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The Complete, 20-Step Guide to Ace Public Speaking Public speaking is a valuable skill for entrepreneurs as it can help them effectively communicate their ideas, build credibility and trust with potential investors, partners, and customers, and ultimately grow their businesses. Strong public speaking skills can also enhance an entrepreneur's leadership abilities and overall professional development

By Christopher Massimine

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Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

When I was running professional theatrical organizations, public speaking was a huge part of my job. I would be tasked with delivering speeches at various events and to multiple audiences on different topics. Most of the time, I was comfortable giving these talks. I became used to the expectation that I had to deliver information in a clear, articulate way and use my theatrical background to add impact and emotion to my words where necessary.

Now and then, I would get hit with a case of stage fright. Even though I had delivered countless speeches before, something about standing up in front of strangers made me nervous — my palms would start to sweat, and my heart would race.

But when this happened, I always remembered one thing: When it comes to public speaking, it's essential not to be too hard on yourself. Instead of dwelling on potential mistakes or missteps, focus on connecting with your audience and delivering the message you set out to give. After all, if you can relate to them and make an impact through your words, that's what matters most.

While some people are natural-born communicators, others may need to put in a bit more work to hone their skills. If you fall into the latter category, don't worry — with a bit of practice and guidance, you can ace public speaking!

This comprehensive step-by-step guide will show you exactly how to do it. So whether you're starting from scratch or just looking to brush up on your existing skills, read on for everything you need to know about how to ace public speaking.

Related: 10 Tips to Beat Your Fear of Public Speaking

What is public speaking, and why is it important?

Topping the list of worldwide phobias is public speaking anxiety, also known as Glossophobia, impacting somewhere between 73%-77% of the population.

Public speaking is the ability to intelligently communicate an idea, product or service that resonates with audiences and inspires and motivates them to take action.

It can be an invaluable skill that helps you succeed professionally and personally. Studies show that people who are confident speakers are more likely to get a job, earn higher salaries and have better relationships with their peers. Data suggests that communication skills are becoming increasingly important in today's workplace:

  • According to the US Department of Labor, 75.3% of workers are required to communicate with the general public; this includes making presentations and delivering public speeches.
  • According to a Prezi survey, 70% of Americans who give presentations agree that presentation skills are vital to success.
  • A survey by Gallup found that 60% of respondents believe public speaking is the most essential skill for success in their field.

Being successful is all about connecting with people, and public speaking is one of the central tools you need to make those connections. You can share your vision for your business, network with potential investors or partners and win over your audience with compelling stories — but only if you can speak confidently in front of others. With the right tools and guidance, successful public speaking can become second nature and open up s many possibilities.

While it's natural to be intimidated by stepping onto the stage, with the proper preparation and guidance, you'll have the skills necessary to speak up and stand out!

Related: 5 Insider Tips for Improving Your Confidence as a Public Speaker

1. Understand your audience

It's important to know what makes your audience tick. You must be aware of their interests and passions — this will help inform how you speak and allow you to demonstrate a genuine interest in the topic and how it relates to their lives.

Knowing their background, struggles, goals and values allows you to craft messages that captivate your audience, leaving an impactful impression.

2. Define your goal

Knowing precisely what you want to achieve before giving a public speaking engagement can help shape your presentation's overall direction and flow. You'll likely have complex goals, so it pays to take a deeper dive into what you hope to accomplish with your engagement.

Defining your goal upfront — whether touting a new product or inspiring potential investors – will inform other aspects of the speech, such as the content, tone and structure. Ultimately, defining your goal ahead of time allows you to give a practical and concise talk that will leave listeners eager to hear more from you.

3. Research your topic

Whether you're aiming to make a keynote speech or simply presenting your business plan, research is essential to ensure you can convey meaningful information and connection in an engaging way effectively. For public speaking success, it's essential to be well informed on the topic, as it will serve as a foundation for your presentation.

Gathering relevant details enhances your confidence and helps you solidify valuable relationships with your audience. Speakers who take adequate time to research their topic reported higher confidence when delivering their speeches.

As entrepreneurs, we can draw from our own experiences and prepare supplementary resources that can be used as case studies and more.

4. Write an outline (start thinking about visuals)

You'll want to ensure you're speech will be concise, coherent and well-structured. Writing an outline is precisely where you need to start before diving into the script itself. When outlining your talk, break it down into manageable sections so you feel prepared and confident. Spend time researching each point and the supporting materials that will bring your points alive.

Write out a few central talking points for each section. This allows you to refer back to them as needed during the presentation. The outline aims to equip you with enough knowledge so you not only sound conversant on your topic but impress and engage with the audience.

