Public speaking is often associated with a kind of grandiosity, as if you need to be a guest of honor at a formal event, to employ what we think of as “public speaking skills.” In reality, though, public speaking skills are used all the time, in multiple contexts. As an entrepreneur, you’ll be tapping into many of those contexts.
For example, you’ll be giving presentations to potential investors and clients. You’ll be doling out numbers and giving updates to your team. You might even be an interviewee in the media or a speaker for a major event. Whether you plan on speaking publicly on a regular basis or not, you’ll need to prepare yourself to speak as an entrepreneur, using these seven important public speaking fundamentals:
1. Look the part.
If you want to make a powerful first impression as a speaker in any situation, you have to look good. That means: Dress up and look sharp. Additionally, you’ll have to retain good posture throughout the presentatio -- not only does the right body language make you appear more confident, it also helps you control your breathing patterns. By a similar token, excessive fidgeting or other signs of nervousness should be avoided. Confidence can take you a long way toward achieving a successful speech.
2. Pace yourself.
Due to a combination of nerves and the persistent illusion that you’re speaking more slowly than you actually are, many novice public speakers end up rushing their presentations.
Not only does this compromise your audience’s ability to hear and retain everything you’re saying, it also makes you appear less confident. Instead, pace yourself. Speak at a pace that’s slower than you think is appropriate, and articulate each of your words individually. This technique will lend you power and make you seem to be more in control.
3. Avoid 'filler 'words.
This is an incredibly hard habit to break. Most of us are used to peppering our speech with short filler words like “uh,” “um” and “ah.” Filler words, in fact, are an easier solution than letting a silence persist, and so they've become a cultural norm. However, filler words also sound unprofessional, and during a speech, your audience’s awareness of their presence will become amplified.
So, eliminate them by becoming hyper-conscious of their use, and by deliberately programming silences and transitions into your presentation. You can practice this in everyday life by simply avoiding filler words in normal conversation. If you can get rid of this habit in your personal life, you shouldn’t have to worry about it cropping up in your professional one.
4. Look your audience members in the eye.
This is a powerful technique that shows your confidence. Though it may seem intimidating at first, give it a try. As you speak, try to look various members of your audience directly in the eye, one by one. This practice will slowly give you a feeling of control over the room, and each participant you lock eyes with will feel instantly more engaged with your material.
5. Engage your audience.
Don’t just talk at your audience; find ways to get them actively engaged with your material. If you’re a showman (or woman), ask for a volunteer from the audience to help you demonstrate a point. If you prefer more passive audience participation, request a round of applause or a show of hands to demonstrate your audience's collective opinion.
Less intense would be to ask audience members to visualize a point you're making, or ask them an open-ended hypothetical question. Humor is a fantastic way to keep audience members' attention, as is storytelling. Just keep them fixated on your presentation however you can.
6. Use your gestures to your advantage.
Some hand gestures carry powerful connotations that can lend themselves to your overall presentation. For example, exposing your palms in a controlled, deliberate way during a key point emphasizes that point, and using a semi-raised fist indicates excitement, power and control. Speakers who gesticulate deliberately are generally seen as more powerful and persuasive --just don’t go overboard.
7. Practice -- but don’t memorize.
Finally, practice your speech before you give it in a live setting. This will help you memorize your key points, address any challenges proactively and give you more confidence and verbal control. However, don’t over-rehearse your speech; if you do, you might end up sounding robotic or otherwise unnatural to your audience.
WaitbutWhy.com’s Tim Urban wrote an excellent post about how to prepare for a speech, detailing the various levels of memorization, and how too much of it can actually be a bad thing.
These fundamentals should get you to the minimum threshold of successful public speaking, but there’s always more to learn. Commit to practicing these fundamentals, and building on them with even higher-level tips and practices as you gain maturity in your role.
The more you dedicate yourself to public speaking, the more confident and articulate you’ll be; and that reputation will follow you even after you reach your startup goals. For more help perfecting career-advancing skills, see Climbing the Corporate Ladder: Career Hacks for Modern Professionals.