Your clients are message trained, but are you? 6 tips for public speaking

Whether your audience is a stadium of 10,000, a client over the phone, or colleagues at a team meeting, you need to engage them and make them want to hear what you're saying.

Image via ProjectManhattan / Wikimedia Commons, used under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license; cropped from original.
Image via ProjectManhattan / Wikimedia Commons, used under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license; cropped from original.

We tell our clients about the importance of speaking clearly and having the right energy. But what about you? How do you speak? What’s your energy in a room?

These days, personal interactions are rare. Attention spans are short. You need to make moments count.

Whether your audience is a stadium of 10,000, a client phone call, or a team meeting, you need to engage in a way that makes the audience want to hear what you’re saying – as in look up from their phones and actually hear what you’re saying.

Having confidence not just in your knowledge, but in your delivery, can make all the difference. It’s not a science, but there are a few tips everyone should keep in mind.

Speak simply and use words you’d actually use.
Written language is very different than spoken. Things can work in a memo but don’t work at all when you actually say the words. You may understand what someone’s saying, but some words just aren’t enjoyable to the ear. Would you really say "streamline our communication efforts" if you were talking to a friend?  Avoid acronyms and industry language. Your speech should be so clear that an eight-year-old should understand what you’re saying.

Get them to think.
Today’s audiences are distracted, and you need to work hard to keep them engaged. Use rhetorical questions and phrases that cause your audience to think. Saying phrases like, "Think about the last time you…" or "When was the last time you…?" The audience will follow you when they get to apply their experiences to the process.

Slow down and don’t worry so much.
First of all, you’re a human being. People are forgiving. If you lose your place, don’t panic. Just say, "Ok I got ahead of myself; let me back up." If you lose your place, throw in an easy rhetorical question, or repeat the last thing you said: "I still get excited when I think about this!" or "3 million people – can you believe that?" This buys you time to get back on track. Or just pause. It comes across as thoughtful and lets you catch your breath.

Get personal and share a piece of yourself.
You don’t need to read your journal or talk about therapy. But share pieces of yourself to which people can relate. Integrate pieces of you as a parent, spouse, a New Yorker -- anything that makes the audience say, "Ah, I know what she means." This will help us care about you. And when we like you, we listen.

Tame your nerves.
First of all, being nervous is good. That means you care. But if you think you need a burst of energy before you hit the stage, jump up and down a couple times. Or if you need to calm your butterflies, take a giant yoga breath. They sound simple, but they do work.

Smile. Smile. Smile.
Audiences respond better and engage more with presenters who actually look happy to be there. And merely smiling will help you have energy. So smile. And if you say, "I’m excited" – BE excited. If you’re worry you won’t remember, find a point in the room and decide whenever you look there, you’ll smile.

The bottom line is to be yourself. Not your manager, not your CEO, but you. The audience can sense inauthenticity, so ignore anyone else’s presentation style and just be naturally you.

Sarah Anderson is EVP and US consumer practice head at Ruder Finn.

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