Public Speaking at Work
Public speaking act of talking to a group of people, usually through giving a speech or a presentation, and requires the talent of addressing an audience effectively.
People with strong skills in public speaking are often rewarded with leadership roles and find their careers progress swiftly as they are seen to be capable and authoritative.
Why Is Public Speaking a Valuable Skill in the Workplace?
Employers value those with public speaking skills, but not everybody excels naturally at it.
Public speaking is a great soft skill to have in your tool bag.
You might not need to give speeches on a daily basis, but there will be times when you have to give a presentation; perhaps during an interview or at a conference, or perhaps an informal introduction at a work social event.
Effective public speaking skills help you come across as more knowledgeable so that your message and direction is received well by your audience.
Sometimes public speaking is important in getting people to see your point of view or to follow a certain course of action. Doing it well and impressing a large group of people can be a powerful boost to your self-esteem.
Another example of using public speaking skills would be giving an elevator pitch, where you quickly explain what you or your company do and what you bring to the table in an attractive, summarized style.
If you consider yourself an introvert, this does not automatically make you worse at public speaking – some of the greatest orators in history were introverted, such as Abraham Lincoln and Eleanor Roosevelt. In fact, being thoughtful and considered is an asset, especially during the planning stages of public speaking.
There are even situations that you might not think of as public speaking, such as leading a meeting or facilitating a break-out session. If you work in a training environment or a high school, speaking to a classroom of people could also be described as public speaking.
The ability to build rapport quickly is a public speaking skill that can be incredibly useful in your professional life.
What Skills are Involved in Public Speaking?
Public speaking is a skill in itself but it also includes other abilities; there are many competencies you demonstrate when you speak well in public. For example, the ability to convince, win minds and bring people on-side are all important skills when you are building a career.
Good time management is also an essential public speaking tool. Not only do you want to make sure you stick to the time allotted, but you also need to build in the right amount of time to prep, write and – crucially – practice your speech.
Organization and Planning
When it comes to preparing and researching your speech, take the time to do this thoroughly and be clear on your objectives. One useful way to start is to create a mind map that will help you brainstorm various angles and topics you might want to include.
Organization and planning are keystone to good public speaking. You want your audience to follow your points and feel like they have been on a journey with a solid pay-off at the end.
You need to make sure you have all the relevant facts and that you present these in a logical, coherent order. In writing a speech, you will utilize rhetorical strategies like narrative power, comic timing (if appropriate) and persuasion tactics to get your audience agreeing with you.
Speaking of your audience, it can be helpful to have clarity on who exactly your target is, their current knowledge level and what you want them to learn or do.
Be sure you have spelt out clearly what their ‘call to action’ is – whether that is buying your product or getting them to sign up for the next event.
Don’t use jargon or insider terminology unless you are sure it will be understood.
Sometimes organizing your presentation with a classic story arc, like 'beginning/middle/end' or 'intro/conflict/action/resolution' can help.
If you like the STAR technique, that’s also another way to organize your material so your audience can easily grasp it.
When you are doing your research, look up TED talks or public speaking examples that inspire you. It can really help give you inspiration for your own work.
If you have time, you might consider going on public speaking courses to hone your style and get feedback, because even the best speakers can keep improving.
Building Rapport and Connection
Another skill of great public speaking is that of building rapport. This means building a connection with your audience; showing your personality and humour can help with this – but it must be appropriate for the occasion.
To connect with them, you must be clear on what your audience is expecting from you. If you are presenting to a technically-savvy audience, for example, you would want to show that you are also adept with these skills.
If you are presenting to a wedding party and giving a speech, then you might add more warmth and friendly language than you would in a work context.
Remember to think about what your audience wants or needs to hear and plan appropriately.
This is important when it comes to actually speaking to people.
When you get to your stage or lectern, remember to smile – it's a key body language skill.
Posture is another important element of body language to get right when speaking in public. A solid, tall posture, with shoulders back, will elongate your torso, making your voice sound deeper and more authoritative.
Other elements of body language to perfect include eye contact with the audience and using effective gestures.
To take each of these in turn, ** eye contact** is a great way to connect with your audience and can build rapport. It also helps you to check whether your audience is paying attention or whether you need to change tack to get them back onside.
With regards to gestures, some people get nervous about using too many or being too stiff and not using enough. A helpful tip with gestures is to use them in a directed fashion – for example, pointing to the left when making one point, and then pointing to the right when making an opposing point.
Practice keeping your hands by your sides and out of your pockets when you are not gesturing. This feels unnatural at first, but this stillness actually makes you appear very confident and self-assured, so it is a worthwhile piece of body language to practice.
You can make the most of your stage too; use the space effectively to keep things interesting. Walk around and engage with the audience if it feels appropriate – it can help make it more personal and make you look more relaxed.
What About Fear of Public Speaking?
It can be natural to be a bit nervous when you are starting out; most people find public speaking a little daunting to begin with, but practising will make you more confident and fluent.
If you do have a fear of public speaking, this article will help you with better preparation and research so that you can improve your skills.
Overall, your confidence will grow when you are sure of your material. If you feel like an expert because you have prepared and researched thoroughly, you are less likely to be thrown off during your presentation.
This article has plenty of information to help you improve and build your confidence,
Basics for Successful Public Speaking at Work
Before the Day
Before you have a public speaking engagement, it might help you to visit the location ahead of time. Knowing the room, introducing yourself to the venue team and familiarizing yourself with the tech set-up can help you feel more at ease.
