The CEO’s Guide to Public Speaking
It’s one thing to stand up before a group of senior executives or the board of directors. Facing an audience in a public venue, where dozens if not hundreds of eyeballs are focused on your every move, is something else entirely.
Even the most extroverted CEO or business owner can experience stage fright at the prospect of public speaking. But leaders are often called upon to do just that – share their insights and experience with a large crowd of attendees. The leaders who do so smoothly are the ones who make the strongest impression and succeed in the public arena.
Here are some tips to help you master the art of public speaking:
Know the basics. Nothing settles the nerves like a sense of preparedness. This means thoroughly knowing your material, so you’re not standing at the podium and simply reading a script to the audience. While it’s unnecessary to memorize every word of your speech – trying to do so only adds stress to the situation – you should be comfortable enough to work from a few key points (or a detailed outline). This enables you to focus on other elements of a successful speech:
Pay attention to your breathing. Just before you come on-stage, take several deep breaths and visual an enthusiastic greeting from your audience. Remember, people want you to do well. No one’s come to see you fail.
Make eye contact. If you know someone in the crowd, use that person as a focal point (and speak as if you were solely addressing him or her), then continue to visually sweep the room so others feel you’re making a connection with them as well.
Use your nervous energy wisely. The “rush” you feel on stage doesn’t necessarily come from nerves; it might be the flow of adrenaline that occurs during a potentially stressful moment. Use this energy to make a greater impact with your presentation:
- Incorporate body language. Add gestures during key points of the speech. Shake your head when making a negative point. Hold up your fingers if you’re counting off several points. Audiences respond to movement as well as content. Walking around the stage while speaking conveys confidence and keeps people’s attention on what you’re saying.
- Use dramatic pauses. Don’t forget that public speaking is essentially a performance. Don’t rush through your speech as if you can’t wait to get off-stage. Take advantage of pauses to hold audience interest. Raise or lower your voice at key moments to add a touch of drama to your presentation. Regardless of the subject matter, you have an obligation to entertain as well as inform.
- Don’t sweat the small stuff. Inevitably, you’ll flub a word or phrase here or there. Don’t worry about it! People can’t tell if you miss a line somewhere unless you stop and draw attention to it. Stay cool and poised and keep moving forward.
The most effective business leaders understand the importance of communication, whether it’s one-on-one or in an amphitheater. In these public situations, you have a unique opportunity to get your message across to a broad audience. Take advantage of that opportunity and leave people wanting more.
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