Public SpeakingSpeaking to organizations such as chambers of commerce, service organizations and university classrooms can be great opportunities for small business owners to market their business. However, the fear of speaking may prevent individuals from taking advantage of this powerful tool.

Statistics show that three out of four people have some form of anxiety around public speaking. But that anxiety doesn’t have to stop you from sharing your expertise with others. Here are some tips for preparing for a public speaking event.

  1. Know who your audience is and what your purpose is. If you’ve been asked to share information about your company’s financial impact on the community to the local chamber of commerce, your speech will be much different than one where you accept an award. It also helps to know who the friendly faces will be in your audience.
  2. Know your time limit. I’ve worked with speakers who always talk less than the time allotted. There are others who improvise and take longer. Know your style and plan your speech accordingly. If you are apt to take more time than the average bear, write your speech for 20 minutes when you know you have 30. No one gets mad at the guy who speaks for less than he’s allotted. The speaker who takes too long, however, is not given the same regard.
  3. Don’t use too many visual aids. If you are already nervous about getting up in front of a crowd, do you really need to be fumbling with additional equipment? Visual aids are great if they help forward a story. However, they are not good for hiding people’s nervousness. Really think about whether a PowerPoint is necessary. If you are sharing lots of statistics and photos, maybe it’s useful. But a PowerPoint as a screen to hide behind can backfire.
  4. Use your natural style. Are you a storyteller by nature? Do you share statistics off the top of your head? Are you naturally short and succinct? Public speaking is just an opportunity to do what you normally do on a bigger stage. Don’t alter your style by too much or the whole thing will feel forced to you and the audience. However, do polish what you do well.
  5. Plan and practice. Very few speakers are good at speaking off the top of their heads. Whether you have a series of bullet points that help you move the speech along, or you have the entire thing written out, make sure you practice. Have your spouse, kids and pets serve as an audience. Practice eye contact. Make sure you are not rushing through the speech. Minimize the number of words that make you stumble. Make sure you mention your elevator speech about your business. And most importantly, time yourself. (See tip #2.)
  6. Take a deep breath. When you get out on that stage, take a deep breath. Look out into the audience and find three people to talk to through the whole speech. One should be to your left, toward the middle of the group; one should be in the middle, toward the back of the group; and one should be to your right, toward the middle of the group. These three people (or groups of people) are the ones you should speak to through the whole speech. This allows you to sweep the audience and make eye contact across the room.
  7. Slow down. You’re probably speaking faster than your normal rate. Try to keep your speech conversational, as if you’re telling a story to the three people you picked out.
  8. Smile. Unless you’re discussing something extremely tragic, smile. People know you’re nervous and are thinking that they’re glad it’s you and not them. Smile anyway.
  9. If you make a mistake, don’t falter too long. No one else knows your speech word for word. If you go off track, it’s unlikely they will know unless you make a big deal out of it.
  10. Thank the audience. Congratulations, you did it!

Hopefully these tips will help you the next time you have to get up in front of an audience. In a future post, I’ll talk about actually writing the speech.

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