But let's face it: A lot of jobs require you to come to the front of the class. When the spotlight's on you, that's your biggest opportunity to make an impression and advance your career.
Content Is Key
I was fortunate to learn the secrets of public speaking very early in my sales career. I had to think on my feet when customers asked questions I wasn't expecting or situations popped up that weren't covered in the script. The more I developed my communication skills, the more I sold.
I still worry about the mechanics of my presentations (timing, emphasis, tonality), but not in an "Oh my God, I'd better be impressive ... or else!" way. Now, I focus more on the content. As long as I have great words on paper, I find I can knock most speeches out of the park even if I'm lacking in theatrics. Keep in mind: Even a pyrotechnics show can't save a speech created from subpar content.
Here's a perfect example of "content is king." Theta Spring, an organization that specializes in conscious perspective shifts through hypnosis, published a case study about an undergraduate student, David, who suffered from an extreme fear of public speaking. David often stumbled during presentations, which led to a feeling of incompetence that threatened his academic career.
During hypnosis, David was asked to concentrate on the value of the content he needed to deliver. Focusing on the value of his message helped him overcome the anxiety he felt about his next presentation. When the time came, David overcame his fear, took the stage and delivered one of the most impactful speeches of the entire conference.
5 Steps to a Killer Speech
Part of David's success stemmed from his knowledge of how to create content for a great speech. If you're not familiar with that process, use these steps to elevate your presentations:
1. Start with a story.
The most important element of a speech is an interesting hook. Whether it's a story or just a well-thought-out opening line, your first words must command your audience's attention. I once started a talk by saying, "If only the light bulb hadn't burned out, I'd still be alive today." The story was about a plane crash that killed 287 people because they didn't realize the altitude light had burned out. That line hooked the audience from the moment I started speaking.
2. Keep it flexible.
When I first began selling, I stuck to the script I was given word-for-word. I soon realized flexibility was more important. Depending on the situation, prepare to be less formal or more formal in your speech. Research your audience so you know your listeners' concerns and can address them when they come up. Most importantly, leave them with a conclusion they'll remember long after you've stopped talking.
3. Just write the outline.
If your speech is especially great, you might get away with just reading it, pausing and adjusting your inflection when necessary. Most of the time, however, you'll do better if you're actually speaking to your audience. Instead of writing out every word, create an outline to remind you of what information to deliver at what point. You'll speak more naturally as you move from one point to the next.
4. Don't emulate anyone else.
In public speaking, imitation isn't flattery. It's failure. Your confidence shouldn't come from being like anyone else - your personality is your biggest asset. Great public speaking means connecting with your audience. Talk about your connection to the subject matter, ask the audience pertinent questions and don't be afraid to slip up now and then. It can humanize you.
5. Say it aloud to yourself.
No matter how well you prepare, you'll always be afraid to speak about something if the first time you give the speech is in public. That also makes it harder to speak naturally and respond to your audience fluidly. Rehearse your speech in front of a mirror, in front of loved ones and even a pet. There's a reason my dog, Rue, knows every word to all of my public speeches.
I was lucky that my early career in sales automatically taught me what I needed to know about being a good public speaker, a skill that has helped me throughout my career. If your job requires public speaking, use these tips to learn those same lessons the easy way.