Glossophobia — better known as a fear of public speaking — affects 74% of people, according to a National Institute of Mental Health survey. So it's no surprise the very thought of addressing large crowds causes so much stress, angst, and discomfort.
In the past three decades, I've given more than 1,200 presentations to upward of a million people. Many say the ability to speak before large crowds is innate, but I'm not sure that's true.
I didn't do much public speaking in the first 20 years of my life. Our school didn't encourage students to speak in front of crowds, so I graduated from high school and started university thinking I didn't possess the tools to connect with large audiences.
Like so many other things in life — including business acumen — speaking skills can betaught, enhanced, and perfected.
Poor lines of communication or a bad presentation can lead to lost opportunities. Conversely, great public speaking skills can land you a new job or client, motivate your team, and even turn a bad situation around.
Speak with purpose in the workplace
In honing my public speaking skills, I've also significantly improved how I interact with my colleagues back in the office, mainly using these five tactics:
1. Map out the message
Think through what you want to say and identify the two or three key messages you want listeners to retain. Then, put those into a logical sequence. Keep the message condensed and easily understandable. The way to get a message across at work is to narrow it as much as possible. The more focused it is, the better employees will grasp it.
Your primary objective is to inform and educate the audience; to do this, focus on the content, but don't get too hung up on the delivery.
Craft agendas for all presentations, be they companywide announcements or one-on-one chats with colleagues. Charting a direction for your workplace communication ensures that your message will land. Create a road map for your talk by planning all the necessary stops along the way. It's that simple.
2. Speak from the heart
Take possession of the room. People are giving you their time, so make it worth their while. It isn't enough just to know what you're talking about: You have to believe in it. Don't say "I wasn't planning on talking with you today" or that you didn't have time to prepare. Be humble, sincere, and controlled in your approach.
Don't conduct a word-by-word recitation of your speech. Connect with your audience through constant eye contact and vocal modulation that allows your emotion, commitment, and determination to naturally shine.
Delivering a new officewide initiative with this type of fervor, for example, keys employees in to the fact that what you're saying needs to be retained.
3. Use visuals
Never underestimate the value of showing visual elements that reinforce your points. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, people remember 65% of information they retain through a combination of visual and oral communication.
Display the graphs, videos, and images that best convey your message. Visuals bring your words to life and improve the chances that your message will be committed to memory.
4. Be prepared
I was very nervous the first time I spoke in front of a crowd. I felt unprepared and overwhelmed with the audience's perception of me and my speech. Though my recollection of the talk itself is sketchy, one impression sticks with me: I never wanted to feel that vulnerable in front of an audience again.
Never wing it. Develop your own style, and don't try to copy someone else's. Whether you're discussing a department overhaul, a new hire, or a change in company policy, know what you're talking about. Collect any and all relevant information and come in prepared. If you show confidence, your audience will feel it, too.
5. Zone in
You've prepared the talk — now it's time to prepare the speaker. Don't stay out late the night before, drink too much, or eat unfamiliar foods. A good night's rest is invaluable and will transfer good energy into the presentation.
Dress appropriately, get to the venue on time, and ease into the surroundings. Feel comfortable with the stage, the room, and the audience. In the final hour before your talk, don't change a thing.
Public speaking isn't difficult. It's uncomfortable the first few times, because people are looking at you, listening to you, and hoping to learn something from you. You don't want to let them down, so don't. Business is all about having an idea and communicating your vision, so go ahead. Inform them, entertain them, and fill the room with your energy, passion, and presence.