“Speech is power: speech is to persuade, to convert, to compel.” — Ralph Waldo Emerson
Over the past years I have worked hard to improve my public speaking skills and I’ve given keynote speeches at a number of different conferences and events across Europe, where I try to share my story, my ideas and bring across my message.
When I first started as a trainer at Growth Tribe, I was thrust into a situation where I had to stand in front of complete strangers multiple times a week and talk about all sorts of topics related to growth and marketing. Even though I’d always felt relatively comfortable speaking in public, Growth Tribe gave me the chance to practice my public speaking skills, while providing the comfort of being backed up with well-thought out content that I had rehearsed. Later, when I began to speak on large stages under my own name, I realised how different teaching was to public speaking and how much the experience could differ depending on the venue, the audience, your goals and the format.
Public speaking can be very daunting for a lot of people, especially ones who are not big talkers as I am. Still, even if you are nervous about speaking in public, it often isn’t as difficult as you may think and if you do want to improve your speaking skills, there are some great and easy tips that can help you get started and develop into a great speaker.
I’ve repeatedly found that public speaking is an incredibly important skill to have, even if you don’t want to speak in public. Being able to comfortably and confidently tell stories in various contexts can be really helpful in both your personal and professional life. If you do want to give talks, it’s a great way to reach larger numbers of new people and to connect with them more directly than you ever would on social media. But even if you don’t want to speak publicly, speaking well can be a powerful attribute, whether you’re pitching an idea to an investor, presenting yourself at a job interview or simply trying to convince your friends about a point of view. Understanding how people take in information and how to reach them properly can be incredibly helpful in many aspects of life.
Here are 5 things to consider if you want to improve your public speaking skills:
1. Confidence is important, but being genuine is crucial
There is no doubt that being confident makes a huge difference when speaking publicly. It allows you to keep your cool and focus on your delivery to sound as convincing as possible. Contrary to what a lot of people might think, confidence is definitely something that can be practiced and learnt, usually by starting small and working your way up. If you want to become a public speaker, try joining a speaking or toastmasters club. Start with small audiences, or even your friends, and from there on work on pushing the limits of your comfort zone. Everything is scary the first time you do it and becomes easier with repetition.
Whilst confidence is important and in many ways even necessary for being a great speaker, the most important thing is to be authentic. There are many public speakers who seem very confident but sound scripted, which never lands as well with an audience. Being genuine is the most important thing. I have often seen people attempting public speaking for the first time and acknowledging their nervousness in front of a crowd of 300, garnering a bunch of respect for their honesty and making the experience a lot easier for them.
The secret to becoming a good public speaker is basically becoming confident enough to be yourself in front of a crowd.
2. Understand your audience
As with anything in business (and life!) it is important to understand your audience when you are speaking publicly. You need to know their level of understanding, both in terms of language and the subject matter. The nature of your audience is important for gaging the right speed, pauses, context and emphases.
More importantly, understanding your audience allows you to create a talk that has a high level of relevance. One of the things that bothers me a lot about many of the famous speakers in my field is that they use the same content over and over again, even for completely different audiences.
Being a good public speaker is not just about speaking well, but about talking about things that people want to hear about. Creating as much value through the most insightful content should always be the number one goal of any public speaker.
3. Don’t take yourself too seriously
Standing on stage in front of a room full of people who are tentatively listening to you as you gesticulate from your pedestal can definitely tickle your ego. There are a lot of public speakers where you can see that they are on one big ego trip, usually because they tend to take themselves very seriously. It’s good to be serious about what you love, but no matter how smart or experienced you are or how serious the topic is, there should always be room to be lighthearted and make your audience feel at ease. After all, public speaking is just another form of human interaction and should be treated as such. In my experience, amusing speakers are always received better than overly serious ones.
One trick that I have always found to be useful is to try and make the audience laugh very early on in the talk. Even if you or the audience has a very particular sense of humour and your joke might backfire (and it’s happened to me a number of times), it’s a great way to create a real human connection with the people in the room. Getting your audience to laugh makes it feel less like you’re some self-absorbed ‘expert’ in the spotlight and more like you’re just another peer who happens to be speaking on stage to share some ideas. You generally want to avoid sounding like you are lecturing the crowd.
4. Less is more
It is absolutely normal for you to have a lot to say and it is very common to see public speakers who have a lot of slides crowded with tons of information. But it is important to understand the average attention span of your audience and present accordingly.
If you take a page out of politicians’ books, you will notice that they very often take complex concepts, define their core message and attempt to find the most simple way to convey that message. If you want to go very in-depth you can always write an article or a book or invite audience members to join you for an in-depth conversation afterwards, but if you’re standing on stage and you only have 20 or 30 minutes to talk, make sure you are delivering your core message as efficiently as possible. Defining your core message is important and depends largely on what your goal is with the talk.
When I use a slide deck, I try to follow the rule of only having one message per slide and I try to have as few slides as possible. Slides are always nice, but they can also detract from what you’re saying, especially when people are trying to read while you speak.
5. Be unique
I like to think that if you want to create value in content, you can either be a genius or you can be original; not that the two are mutually exclusive. For example, the reason people read my blog it is not because I do the most in-depth research or have the most brilliant ideas. It’s because I write about the challenges I face and the experiences I have during that week or month. By talking about my own experience and learnings, I can ensure a certain degree of uniqueness, even if I borrow ideas and learn from other people.
The same goes for public speaking. In most fields, you will find that many people are saying pretty much the same stuff in different ways. If you’re on stage, then you must have something to say. What unique point of view or experience do you bring to the table? Find a niche within your field, something that you are uniquely positioned to talk about. Being unique is important if you want to stand out.
There are definitely more practical tips to help you speak efficiently, from posture to intonation, but I have found that there are many public speakers who do not follow any of the best practices and still deliver amazing talks. If you are authentic, genuine, unique and relatable you can be a successful public speaker.