Speaking in public is one of those things that make even the strongest weak at the knees. Even after years of experience, I still get nervous when speaking in front of a group of people. Yet, despite our fears, speaking to groups is a great way to raise your profile.
In a survey of hiring managers, the number one skill they’re looking for in prospective employees is oral communication. So not only is it necessary to for work, but it’s a skill that can help you advance in your professional or academic career. Finding opportunities to speak to audiences on your areas of knowledge, interest, and expertise will allow you to gain speaking experience and get noticed.
First, you need to find opportunities to speak or present. Here are some options:
- Staff Luncheons
- Professional Association Events
- Class presentations
- Community or Church Events
- Local schools and community centers
Whichever the event, these opportunities will help you develop as a speaker and give more people the opportunity to know who you are and what you can do.
What can you talk about? Typically, we know much more than we think we do, so remember you have a lot to offer. Here are some ideas to get you started:
Travel, study abroad, volunteering, getting into or succeeding in college/university, navigating high school, computers and the use of social media, and anything related to your professional work or academic training.
Terrified? Unsure? Here are some basics for any public speaking you may be doing.
1. Be prepared!
It is essential to your credibility that you come prepared. Know your topic, plan your presentation, have good notes, speak with confidence making eye contact, speaking clearly with poise.
2. Know your audience!
In order to effectively prepare and present, it is key to know the demographics and size of your group. Once you have that information you can ensure a presentation which is appropriate for group. Make sure you’re providing information at the appropriate level and in a way in which is a fit for the group. When possible, gather as much information about the audience as you can from your point of contact. If time and resources allow, send out a quick survey or poll to the audience to assess their knowledge and needs around the topic.
3. Be yourself!
It is essential that your audience meets the “real” you, and not some manufactured version of who you think they want to see. They want to see you, so be yourself. If you’re someone who gets nervous, then practice is going to be your best friend. The more prepared you are, the more confidence you will have. You also want to have a conversational tone, using stress and intonation as you would when you speak to anyone. It’s hard to be natural when you’re nervous, but that’s where the preparation helps.
A little nervousness is good; however, if your fear affects the quality of your presentation then you should apply some fear reducing strategies:
Rehearse, Rehearse, Rehearse:Practice in front of the mirror, a pet, or friend. Going through your speech from beginning to end will make you feel more secure once you’re standing in front of people. It is also good to get feedback from a friend about what you’re sharing, and what can be added or taken out.
Visualization: If you can see yourself succeeding, you will! However, the same goes for failing so it’s important to take the time to create a positive image and self talk in your head. You should begin this process from the moment of preparation all the way through the delivery.
Breath, Breath, Breath: Fear begets fear! Typical symptoms of fear include sweating, heat rush, turning red, and voice shaking. If you’ve experienced these symptoms before, you know it can stick with you, only making you more nervous the next time. It’s important to know that these symptoms are common, and a normal physiological response to fear, its flight or fight. One of the best ways to reduce the symptoms of adrenaline is breathing. Next time, take a few deep breaths as you approach the front of the room, then another as you face your audience, and following your opening statement. If you stumble over your words or get lost, DON’T apologize, just take a deep breath, remain poised and composed, and carry on.
Don’t allow fear to get in the way of your success. Public Speaking is something which requires practice and preparation, and when done well, it can raise your profile and get you closer to your goals.