Public speaking is many people’s greatest fear, yet sooner or later most people will have to speak in front of a group at work. Whether you’re training new employees, giving a presentation to management, or offering a toast at the summer BBQ, being an effective speaker can help you get ahead at work.
I taught public speaking to adult students at the University of Calgary for over 10 years. At the end of a course, each student would give a speech and be evaluated by classmates. Some students did a lot of research for their speeches, while others focused less on the research and more on their delivery. Over the years the audiences were consistent in their evaluations.
So, who do you think rates higher?
(a) A speaker with excellent information and average delivery
(b) A speaker with excellent delivery and average information
The answer is (b). Of course, the ideal situation is to have both excellent information and excellent delivery. However, for many audiences, your delivery is the most critical factor. Poor delivery can make the most interesting topic sound boring, while excellent delivery can make even a dull topic come alive.
Here are four traits of successful speakers, followed by a number of ways you can develop these traits.
Confident: Good speakers may sometimes feel nervous, but they try not to let it show. Speakers look and sound more confident when they make eye contact with the audience, move naturally, use audiovisual equipment effectively, and speak fluently (avoiding too many “uhs” and “ums”).
Credible: This is an audience’s perception of how believable a speaker is. To be credible, a speaker must be seen as someone who is knowledgeable about the topic. However, this does not mean someone who is a “know-it-all.”
Dynamic: Dynamic speakers are enthusiastic about their topic, and they share that enthusiasm with their audience through variety and energy in their voice, gestures, and body movements. Other terms that can be applied to these speakers are “high energy” and “passionate.”
Natural: Natural speakers don’t lecture. Even when speaking in front of an audience of hundreds, they speak as if they were having a conversation with a group of friends. Other terms that may be applied to these speakers are “real” or “down-to-earth.”
Ways to Improve Your Skills
As with any skill, one of the best ways to improve is by just doing it. With speaking, this means getting yourself in front of as many audiences as possible. When there are opportunities for informal speaking at work – such as introducing a new employee – volunteer for the job.
If you are presenting a training program at work, make sure you ask audience members to give you feedback by filling out an evaluation form.
When possible, consider taping yourself practicing or giving presentations. You can then see or hear for yourself the areas where you may need to improve.
There are a variety of seminars and classes that can help you improve your speaking skills. Check out continuing education programs offered by post-secondary institutions and consider courses offered by the private sector.
Also consider joining Toastmasters, a non-profit organization that helps people develop speaking skills. Toastmasters clubs typically meet once per week, and provide the opportunity to practice speaking. Each member also receives resources on how to speak. With hundreds of clubs in Canada, you have a lot to choose from. To find a local club visit www.toastmasters.org.
The Internet is a great place to find information for improving your skills. You can observe techniques used by excellent speakers giving TED Talks. Visit www.ted.com to find a link to the 20 most popular TED talks of all time.
Finally, there are many excellent books available to help you develop your speaking skills available. And if you have what it takes to become a professional speaker, you can check out the book I wrote – FabJob Guide to Become a Motivational Speaker.
While you may not enjoy speaking so much that you decide to become a motivational speaker, there are many excellent resources to help you give a great presentation the next time you’re asked to speak at work.
Tag Goulet is co-founder of FabJob.com and Academic Director of the International Business and Management College which offers professional certificates at www.ibmcc.com.