You'll also want to be sure to denote when and where you'll be using visuals within your presentation. According to research, incorporating powerful visuals increases retention rates 6x more than words alone. Moreover, three days following a presentation, 60% of an audience can recall the visuals.

Taking the time to write a comprehensive outline is one of the most ignored elements of successful public speaking for entrepreneurs, but if you break down the process into easily achievable goals, writing the script will be much more powerful, and your anxiety levels will be much lower!

5. Draft a script (open with a relevant story)

Storytelling is a great way to capture your audience's attention. Relevant narratives can help paint a vivid picture of what you are trying to convey, making it easier for everyone to understand.

Consider sprinkling in metaphors, analogies, similes and rhetorical questions within your script. These words will provide a breath of fresh air as they break up the monotony and allow you to express your message in more creative ways that keep it exciting and engaging.

All these literary techniques have proven successful in inspiring audiences and providing them with valuable insights, so take advantage of them!

Related: 3 Timeless Elements of Storytelling That Will Grow Your Business

6. Practice reading the script out loud

As entrepreneurs, it's crucial to be able to use public speaking to advocate for your business goals effectively. A successful and engaging presentation requires practicing with a script beforehand.

A report from the BBC has revealed reading out loud taps into the "production effect," which uncovers any flaws or mispronunciations while improving comprehension. In addition, doing so gives you a chance to get comfortable with the talking points and become proficient in providing powerful and persuasive speeches.

When you practice reading the script, make sure you accentuate key points, pause for emphasis and regulate your breathing to keep a steady pace. This will help project your message more dynamically and give you an air of confidence.

7. Experiment with your voice

As an entrepreneur, one of the essential skills to develop is the ability to confidently and effectively communicate your ideas. With so much riding on you convincing others, investing time in perfecting your public speaking abilities could take you from good to great.

According to Lynn Meade's book Advanced Public Speaking, published by the University of Arkansas, speakers who vary their vocal tones while delivering a speech experience higher engagement from the audience.

Experimenting with your voice will give you the confidence to ensure that your message is not only being heard but being heard clearly and loudly. Having a voice that resonates with authority and clarity sets a positive tone for any presentation and leaves a lasting impression on your audience.

Related: How to Master the Art of Public Speaking, Even If Your Anxiety Is Through the Roof

8. Incorporate hand gestures and choreographed hand motions

When it comes to public speaking, hand gestures and choreographed motions are significant for engaging an audience. Adding that "wow" factor to your presentation can help keep your audience tuned in as you present. That's why entrepreneurs must incorporate hand gestures and choreographed hand motions into their presentations!

Hand motions will help emphasize the intended points of each topic and will help contribute to a more professional tone of voice when you're presenting in front of large groups of people. According to research from UCLA, 7% of the message comes from words, 36% comes from voice, and 57% comes from nonverbal communication.

9. Get live feedback from a small group if possible

For entrepreneurs looking to master the art of public speaking, getting live feedback from a small group can be an invaluable learning experience. Not only will this help you build confidence and hone your presentation, but it can also alleviate some of those infamous pre-speech nerves.

According to a glance test carried out by Durate in 2022, you have 3 seconds to capture an audience, so getting live feedback is paramount to your speech's success.

Whether it's an audience of two or 20, having a real-time response to what you're saying helps create a more natural environment for you and your listeners. So don't be afraid to pipe up — ask some friends to listen in and take note of their suggestions for improvement as you speak!

10. Revise the script

After fine-tuning your public speaking script and delivering it, you undoubtedly will receive feedback from the audience on how to improve it. Revising the script based on this feedback is essential in becoming an effective public speaker.

Take the time to analyze what worked and what didn't, then adjust your speech accordingly. It's essential to be willing to reflect and make the changes necessary for a stronger presentation next time.

11. Memorize your speech (but don't be afraid to go off script)

When it comes to public speaking, memorizing the speech can be a great way to ensure you cover all the points you need. However, it is also essential to be open to going off script and allowing yourself some flexibility while delivering. It might feel intimidating at first, but you can take advantage of unexpected opportunities, such as audience reactions.

This can help keep your speech engaging and ensure your message resonates with the audience. Practicing your speech beforehand will help create a solid foundation and boost your confidence while permitting you to explore different paths.

A study from Kennesaw State University reveals that audience attention levels spike after the presenter talks off-script.

12. Practice often — when you think you're ready, practice again

When it comes to public speaking, practice does make perfect. It takes 27 seconds for a speaker to make their first impression, so being certain you're ready versus feeling you're ready makes a significant difference. Rehearsing a speech can lead to higher engagement levels among audiences, boosting retention rates for important information shared in the presentation.