If possible, ask the venue to provide a technical expert who can help you load your slides in advance and check any tricky elements like videos, making sure the sound works. Be sure you have access to all the things you need – like a clicker with spare batteries and a tray with a glass and a jug of water.
Once you know what technology will be available to you, you can integrate it into your presentation.
Some types of public speaking won't allow you to have any visuals, but, where possible, having props and visual aids will help keep your audience's attention.
In general, use the right software for the job, keep your slides clear and simple, with minimal words – so you're not tempted to read off the screen.
Remember that people learn in different ways, so assume your audience has a mixture of visual, auditory and kinesthetic 'types' and cater to them all.
As well as being more interesting for your audience, pictures act as a prompt for you that helps you speak more fluidly and naturally.
Just as you shouldn't read off your computer screen or whiteboard, don’t read directly from your notes – it will make you look stilted and nervous. If you can memorize the order of your content, that should keep you sounding natural and be enough to stop you from using filler words like ‘umm’ and ‘uh’.
If you can include different voices in your presentation that will also help keep things interesting; for example, you can use a video clip from a team member or a product user. Think about how radio shows keep our attention – they make sure to have a variety of sounds and segments with listeners calling in, which helps it feel interactive for their audience.
Interactivity can make an audience more engaged. Polls, questions or asking for slogans keep the audience paying attention as they don't know when they're going to be called on next.
Finally, the more you role-play or practice your presentation in a safe space, the more confident you will feel when giving it for real.
Take the time to rehearse with friends or supportive colleagues and even ask them to film you, so that you can see what is working well and where improvements can be made.
On the Day
On the day, make sure you arrive in plenty of time so you can get comfortable in the space and do a last-minute run-through.
You can soothe your parasympathetic system – your fight-or-flight system – by doing some body stretches and taking deep breaths in advance of speaking.
If you feel under stress, before you start, then box breathing is another calming technique you can utilize:
- Breathe in for the count of four
- Hold your breath for the count of four
- Breathe out for the count of four
- Hold your breath for the count of four
Imagine each part of the cycle as one side of a box – up, across, down, back. If you need to change the count to make it shorter or longer, just make sure it is the same for each part.
Before you go on stage you might loosen up with some tongue twisters or vocal exercises. These will reduce your use of verbal crutches when you begin to speak and help your elocution – as will keeping hydrated.
When it comes to speaking, you don’t need to have the exact content of your speech word-for-word. Rehearse enough so you feel confident to be able to speak through your topics in the right order without having to prompt yourself.
Having 'plants' in your audience can help boost your confidence too – if you know you have a few friendly faces who promise to laugh in the right places or ask helpful questions, for example.
Ideally, you will have practised enough that you won't need any notes, but if you have to bring them for peace of mind, keep only bullet points on discreet index cards, and just use them to refresh your memory. Keep them on your table, rather than in your hands, so you’re less likely to use them as a crutch.
Some people like to think of a metaphorical curtain 'going up' as they take the stage – this can help create a presence or a charisma that suits the occasion and gets them ‘in the zone’.
Start your presentation from a point of strength – use a hook to get the audience's attention. This could be a quote, an unusual fact or even a prop that you can refer back to at the end. Keep it interesting and lively so that your audience wants to pay attention and get involved.
In your planning, you might decide to include interactive elements to make sure people are engaged. Perhaps ask your audience to raise their hands or vote in a poll with flags or cards, for example.
It will help you to have a few people 'plants' in the audience – people who can act as ambassadors for you in this case. You can prepare a handful of trusted people in advance so that you already have their buy-in and they can act as social models for other people to follow.
This might be particularly helpful if your interactivity requires the audience to stand up and move around the room – people are much more likely to do these things if they see others do it first.
If you are nervous, remember that your pulse will speed up and you're more likely to speak quickly – so consciously slow yourself down to make sure your audience can still follow you. Taking a sip of water during your presentation can also help you vary your pacing.
Your intonation should also be differentiated – listening to a monotonous voice can be a real problem for audiences. Using pauses can be a highly effective public speaking and leadership tool, especially if you want to build suspense and make people pay attention to you.
Even with all these elements, remember to keep your messaging simple; your audience will only remember a few things from your presentation.
If you repeat your key points a few times, it’s more likely people will recall these. One way to make the repetition more natural is to include the main messaging in the introduction and the conclusion because that’s when people pay the most attention.
At the end of your presentation, make sure you leave time for questions. This is also where practising is important, to ensure you have enough time to do it.
It can help if you let your audience know you will do this at the start – otherwise, they might interrupt you as you are in the flow of your speech. If they know they can ask questions at the end, they will know to hold off until then.
If you are nervous about tricky questions you might get, practice with a friend or send them your slides in advance. Ask your friend to be picky and send as many questions as they can think of – if you prepare answers to these, you will be much more confident to answer the real questions that come up on the day.
If you do get a tough question that you don’t know how to answer at the real event, don’t let it throw you off your game. It is fine to confidently say that you don't know but will find out and get back to them. It’s actually much better to do that than to stammer through with an unconvincing answer and risk ending on an undermining note.
At the conclusion of your presentation, remember to end strong with your key message and to give your audience a big thank you and a confident smile to solidify a good impression of your interpersonal skills. How you leave the presentation will be remembered so keep up your 'stage presence' until you've left the room.
Public speaking certainly gets easier over time – and it can be a pleasure once you have mastered it. Some of the tips in this article should help you perfect your strategies so that you feel more powerful when you next speak in public.
Effective speaking skills are an excellent way to impress and they can show off a wide range of related abilities. If you want to get ahead in your career, then investing time in this area and seeking every opportunity to practice public speaking is a wise choice.