Public speaking is often associated with a kind of grandiosity to it, as if you need to be invited as a guest of honor at a formal event to use what are designated as “public speaking skills.” But in reality, public speaking skills are used all the time, in different contexts. As an entrepreneur, you’ll be tapping into many of them.
For example, you’ll be giving presentations to potential investors and clients, you’ll be doling out numbers and giving updates to your team, and you might even be featured as an interviewee or speaker for a major event. Whether you plan on speaking publicly on a regular basis or not, you’ll need to be prepared to speak as an entrepreneur with these seven important public speaking fundamentals:
1. Look the part. If you want to make a powerful first impression as a speaker in any situation, you have to look good. That means you’ll have to dress up and look sharp. Additionally, you’ll have to retain good posture throughout the presentation — not only will this make you appear more confident, it will also help you control your breathing patterns. By a similar token, avoid excessive fidgeting or other signs of nervousness — confidence goes a long way in successful speech.
2. Pace yourself. Due to a combination of nerves and a persistent illusion that you’re speaking slower than you actually are, many novice public speakers end up rushing their presentation. Not only does this compromise your audience’s ability to hear and retain everything you’re saying, it also makes you appear less confident. Instead, try to pace yourself. Speak at a pace that’s slower than you think is appropriate, and articulate each of your words individually. It will lend you power and make you seem more in control.
3. Avoid filler words. This is an incredibly hard habit to break. Most of us are used to peppering our speech with short filler words like “uh,” “um,” or “ah.” It’s easier than letting a silence persist, and has become a cultural norm. However, filler words sound unprofessional, and during a speech, your audience’s awareness of their presence becomes amplified. Do this by becoming hyper-conscious of your use of them, and by deliberately planning silences and transitions in your presentation. You can practice this in everyday life by simply avoiding filler words in normal conversation. If you can get rid of this habit in your regular life, you shouldn’t have to worry about it cropping up in your professional speech.
4. Look your audience members in the eyes. This is a powerful technique that shows your confidence. Though it might seem intimidating at first, give it a try. As you speak, try to look various members of your audience directly in the eyes, one by one. It will slowly give you a feeling of control over the room, and each participant you lock eyes with will feel instantly more engaged with your material.
5. Engage your audience. Don’t just talk at your audience; find ways to get them actively engaged with your material. If you’re a showman, you might ask for a volunteer from the audience to help you demonstrate something. If you prefer a more passive form of audience participation, you might request a round of applause or a show of hands to demonstrate the collective opinion of the audience. Even less intense, you could ask your audience to visualize something, or ask them an open-ended hypothetical question. Humor is a fantastic way to keep your audience’s attention, as is storytelling. Just keep them fixated on your presentation however you can.
6. Use your gestures to your advantage. Some hand gestures carry powerful connotations that can lend themselves to your overall presentation. For example, exposing your palm in a controlled, deliberate way during a key point can emphasize that point, and using a semi-raised fist can indicate excitement, power, and control. Speakers who gesticulate deliberately are generally seen as more powerful and persuasive — just don’t go overboard.
7. Practice — but don’t memorize. Finally, practice your speech before you give it in a live environment. This will help you memorize your key points, address any challenges proactively, and give you more confidence and verbal control. However, don’t over-rehearse your speech; if you do, you might end up sounding robotic or otherwise unnatural to your audience. WaitbutWhy.com’s Tim Urban wrote an excellent post about how to prepare for a speech, detailing the various levels of memorization, and how too much of it can actually be a bad thing.
These fundamentals should get you to the minimum threshold of successful public speaking, but there’s always more to learn. Commit to practicing these fundamentals, and building on them with even higher-level tips and practices as you gain maturity in your role. The more you dedicate yourself to public speaking, the more confident and articulate you’ll be, and that reputation will follow you even after you reach your startup goals.