During Improve Management Skills Month, I’ve committed to sharing some ideas and resources about some of the essential skills required to successfully manage a business, and today I will address public speaking. As a small business owner, there are many occasions when you may be called upon to speak in public.
Many people are terrified of public speaking and would never for a moment consider an opportunity to deliver a workshop or even a short presentation. That is understandable. According to Chase’s Calendar of Events 2009, 97% of Americans have a fear of public speaking.
You can probably avoid formal speaking engagements for your whole life if it’s really not your cup of tea, but it’s next to impossible to promote your business without ever standing up in front of a group and speaking for at least 30 seconds. Many business networking events include a segment where everyone has a chance to introduce themselves and say a little bit about their business, and to benefit from these opportunities, you need to prepare by developing a message that clearly defines what you do and the type of referrals you’re looking for. Knowing in advance what you’re going to say when it’s your turn to stand up will help you to handle the situation professionally and with confidence.
Once you’re comfortable introducing yourself to a group, you just might want to stretch yourself and try giving longer presentations. Local groups are always looking for speakers, and this can be a fabulous way to get your name in front of prospective clients. Porter Knight’s Get Paid to Win Clients: Public Speaking as a Marketing Tool for the Professional Organizer is full of ideas to help you find and make the most of these opportunities.
You will also be required to speak to groups if you assume a leadership role in your professional association or any other organization, so rather than avoid it, you may as well learn how to overcome your fear and get up there!
Self-Promotion for Introverts® by Nancy Ancowitz is an excellent book for anyone who is intimidated by public speaking, particularly those of us who are inwardly focused. In addition to help crafting your “elevator pitch,” it includes an entire chapter (over 30 pages) of public speaking tips and strategies, complete with exercises. Here’s an excerpt:
From creating failsafe speaker’s notes to rehearsing aloud to checking out the venue in advance, you can arrive at a presentation ready to deliver your best… Arrive at your presentation grounded so that you can be focused on your message yet relaxed enough to adjust on the spot. Once you hit your stride, you probably won’t feel as if you’re giving a big, scary presentation.
There are many other books you can read on the subject, such as Dale Carnegie’s Public Speaking For Success or The Quick and Easy Way to Effective Speaking, as well as some excellent free articles about giving a speech on the Toastmasters International website.
Of course, just reading about public speaking isn’t going to give you the confidence to actually do it, but it may encourage you to take the next step.
Thousands of people around the world belong to Toastmasters, and the members I’ve spoken to say that it benefits them both personally and professionally. I once co-presented with a Toastmasters member, and I learned strategies from her that I continue to use to this day.
If your schedule and/or your budget won’t allow you to join Toastmasters, check and see if your local high school or community college offers classes on public speaking. I signed up for a free seminar, and although there wasn’t enough time for everyone to speak in class, I was able to pick up some valuable tips in a “safe” environment.
If you’re more comfortable with one-on-one support, you might want to consider working with a speaking coach.
I’m sure some of you are still shaking your heads and saying, “Not me – I could never speak in front of a group!” Keep in mind that many of the polished speakers you’ve heard in your life were probably afraid to stand up and speak at one time. Believe me, the first time I was invited to speak somewhere I was terrified, and although I’m still a little nervous when I speak, it does get easier each time.
Once you get known as an expert in your field, people will even be willing to pay for you to come and speak for their organization. The great thing is, once you’ve developed your material for one presentation, you can reuse it for other groups, reworking it as needed. That same material can also be developed into articles, teleclasses, e-books, and maybe even a book!
Public speaking can help you grow, both personally and professionally. You become a more effective communicator, more confident, and a better manager.