I have a confession to make…I love to talk. This is no surprise to those who know me, and even to many who haven’t met me in person. I became a broadcast journalist because I love using my voice to illustrate a story. Radio in particular is fun because there are no visual aids, just the sound of my voice and the voices of my sources with maybe some great ambient sounds.
I also enjoy public speaking. Unlike radio broadcasting which takes place in a small studio with just me and maybe a sound engineer and a microphone, when I speak in public I get to experience my audience. I can hear their laughter, see their faces and even answer questions. It’s invigorating for me to interact with people.
For most people, though, this is not the case. It’s a well-known fact that the number one fear is public speaking. Yep, most folks would rather be on an airplane with no working engines than stand in front of a group and talk. Go figure! But for those in the business world public speaking is a fact of life. Making presentations, giving speeches and talking to the media are tasks that can give even the most seasoned C-level execs nightmares.
Here are some sure-fire tips to help you survive (and maybe even enjoy) your next speaking engagement or media interview:
- Be prepared. This may be obvious but I cannot count the times I have begun an interview with someone only to find she does not know her talking points or does not have relevant facts available. Taking the time to know your message can make all the difference between being misquoted and helping to shape the story your way.
- Practice. Again, obvious, but many busy people do not take the time to practice their speaking skills. Begin with a tape recorder, in private, until you feel confident that you like what you hear. Then stage a mock interview with someone you trust like your assistant, a colleague or your communications advisor. Pretend you are preparing for a Candidate Debate, they all do it!
- Slow it down. Most of us tend to speak fast when we are nervous. Even professionals tend to speed it up under pressure. If it feels like you are talking too slowly, you’re on the right track. And make sure to practice enunciating difficult names and terms. Oh, and remember to breathe!
- Make eye contact. This is a great way to connect with your audience. If you are speaking to a large group, choose a person to look at and then sweep your gaze around the room making eye contact with a few other people. Hold each person’s eye for a few seconds before moving on.
- Don’t fidget. Fidgeting is a way to release nervous energy. But unfortunately it only makes you appear more nervous. If you have a podium, try to rest your hands on the sides of the top. Don’t hide them behind because this makes you look like a talking head. If there is no podium, one trick is to keep one hand in your pocket. Another idea is to hold something like a pen or pointer, but do not let the object make you more fidgety. Sometimes strolling along the stage helps, but be careful not to move too quickly.
- Think before you answer. This is really important for media interviews. Remember the reporter’s job is to get a juicy sound bite. Most of the time she knows what she wants you to say and will keep asking questions until she gets it. Take time and think about your answer before you open your mouth. The reporter will wait as long as it takes. And if you want to stall, ask her to re-state the question another way.
- BE PREPARED!!! I started and ended with this so it must be pretty darned important. Do your homework, practice, know your message and your next interview or presentation will be a piece of cake!
One final thing, learning to be an effective public speaker is a process. For some people, it comes naturally but for most, it does not. Don’t beat yourself up if you stumble during an interview or presentation. Just keep working on it. And let us know how you’ve tackled this very important part of business. Remember: Savvy women share!