It's important to carve out time in your schedule to rehearse and hone your skills. This includes both physical preparations of materials and vocal exercises. Presentations don't always come naturally, but with enough dedication, you'll find yourself on the road to success. If you think you're ready to give a speech, try giving it once more before you take the stage.

13. Allow for questions and prepare answers

According to ZoHo, 25% of any presentation should be allocated to a Q&A.

Different audiences can have different questions about a particular topic, so for every presentation given, it's highly advantageous to anticipate potential questions that your audience may ask and come prepared with nuanced answers.

Take the time to brainstorm the top questions related to the content of your presentation, as well as how best to answer those thoughtfully and effectively. Doing this legwork before you present will ensure that you cover all of your bases and situate yourself as an expert in the field you're presenting on.

14. Field questions with a trusted friend/mentor

Practicing your public speaking beforehand is essential when it comes to presenting like a pro. Running through your speech and responses to possible questions is imperative for ensuring your delivery goes smoothly.

Why not give the presentation to someone you trust? Ask for their honest feedback, constructive criticism and input — the more reps in the practice phase, the better equipped you'll be for those real-life talks!

15. Conduct breathing exercises before your speech

Before getting up to present, take a few moments to breathe. Around 75% of people suffer from speech anxiety just before stepping on stage. Deep breaths can help you stay relaxed and warm you up before speaking in front of a room full of people.

Whether you choose to close your eyes and be mindful or do some yoga exercises, these breathing techniques can be an essential part of preparing for public speaking. When it comes to anxiety-inducing tasks like presenting in front of others, established breathing exercises can make all the difference.

16. Present with confidence, but leave arrogance at home

For success as an entrepreneur, you need to be able to deliver a compelling speech that engages the audience. Presenting your ideas with confidence makes you appear more prepared and can help you make the best out of any speaking situation.

With practice and the right tools, presenting with confidence is easily achievable. Yet, while sounding confident is important, it's equally important to leave arrogance at home - an underrated skill that often comes with practice and a dose of humility.

17. Make eye contact and engage

Engaging your audience while you are speaking is essential to public speaking. A fantastic way to do this is to make direct eye contact with different audience members as you deliver your speech. This will capture their attention, allowing them to become invested in what you have to say.

Of course, it can be intimidating to look out into a group of strangers, but that's where introducing humor, dolling out charisma, and keeping your focus on the task at hand can break the ice necessary to keep nerves low and engagement high.

According to research from Corporate Communications Experts, 3 seconds is the "sweet spot" for eye-to-eye engagement.

Related: How to Tell If Someone Is Manipulating You Based on Their Body Language

18. Keep going if you stumble

Public speaking can be stressful, especially for entrepreneurs. Let's be honest: We all experience a few hiccups occasionally. But don't let them trip you up - keep going! If a mistake or slip-up leaves you flustered, take a breath and move on.

So there's no need to apologize. Compose yourself and continue with your presentation. Don't let a misstep or two slow down the momentum of your speech! Fumbles are normal — but they don't have to derail the passion and enthusiasm of your talk.

19. If you go off script, come back to where you left off

Being an entrepreneur is all about being flexible and resilient, which can also be applied to public speaking! Experts agree that going off script establishes rapport with the audience and encourages them to engage with the presenter on a deeper level.

Of course, it's always great to stick to your script for time efficiency, but if you do happen to stray off the path a bit, don't forget to keep track of the time! The last thing you'd want is to lose track of an idea that could've been potentially a room silencer — so jot down any ideas you may have while still under the microscope. Afterward, return to what you discussed before delving into your new concept. This way, your speech or presentation will stay organized and coherent despite occasional variations.

20. Close big and leave them wanting more

As an entrepreneur, perfecting your public speaking skills can be a huge asset. But how do you make sure to finish off with a bang?

A great way to close big is to end your speech with a memorable line that stays in the minds of your audience long after you've left the room. With the proper use of rhetoric and knowing how and when to employ specific tactics such as referencing metaphors, figures of speech, and even humor, you'll have all the tools you need to deliver powerful closing statements every time!

Public speaking is a skill that is often overlooked, but it is crucial for entrepreneurs. By following the above steps, you will be on your way to becoming a public speaking pro in no time! Just remember to be confident (but not arrogant), engage with your audience, and always leave them wanting more.

Chris Massimine is the CEO of Imagine Tomorrow, a firm that shepherds and sources capital for creative works. Massimine is also a business development consultant, an international theatermaker and executive producer of the upcoming film "The Inventor."

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