BPW International Blog
How to Become an Effective Public Speaker
Public speaking and motivational presentations can be crucial to the progress of your career. But, despite the fact that the skills and techniques for effective public speaking can be learned and nurtured at any stage in life, many women feel it is something that they cannot do well or are even downright scared of.
However, this shouldn’t be the case. Read on to discover how you can improve your public speaking skills so you can become better at delivering speeches and presentations and stand confident in front of even the most critical of audiences.
Since practice makes perfect, you are likely to be practising your speech over and over again. During this process, take the time to record yourself, preferably on video, and then watch it back. We know this step can be awkward, but once you get the hang of it, you can now take note of your body language, how much eye contact you make with your audience, and the tone of your voice. Listen to the rise and fall of your pitch and check if your pacing is right. Are you pausing in the right places to achieve the effect you want? Are your pauses long enough to make your speech clear and audible to listeners? Did you doze off while listening to yourself? These are just a few of the relevant questions you need to answer on your way to becoming a better public speaker.
Ask for Feedback
Constructive feedback will help you identify any ambiguity in your speech. Is your message clear, particularly if you are weighing up different viewpoints? Are you using confusing language, industry jargons and acronyms, or are you mispronouncing words? You will need to take into account your audience’s age, their level of knowledge about the subject, and any preconceptions they may have about you or about the topic. You also have to learn to accept harsh feedback. If you hear something that you don’t like, don’t disagree just yet. If you have a recording of your speech, listen to it and see if the criticisms are on point. If they are, then you’ve got additional motivation to do better. If they’re not, well, at least you know you did a good job that you can improve on. Win-win!
Watch and Learn
This is a particularly useful tip if you want your speech to be motivational. Learn from those who motivate you. What techniques do they use? How do they capture and retain your attention? How do they make you feel? To motivate someone, you have to make them care. Why do you care about this person or what they are saying? You can then integrate these lessons into your own speeches. This doesn’t end here, however. The next step is to build upon these realisations and improve on them even more. You want to be a good speaker, not a good copycat speaker!
Enrol in a Public Speaking Course
Courses are available that will help you identify the specific skills you need and show you how you can draw up a template for a successful speech. For example, you will need an opening, a body, and a conclusion to your speech and you will need to remember what to say and when.
Since the opening is your opportunity to really capture your audience’s attention, you might want to learn some techniques to make a really strong first impression. A public speaking course will give you access to experts and useful guides. Alternatively, a mentor could help you develop the speaking skills you need once you learn them. A mentor who has encountered and overcome similar difficulties to those that you are encountering will certainly be a big help because he/she knows the challenges you are going through and the things you can do to overcome them.
Be Positive and Confident
Women are often worried that they will come across as arrogant, and this is sometimes reflected in their choice of words.
Avoid the following:
- I’m just wondering…
- You probably know better than me, but…
- I apologise for saying this, but…
Instead, say, “I’m going to tell you about…” Be positive, be assertive, and be confident. This lets the audience know that you really know what you are talking about and it will be better for them if they listen.
The practicalities could make all the difference as to whether or not your future speeches will be a success. Give yourself a head start by assessing the venue and any distractions, the logistics of the stage, the space available to you, the lighting and the acoustics, and the presentation aids that are at your disposal. Thinking ahead will not only make you aware of the physical and environmental factors you need to consider, it will also help you prepare better and even grow mentally acquainted with the venue, even before you step on the stage.
Good speakers are, above all, being themselves when speaking in front of an audience. Remember that women are great storytellers and have a natural instinct when it comes to human nature. As long as you are confident that you are an authority on the topic about which you are presenting, don’t be afraid to let your charisma and personality shine through.
Having said that, do take into account that your personal preferences can affect the quality of your delivery. An employee once described how she sat through a customer service presentation from a painfully unanimated speaker who, in addition to delivering a long, drawn-out speech, wore a big, loud scarf around her neck and over her shoulder. The audience were left with no recollection of the content of the presentation “but an indelible image of the infamous scarf!” It’s definitely great to be yourself when giving a speech or presenting, but you have to be also mindful of personal elements that might divert attention from your speech in a negative way.
Challenges for Female Public Speakers
Women may feel they are taken less seriously than their male counterparts, especially since their voice is likely to be less powerful or authoritative. However, this does not have to be the case if you are confident, knowledgeable, and work on your delivery. Just look to the likes of Hillary Clinton, Barbara Corcoran, Laura Schwartz, actresses Emma Watson and Angelina Jolie, Oprah Winfrey, or Sarah Kay to see that women can and do combine power, passion and eloquence when speaking in public to be extremely effective.
Successful public speaking is a useful tool in any marketer or communicator’s arsenal and will ensure that you are taken seriously in your chosen field.