After presenting to the employees of Merck US Women’s Network, a group comprised of over 7,000 women worldwide, and LEAD, the League of Employees of African Descent, I received several follow up emails focused around public speaking. One of those emails came from Kate. She asked me, how can I become a better public speaker?
What most people can’t trace about me when they hear me speak today is that during my early teen years and through the start of my professional career I stuttered. I always felt that my brain worked much faster than my tongue could catch up with it, and before learning to pace myself, I would fumble over my words.
To add to that, English is my second language. My family immigrated to the U.S. from the Dominican Republic when I was 14 years old and had to quickly switch from my native tongue of speaking Spanish to learning to speak English during my high school years—so imagine how intimidated I felt about public speaking early on in my career.
After working with a speech therapist, I learned to control the speed and the fluency of my words. And after learning English and not caring about “my accent,” which I still own and quite frankly love as it doesn’t interfere with the effectiveness of my message, speaking in public became a similar challenge to what many of you and the clients and audiences I speak with today feel and encounter. Will I say the right things? What would they think of me? What if I forget what I’m going to say? And the list goes on.
On the upside, I loved to talk and still do. My mom used to say to me, “You can talk to a rock,” and she was right. I enjoy communicating my ideas in a way that others can grasp and adapt to fit their lives.
So, when Kate emailed me right after my speech at her company asking me how she could become a better public speaker, this is what I shared with her.
Recommendation #1: Shift Your Mindset
There’s nothing worse when preparing or delivering a speech than focusing on yourself.
What I mean by shifting your mindset is to take the focus off you and shift it to your audience. Focus on the impact you want to have.
Typically, when we focus on ourselves, we get in our head and become self-conscious about what people listening to us may think or say about us. That alone can create a lot of anxiety, self-doubt, and lower your confidence and ability to do your best. The fact is that what “they” will think about you or anything else you believe “they” will do is not something you can control—unless you’ve been attending the Darth Vader School of Mind Manipulation in a galaxy far away.
Instead, focus on your audience, what you want them to know because it will benefit them. It’s all about giving your audience massive value. So, it’s no longer about you; it’s about your audience. From that place, it can feel like you’re having a conversation with a friend or contributing to a group of people something valuable that will serve them. When I show up with this mindset, I feel pretty good about myself, which gives me the confidence to do my best.
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Recommendation #2: Prepare
This piece of advice may seem obvious, however, sometimes, especially after experiencing a compelling speaker or after creating a belief about who is a great speaker, we may overlook what lies beneath, how much preparation that person does beforehand.
On the topic of preparing thoroughly for your speech, here’s a video from an interview that I did with Jane Hanson, a nine-time Emmy award-winning news journalist, former NBC news anchor, and media/presentation coach, as we discuss The Art of Communicating.
How do I prepare?
- I start by connecting to the intention of my speech, the message or facts I’m communicating to the specific audience, the emotions I want to evoke, and the call to action. I focus on delivering value and contributing to my audience to the best of my ability.
- I prepare my presentation materials (e.g., the PowerPoint and my script to the PowerPoint) and I practice, practice, practice, until I know it cold. However, I don’t memorize it word for word, but practice it until I have a solid command of where I’m going at each turn—this allows me to interject a comment that pops into my head or make a remark relevant to something happening in the room at the time, without taking me away from my flow.
- I get plenty of sleep the night before and show up at least one hour early to the venue, or with as much lead time as reasonable given the day.
- I ask for advice from spirit and ground myself right before I go on. You can ask for inner guidance or do whatever you need to do to help you feel centered. Don’t forget to breathe deeply to fill your lungs and your belly, release the breath and picture yourself “winning!” Or visualize anything that will help you feel great. You get the picture.
- I plan to smile a lot (even if it’s an internal smile)—I’m giving thanks for having the privilege to do that speech for them—and that brings me joy.
Also, practice listening to your speech. I record a video of myself going through the presentation and speaking on my iPhone or iPad, numerous times until I feel I know the flow, and until I’m happy with the rate and emotion that my speech delivery evokes. If my speech does not move me, it won’t move others either. You are your best audience because you know your topic top, down, and sideways and are in the best position to create the experience that you desire.
After I’ve prepared and practiced, at least the night before, I plan what I’m wearing which will support me to feel both comfortable and confident, I assemble any materials I’ll need to bring with me, get a good night sleep, and then I let it go. All I can do is “always do your best,” as one of The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz states.
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Recommendation #3: Be Yourself
Fight the temptation to mimic anyone else that you’ve heard public speaking. As many of you may have heard me say in my writings, coaching, speaking, and leadership training, you have your unique value proposition—which is a combination of your Why, your superpowers, and your marketable skills.
Leverage your unique value proposition to deliver your messages authentically and with your personality, no one else’s. That’s a sure formula for success because not only will you be leveraging your best attributes, you’ll feel authentic, have confidence, and will come across genuine to your audience.
I believe it was Oprah in one of the YouTube videos I watch who said that at the onset of her broadcasting career she was trying to emulate Barbara Walters for a while until she realized that she could at best be a lousy Barbara Walter’s copycat. It wasn’t until she embraced her magnificence—AKA her unique value proposition—that she shined and became a mogul leveraging her uniqueness.
No one can say what you’ll say, the way you say it. That’s a gift. Don’t squander it, instead leverage it, soak it up, and cherish it. We can all improve with practice.
And no matter what, don’t let anyone tell you what and who you are as a public speaker. Take the feedback you receive to grow—in fact, ask for it, especially from people who you respect and trust—and get curious about what is possible for you if you keep showing up and delivering a message that adds value to others.
How to Become a More Powerful Public Speaker in a Nutshell
I am grateful to Kate who inspired me to write this article about a topic that creates a lot of angst and keeps many of you awake at night, tossing and turning at the thought of stepping in front of a group or a crowd to speak.
From my vantage point, a former stutterer, a non-native English speaker, and someone who now serves others through public speaking engagements, training leaders at all levels of management, facilitating workshops, delivering keynote speeches, I believe that you can also find the right combination of factors that will give you the confidence to go out there and crush it each time.
What has worked for me and what do I recommend?
- Shift your mindset
- Be yourself
Once you have your message, know your audience, and practice using your natural style, along with adopting an empowering mindset of “contribution,” you become an unstoppable public speaker.
How is not being a powerful public speaker impacting your career and your life?
What opportunities could you say “Yes!” to if you address this situation?
As I work with individuals and group coaching clients, we develop precisely these types of skills and many more. If you’re interested in exploring it further, let’s set up a complimentary strategy session (refer to the link below to access the online calendar) to discuss specifically what you need and whether I can help.
If you enjoyed this article, I would love to hear your insights about public speaking in the comments and will be profoundly grateful if you share it with your social networks.
In the meantime,
Be fearless! (act despite the fear)
Dr. Ginny A. Baro
Originally published November 15, 2018 at https://www.fearlesswomenatwork.com/single-post/2018/11/15/How-to-Become-a-Powerful-Public-Speaker.