Five FAQs About Public Speaking

As I go about my rounds, I hear lots of questions about the art of public speaking. Here are some of the most common queries, complete with answers.

I don’t like speaking in public. Do I have to do it?

Of course not. We all have different strengths and preferences. If you hate the limelight, that’s okay. Stop and think, however, of what you will sacrifice. First, your career arc can stall. The spoils at work go to those who not only put forth and execute brilliant ideas. They go to those who know how to communicate those ideas to the top brass and to clients, customers, or funders.

Maiden speech

Second, your company will fail to attain its organizational goals if its spokespeople prove inept. Your business objectives may be financial, reputational, or public policy oriented. No matter what you are trying to accomplish, a failure to communicate with impact severely reduces your odds for success.

If you’re not in the game, you’re not going to win.

Some executives suffer from stage fright. What suggestions do you have for someone in that situation?

Stage fright has become a catch-all term. There could be many factors at play, and all have different solutions. For example, that reluctance to speak in public could stem from an innate shyness, uncertainty about your topic, fear of being judged, a lack of passion, or a host of other causes. How can you start to address these fears? Studies show that the single most effective step is our old friend practice. The more you speak, the better you become at harnessing wayward energy. Releasing nervous energy through your Audio Tools—more varied pitch or greater volume—and your Video Tools—more gestures and facial expressions—can serve as an escape valve.

Ed, you’ve developed a system called “The Three Keys to Great Presentations.” What are they, and why does the system work?

Early in my consulting days, I found that some executives thought there was too much to learn when it comes to being an effective communicator. It was taxing and, to some, intimidating. I needed to clear away that barrier with an intuitive approach, so came up with the three keys:

  • Preparation: What you do before your presentation.
  • Performance: What you do as you speak.
  • Assessing Feedback: what you do after your presentation is over.

Which of the three keys have you found to be most important?

All are critical. If you neglect to prepare, you’ll have nothing of interest to say. If you fail to perform, no one will ever hear your point of view. As a result, most people heed the first two keys, at to some degree.

That leaves us with Assessing Feedback. I tell my clients in our presentation skills workshops that they can move themselves ahead of the crowd by conscientiously evaluating how they performed. Why? This third key is too often ignored. Most of us have witnessed the speaker who audibly exhales and wipes his brow upon finishing his remarks. He thinks he’s done. Nope.

Real pros examine their performance to determine what worked and what didn’t. They ask colleagues for insights. They read comments on evaluation forms. They review the video.

Remember, if you strive for improvement over time, Assessing Feedback is the way to go.

How can I learn to become a better speaker?

There are different levels of intensity. If you’re just starting out in your career, speak up at office meetings, become active in your neighborhood association, or get involved with a volunteer activity where you can chime in during committee meetings.

As you gain experience, seek out speaking gigs that allow you to share your expertise at community group gatherings or volunteer functions. You can also start a group at work with like-minded colleagues who want to sharpen their presentation skills.

As you gain heavier responsibilities for communicating with your public, it’s worthwhile to invest in working with a dedicated communications training consultant (note: This does not include a public relations generalist who tries to be all things to all people; you need an expert who has made this his life’s work). I suggest you do this as part of your company’s professional development plan. Your company can afford the budget. You, as an individual, likely cannot.

This discussion is but a starting point. What other steps have you found useful? I encourage you to share them with our community in the comments section.



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