During these trying economic times, when everyone’s looking for ways to fuel economic growth, it’s important to consider yourself and your career a start-up. That means zeroing in on the basic skills that you can improve and perfect—like public speaking and presenting yourself—skills that set you ahead of the pack.
If you speak and present with confidence, you will have the edge in everything from the job interview or promotion, to launching your own business or even staying on the payroll during downsizing. Confidence is the key word here, because those you want to influence can imagine you being confident in a variety of other situations related to their needs. In their minds, a confident speaker will also be a confident salesperson, manager or board member.
With years of experience coaching businesspeople to be confident speakers and presenters, I have distilled what I’ve learned into a recent book, Speak Up! A Woman’s Guide to Presenting like a Pro. A graduate of Peoria’s Woodruff High School and Illinois Central College, I trace my own skills development to being an active member of the speech teams at both schools, where I learned how connection and risk-taking in front of groups won speaking awards. The commitment to tuning a presentation to award-winning level is one that all professionals can make.
The book, designed to help women become more effective speakers, is the second in a series. My previous book, Present like a Pro: The Field Guide to Mastering the Art of Business, Professional, and Public Speaking, shows how business owners, employees and entrepreneurs can improve their ability to speak clearly, with confidence and conviction, and present information effectively.
Learning to master public speaking skills will help you sell yourself from the boss’s office to the conference room, enabling you to differentiate your company from the competition and market your business. Simply put, if you can present well, others will think of you as a capable, articulate individual. Presenting well shows you’re savvy enough to understand that people make decisions quickly and judgmentally. You’ve got to give it your best shot the first time. I call it “setting yourself for success.”
Here are some tips to help you achieve success in all of your future endeavors:
- Get poised. Poise is power. It gives you instant credibility and a decided advantage. Be yourself by tapping into your natural style with strength, but also keep in mind the needs of the audience. Develop poise through presenting as much as possible in situations that are less threatening; for example, emceeing a school sports banquet or reading at church.
- Listen up. Your voice is an important part of your charisma. The first step to putting power into your voice is to review how you sound. Call your voice mail. Is your voice upbeat and confident—or humdrum? Record the opening to your presentation. Play it back and note your tone and pace. Audio is a speaker’s best learning tool.
- Use a microphone. This is especially important for women, who often have slight voices, but have never been told so. Never say no to a microphone, especially if the acoustics are poor or if you are speaking to a group of more than 50 people.
- Be heard, literally and figuratively. How often have you heard someone say, “Speak up!” at a meeting? Make sure this is not directed to you. Punch out your words with emphasis and volume. Combine strong eye contact with your increased volume.
- Articulate. Articulate. Articulate. There seems to be an increased trend by young people, especially women, to mumble. Be sure to articulate and project.
- Stand up for yourself. When you stand up, a remarkable thing happens. Your voice changes; it becomes more clear, commanding and easy to understand. To speak with power, find your “standing voice” even when you are sitting down.
- Just breathe. Taking deep breaths helps deepen your voice and helps you avoid sounding squeaky. Make it a habit to take several deep breaths before you speak and during a presentation. The muscular action in the diaphragm and abdomen creates a column of air that supports the voice and helps create your optimal pitch.
- Massage your message. Before you speak, write down and review the message you want your audience or receiver to remember. Map out your messaging points and practice them. Three points on a half-sheet of paper will serve you much better than a typed, word-for-word document when you’re in front of a group.
- Be responsive, not defensive. Be very careful of appearing defensive when you present. Even if your data or your ideas are attacked, it is critical that you respond rather than react. Responding means asking clarifying questions such as “What specific point are you addressing?” and “Can you help me understand why you feel so strongly?”
- Clarify your closing statement. Often, women have a tendency to end their sentences in the form of a question when they are nervous or unsure of themselves. The result is that the question lacks authority and impact. It sounds like this: “Our team will be at the meeting?” Ending each sentence on an upswing can undermine your influence, whether one-to-one or before a group. iBi