Monday, March 11, 2013

Public Speaking: A True Super Power

All right, so being able to speak in public may not seem to be as 'cool' as being able to leap over tall buildings in a single bound, lifting a train or having x-ray vision but, really, how often do you need any of those skills in your current job?  The ability to speak in public though... that comes up all the time!

It doesn't matter what your role, the responsibilities, the level, the market, or the organization, being able to speak effectively in public settings will serve you well every time.  In the world of work, of both today and tomorrow, learning the skills to communicate with others clearly, concisely and effectively are non-negotiable.  In order to get ahead in your chosen profession, you will be unable to take your career as far if you are not able to share your thoughts and ideas in front of a group.

According to research conducted by the Harvard Business Review, the number one skill that can rocket you to the top of your profession is the ability to speak professionally and persuasively, especially to groups. Public speaking was number one!  Further research has shown that because so many of us actually fear speaking in front of others, we tend to admire those that do it well. Additionally, we tend to ascribe other positive traits to them as well, simply because they can speak well in public.  We will assume that they are more intelligent, credible and we often begin to feel they are better looking than we might have otherwise.  Phew!

Public Speaking truly is a Super Power!  There is significant positive fall-out, just through the demonstration of this one skill.  The good news is, of course, that we can all become more effective at speaking in public.  The bad news, for many, is that we all need to.  No exceptions, no excuses!

Here are some quick tips to help you develop your Speaking Super Powers!

  • Practice.  Take as many opportunities as you can to practice speaking in front of people.  When in training sessions volunteer to share the group's discussion results, emcee a friend's wedding, teach a lesson to your church group, join Toastmasters, stand up and deliver short messages to your video camera.  Anything that gets you up and on your feet delivering.  Develop your comfort by strengthening your habits.  Letting your body and mind know they have been there before is one of the easiest ways to develop comfort.  If we've done it before our mind believes we can do it again.  Play off on this by getting in lots of delivery time before it really 'counts'!
  • Breathe.  When we get nervous we tend to breathe more shallowly, preventing us from taking in as much oxygen as we do in a more relaxed state.  This causes our body to go into stress, creating leakage through our body and voice that signals to our audience that we're uncomfortable.  (shaking hands, sweats, squeaking or quavering voice...)  Breathe deeply and through the diaphragm to maintain the body's oxygen level.  If the body doesn't feel stressed it's likely the mind will calm down too.
  • Know Your Stuff.  There is no replacement for not having the content to back you up.  It doesn't matter how good you look up there if you ultimately have nothing to say.  Know your content and what you want to share.  This seems like a no-brainer but you'd be surprised at how many people don't think this through and believe that just 'winging' a presentation will work for them.  Don't memorize your content and don't read it, KNOW it.  Know the key points and simply walk through them, one by one.  
  • How do you want your audience to feel?  Don't just focus on the content of your message.  I know that everyone says content is king, but they are really referring to fact that you have to 'have' content.  To sell it you have to move your audience.  They will remember how you made them feel, long after they have forgotten what it was that you said.  Moving them is memorable.  
  • Practice.  Yep, I said this before but... I'm saying it again because you need to do it again. Walking through your content once won't cut it.  Stand up and say it again and then again.  You have to practice it until it feels comfortable to you.  Your speech should fit you like your favourite pair of jeans.  That's the point where you can now begin to stretch beyond it to really reach not just the minds of your audience but their hearts.  If the fit is stiff, the delivery will be stiff. 
Oh, and, one final thought... practice it again!

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