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Better Public Speaking in 4 Steps

Public Speaking. It ranks very high on most people's list of fears, but it is also a critical skill for anyone in a leadership role.

To help you improve your presentation and public speaking performance, here are four tips, with a companion video at the end.

Public Speaking is a Skill

Effective public speaking is a skill like any other. If you practice, you’ll get better. If you don’t practice, you won’t.

Here are two ways to make your practice more effective:

  1. Practice with a topic you know COLD, and speak from memory

    1. This could be a favorite book, movie, band, sport, or anything else that you can discuss for a couple of minutes

    2. Simply explain how you were introduced to it and why it is important to you

  2. Record yourself or practice in front of a mirror or small group of people

    1. This exercise will help you to eliminate the "Ah’s" and "Um’s" and develop your cadence

Speaking about a topic of importance to you will also demonstrate how your energy, tone, and body language influence your message and presentation.

Remember the 5 P’s: Proper Preparation Prevents Poor Performance

Any good presentation is the product of preparation and rehearsal.

Start with this simple framework, and then build your outline, and finally your speech: Topic(s) – Key Point(s) – Conclusion(s).

Rehearse until it’s memorized (this is where your practice routine comes in handy).

Additionally, now you have other elements to plan. Consider where and how you want to use eye contact and body language. These can be useful in creating emphasis at key times, and creating a stronger connection with the audience.

If you’ve got stage space, how do you want to use it (blocking and movement)?

Alternatively, if you’re working from a lectern or in a conference room, how do you want to use the space to enhance the content of your presentation?

Use Notes and Visual Aids Sparingly

Do not read from a script or a Powerpoint!! As discussed, your best strategy is to commit your presentation to memory. Sometimes though, notes are needed and, in other cases, visual aids can be a powerful tool to drive home key points.

That said, use both notes and visual aids sparingly and intentionally.

Also, remember that visual aids are tools to enhance your presentation, so consider not only the content in the visual aid, but the timing of its use in the context of the presentation as a whole. Consider the question, "How will this visual aid contribute to the audience's understanding of my message?"

Use Mindfulness to Enhance Performance

"What do you need to perform at your best?" It is a simple question, but an important one and it should be part of your preparation.

Breath work and meditation, for example, help to regulate the nervous system and can help bring calm and focus ahead of your presentation. There are many mindfulness practices, and these should be tailored individually to your specific needs and style.

Whatever practice(s) you choose, the desired result is a state of calm and clear focus. This is something you do to get rid of the butterflies and other somatic responses that can hinder performance or distract you from your goal.

So, consider the question, “What do I need to perform at my best?” in the context of this particular presentation, and make sure that is part of your overall preparatory process.

About the Author:

Matt Beckmann is the founder and Managing Director of Ascent Consultants. Matt has over a decade of leadership experience as a former Campaign Manager, Chief of Staff, and Corporate Vice President and General Counsel. In addition to his deep professional experience, Matt is an attorney, certified professional coach, and a yoga instructor. His passion for high-performance and well-being is the driving force behind Ascent.

Ascent Consultants focuses on professional and organizational performance and well-being. By delivering high-level professional coaching and advisory services, we empower our clients to take intentional, focused action toward their goals. Simply put, our mission is to make the job of leadership easier.

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