When listing the essential skills of an entrepreneur, few people will put public speaking near the top of the list. For many people, public speaking involves standing in front a massive crowd with a microphone. While some entrepreneurs will find themselves in this situation, especially those in the growing Middle East startup ecosystem, public speaking skills are vital in several other situations. For example, when entrepreneurs give a presentation before a group of potential investors, or even when they give a status report to their employees, they are using public speaking skills.
Wise entrepreneurs invest in their public speaking abilities early in their career. The following are seven ways to improve your public speaking skills:
Practice rather than memorize.
Before entering a live setting, you should always practice what you want to say either by yourself or in front of a dummy audience. This can help you gain more confidence and more control over your voice and expose weaknesses in the speech or tendencies to go off on tangents. However, practice is distinct from memorization, which often makes your speech sound mechanical.
Involve the audience in the speech.
Audience engagement is the key to a great speech. Many entrepreneurs excel at being entertainers. These individuals can ask for volunteers from the crowd to help demonstrate a point and make a bit of a spectacle out of the occasion.
If you prefer a more understated approach to public speaking, you can still engage the audience by asking members to raise their hands and express an opinion. Making audience members think pulls them into the speech. The most understated way to engage the audience is to ask them to visualize something or present them with an open-ended question. As they think about these things, they become more interested in what you have to say.
Connect through stories.
Everyone enjoys listening to stories. In fact, verbal tales served as the cornerstone of entertainment for centuries. One of the best ways to win an audience over is to tell an interesting or powerful story.
Through these stories, you can appeal to the emotional side of an audience, and strong emotions often inspire action. The best stories come from personal experience because you will usually have a deep connection to the content, and this will pull audience members into the narrative. Of course, the story should also have a direct connection to the point that you are trying to make. Otherwise, audience members will just get confused.
Dress for success.
People who dress well tend to feel more confident when they are in front of a large crowd—or even a small crowd in the case of potential investors. This point is especially true for entrepreneurs who need to always make a great first impression.
Appearance involves more than just clothing. You also need to remember to smile as you address the audience. Body language is extremely important in conveying confidence and engaging with audience members. Fidgeting and other signs of nervousness can make employees or business partners lose confidence. However, you can reinforce important points and make the speech more persuasive with simple hand gestures.
Make eye contact.
When addressing larger crowds, you might struggle to make eye contact, but it is important to still engage people visually. For entrepreneurs, who often address smaller audiences, eye contact is crucial. Eye contact conveys confidence, as well as a sense of respect. If you avoid making eye contact, the audience members may not trust you. Often, you will begin to feel more connected to the audience and in control of the room as you systematically lock eyes with the people you are addressing.
Break the filler word habit.
Speakers who constantly fill silences with “um,” “uh,” or other guttural sounds generally do not make a lasting impression on their audiences. While it is normal to unconsciously include a filler word in conversation every now and then, you need to stay as aware of this tendency as much as possible and take steps to minimize it. Filler words make you sound unprofessional and undermine your authority in a public speaking situation. Audiences quickly become aware of these filler words and may even start to get annoyed by them. Instead of using filler words, you need to be comfortable with silence.
Consider a coach.
While the thought of hiring a speaking coach may sound extravagant, people who lack confidence in speaking often need professional assistance to overcome it. Entrepreneurs who can’t address customers, employees, partners, and investors with confidence will struggle unnecessarily in the business world. Even business leaders who are confident when speaking can often learn a trick or two to make themselves even more engaging by working with a coach.