Become an effective speaker

Giving presentations to groups of clients, prospective clients or colleagues demands an enormous amount of energy, from preparing your talking points to mustering up the courage to get in front of an audience and tell your story. But the effort is well worth it if it can help you establish yourself as a leader in your field.

Whether you are making a presentation at an in-house workshop or an industry conference, there’s value in sharing your insights with an audience.

“People want to be associated with people who are leaders,” says Lucas Mattiello, public speaking trainer with Living Up Living in Vancouver.

Still, many people become too caught up in the “fear of failure, of hurting their reputation,” Mattiello says, to recognize that the benefits of speaking publicly outweigh the risks.

The only way to reduce stress levels and control anxiety is to speak to audiences frequently, Mattiello says.

Here are some tips to help you hone your public speaking skills:

> “Get physical”
People who are dynamic speakers embody their message. “[They] don’t just speak with their vocal chords. They speak with their whole body,” says Lauren Ferraro, public speaking coach with Your Voice Unleashed in Toronto.

Practice your speech while you’re doing household chores — washing the dishes, folding the laundry or sweeping the floor. Don’t just stand before a wall and drill the speech into your head with the intention of memorizing it, she says.

“In order to get your speech to resonate with the audience and exude confidence,” Ferraro says, “get physical. Windmill your arms while you’re practicing so your ‘engine’ is revving.”

And, if you’re worried about eating your words or talking too fast, work on enunciating and over-articulating the words, Ferraro says.

> Curb distracting movements
While deliberate movements can be helpful, unconscious mannerisms — such as tics that you may not be aware of — can cause the audience to lose its focus.

Those movements are caused by nervousness, Ferraro says. You need to be alert to your posture, breathing and any fidgety behaviour, so that you can supplant those tics with purposeful movements.

> Seize opportunities
Take incremental steps to ease into the challenge of delivering a presentation, Mattiello suggests. You might start with an intimate seminar with a group of 10, before gradually working your way up toward taking the stage at an industry conference.

After every speaking engagement, write out what you did well and what you want to change for the next time, Mattiello suggests: “Give yourself credit by celebrating every small success.”

> Think of it as a conversation
Approach your presentation or speech as if it were a conversation with your audience, says Mattiello. When you adopt that mindset, your message will flow more naturally.

You’ll feel less pressure to impress and you will be less likely to resort to technical language to demonstrate your expertise, he adds. And you will be more likely to draw out an engaging dialogue during the question-and-answer session.

This is the second part in a two-part series on public speaking.

Click here for part one.

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