You had great intentions, but your 2023 vow to enhance your public speaking skills has already fallen from your resolutions list. Did the sprinkling of New Year’s Eve confetti not magically turn you into a modern-day Abraham Lincoln? Or did the effort seem too daunting to begin? Here are five tips for strengthening your public speaking skills before the glow of the new year fades.
1. Talk to yourself
If you’re hesitant to speak publicly, try conversing with yourself first. You need to get used to the sound of your own voice. Trying talking to yourself while looking in the bathroom mirror — go ahead and run the shower if you don’t want anyone to hear you. You don’t have to say anything important. It can be as mundane as telling yourself what you plan to do for the day: “I will wake up at 6 a.m. and turn off the alarm. I will check messages on my phone and then head to the sink to wash my face with the new soap I bought …”
The point is to speak aloud and observe yourself doing it.
It’s too easy to get your voice trapped in your mind. A shy, quiet friend of mine had to deliver performance goals to her management team. In her mind, she reviewed the data and knew what she wanted to present. When the presentation day came, her voice was shaky and her lack of confidence was evident. Despite knowing the subject matter, she never spoke the words aloud to actually hear her voice and understand how it might be perceived. She should have listened to herself speak first.
2. Grab a friend
Once you become comfortable speaking before an audience of one, it’s time to expand your viewers. Will your spouse, colleague or friend listen to you read from a page in a book or practice a full presentation? Sometimes it’s more comfortable, and less personal, to try this exercise with someone you don’t know well.
I like to try out new speeches by giving them to someone who knows little to nothing about the subject. It helps me focus on the clarity of the speech rather than the content. While a phrase might look good on paper, sometimes it doesn’t translate when spoken aloud. Repeat a section several times until it actually makes sense to you and to those listening.
To become a better speaker, it’s essential to listen more intently to others. Listen to how your friends and colleagues speak. Do they stammer over certain words? Do they say “um” or “you know” or use other distracting filler words? Do they sometimes sound like they have no idea what they’re talking about? Yes, of course!
You probably haven’t noticed because you’re too worried with your own speech insecurities.
Listen for those speech qualities you most admire and aim to emulate them. Good public speakers often have knowledge, passion and confidence in the matter they discuss — even if they aren’t “perfect” speakers.
4. Be vulnerable
To face your public speaking fears, you might try admitting them to your audience. This may put everyone — including yourself — at ease. Endear yourself to your listeners by telling them a little about yourself.
You may have an experience to share that is relevant to your speech. If you give a talk on retail shopping analytics, begin by telling the audience about your early years of professional gift-wrapping experience at the mall. If you speak on time management techniques, explain how being a parent has helped you learn these skills.
A note of caution, however: Do not overshare or try to be someone you’re not. If your time management skills are derived from shuttling pre-teens between two households, the audience does not need to hear the reasons behind your divorce too.
5. Invest in yourself
When you speak, remember someone is invested in you and what you plan to say. People listen to others speak for a variety of reasons. Some want to learn about the subject matter, some listen to have their own opinions validated, a few want to network with others and some may have only heard your name but think you may be interesting.
I’ve attended plenty of talks where I just wanted to hear what an obscure CEO of a new technology start-up was working on, or to understand what an up-and-coming artist was thinking in creating a sculpture. Of course, there are other people who merely come for the free reception to follow.
Every word you utter may not be golden, but the audience is invested in what you have to say. Take the time to practice these tips to provide them — and you — a greater rate of return.
Robin Stombler is President of Auburn Health Strategies, a strategic and business development firm for health and science organizations. This excerpt is from her new book, “Wear A Killer Outfit – And Other Advice for Speaking Publicly.” Details on the book may be found at www.wear-a-killer-outfit.com.
Opinions expressed by SmartBrief contributors are their own.