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Sounding like you mean business, for business

Posted on 30/05/2017 by Rhiannon Smith in whatsnew corporate training public speaking

Our Account Executive and Presentation Skills Trainer Rhiannon Smith discusses the six simple things you can do to instantly improve your public speaking skills.

Our Account Executive and Presentation Skills Trainer Rhiannon Smith discusses the six simple things you can do to instantly improve your public speaking skills.

If you’ve ever thought you would rather die than have to speak in public, then you’re not alone. Public speaking is considered the number one phobia in the world, with 75 per cent of the population ranking it scarier than death.

For many, the mere words bring on nausea and vivid memories of sweaty, clammy hands and a presentation gone horribly wrong. However, regardless of what company you work for, or title you hold, it is a skill that all business professionals need to master in order to form connections, influence decisions and motivate change.  

Not sold? Let’s look back at some of the most iconic speeches of all time

While your presentations may not break down racial barriers or put you on the radar for Prime Minister, they will make you more memorable, help you communicate a clear and concise message and connect with your audience. 

There are six simple things you can do to instantly improve your public speaking skills:

1. Understand your audience

Being a good speaker is all about connecting with your audience and taking them on a journey. Whether you’re giving a presentation to one person, or to an audience of hundreds, the same principle applies. To do this, you need to first understand your audience. Who are they? What do they do? What are they concerned about? What are they motivated by? What don’t they care about? Asking yourself these questions will ensure the content you present is both informative and engaging.  

2. Fake it until you make it

Multiple studies have found that if there’s a conflict between what we say, how we say it and our body language – then people will notice. That’s why it’s so important to ‘fake it until you make it’ when all eyes are on you. Hold your shoulders back, set your feet shoulder width apart, make meaningful eye contact with your audience and most importantly – exude confidence (even if you don’t feel it). Key tip: to build confidence before a presentation, stand in the Power Pose for three minutes to trick your brain into feeling like Wonder Woman or Super Man.

3. Communicate with credibility

Be aware of the pitch, power and pace of your voice. Being a powerful communicator doesn’t mean yelling at your audience. It’s about manipulating pitch, power and pace to emphasise your key messages. Speaking with a high pitch or fast pace will make you appear nervous, when you want to come across as confident and credible.  

4. Be prepared for the Q&A

So many people build time for questions into their presentations but never consider what they will do if someone asks them a question they don’t know how to (or can’t) answer, or if no one asks a question at all. The key is to be prepared. Think about the worst possible question someone could ask you and prepare a response. You can also seed questions in the audience or solicit them in advance to get the ball rolling. If you get a question you cannot answer, you can also rely on a prepared phrase to segue onto a point you need to make, such as ‘I can understand how you might come to that conclusion, but the reality is …’ or ‘I can’t speak to that, but what I can say is …’.  

Key tip: Remember to never lose your ‘cool’ when heckled by an audience member. Always listen to their question, empathise with them, ask questions to clarify the question (if needed), paraphrase the question back and then deliver a succinct, unarguable response.

5. Beware: Death by PowerPoint

If someone were to pick up your PowerPoint from your speech, they shouldn’t be able to deliver your presentation. That’s because you should never put your entire speech on a PowerPoint – otherwise what does the audience need you for? Your PowerPoint should be used as a visual aid to accompany your presentation and give you direction and structure.

Four key tips: (1) keep the number of words to a minimum (preferably no more than four points of five words, but certainly no more than 33 words/slide); (2) build your PowerPoints so that words and images appear as you speak about them. This way the audience can’t read ahead and is more engaged with what you’re saying; (3) never use any effects other than ‘appear’ because these can be distracting; (4) avoid using a laser pointer (if you need to use a laser pointer to highlight something on your PowerPoint, then the text or image is too small).

6. Remember the three P’s

Practise. Practise. Practise. The best way to beat nerves is to be as prepared as possible. It can often help to film yourself giving the presentation and watch it back – first without audio – to review your body language, movements and gestures. The second time, view the video without vision to review your voice modulation, then finally with both audio and vision to review your entire presentation and ascertain whether you come across as confident and engaging.

Contrary to popular belief, public speaking is a learned skill and not an innate talent and investing in this skill will see you reap success in both your personal and professional life.

Cole Lawson offers an intensive, hands-on Presentation Skills Training program which builds confidence in speakers of all experience levels. Teaching you how to speak in prepared and off-the-cuff presentations without using notes, and how to improve your use of gestures, eye contact, body language, voice modulation and stage presence to effectively communicate with and engage audiences.