass around and access, a recording of a presentation is a viable alternative to written communication. Streaming is also making live video more accessible to more audiences.

The rewards of public speaking--both career-wise and personally--are even greater, however, if you can use public speaking to help find your voice. It is entirely possible to maintain your individuality while giving an effective talk.

Here are seven ways to be clear and persuasive, while not sounding like everybody else:

1. Tailor the talk to your audience.

Sometimes you don't know who will be in the audience, but often you will have a good idea. I've seen talks go awry because the talk is too basic and the audience is too sophisticated. Naturally, they're going to get bored and that's the last thing you want your audience to feel.

Knowing the composition of the audience will help you tailor the talk to ensure it's relevant.

2. Make eye contact with the audience.

This is standard advice for public speaking, but it's still hard for many people to do, especially when, say, one person yawning during your talk can break your concentration.

The goal is to connect and engage with the audience and you do so with your eyes, not your words.

3. Prepare, prepare, prepare.

The idea is not to come off scripted. If you spend a long time going over your talk beforehand, it should become second nature to you and it should come off naturally.

Practice your talk out loud. Practice in front of a mirror out loud! Reading alone is not practice. Thinking about your talk is not practice. The only way to be ready to give an authentic talk is to practice it, many times if you must, before you go on stage. This will avoid a situation in which you appear nervous because you don't know what you're going to say next or you're struggling to remember it.

Even if you consider yourself an improv genius, don't try to wing it. Instead, just make it seem like you're winging it.

4. Walk and talk.

Yes, this is a trope of the TED talk, but the reality is there's really no alternative. If you hug the podium, it's going to bore the audience, in part because they expect you to be strolling around the stage.

Sometimes this isn't an option because there's only a stationary microphone. Find out beforehand if this is the case and see if it's possible to replace it with a clip-on mike.

Just avoid overdoing it. If you are pacing back and forth across the stage without purpose, that alone is distracting. The key is to walk during a natural pause in your talk or take only a few steps while speaking. The steps should be slow and controlled, not rushed.

5. Use hand gestures sparingly.

Hand gestures help to make your talk more engaging and can punctuate your speech, but don't copy the TED speakers and their tendency to overuse hand gestures (well-parodied in this video.)

Instead, think about the hand gestures you tend to use and try to focus or narrow down on a few key gestures you can use for impact when you're speaking.

6. Use visuals with little or no text.

I'm not a fan of Power Points with a lot of text when someone is speaking. Visual aids should be just that--visual, not textual. And, visuals should be used sparingly to emphasize a point, not undermine what you're saying.

People can't read and listen to you at the same time, so try to use little or no text in visuals. It can take a lot of time to find just the perfect image that captures what you're saying. It's worth the time if you can do it right, though. The right image can drive a point home and make it memorable.

If you can't find the right images, consider going without them.

7. Avoid distracting clothing.

People will be looking at nothing but you for a longish period of time. If you're wearing something they think is odd, it's going to distract them.

The exception is if it's part of your signature look. If you always wear hot pink Chuck Taylors, then wear them for your talk, too. Otherwise, avoid noisy prints, colors that are too loud or anything too revealing.

The focus should be on your message, not on your clothing.

Take a deep breath and relax!

I've been public speaking for nearly three decades now. Many of these points are second nature. If you're only starting out or brushing up after being rusty for a while, remember the best thing you can do for yourself is to relax before you step up to speak. Nervous energy can be evident in the voice, facial expressions and body language.

Do yourself a favor and carve out 5 minutes before the talk begins. In that five minutes first, take 10 long, slow deep breaths, then, psyche yourself up with 10 positive affirmations.

After that, you'll walk in confident and relaxed - ready to win over your audience!

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