Five steps to starting (or restarting) your speaking career
Like playing the piano or maintaining your golf handicap, it’s regular practice that keeps your speaking and presentation skills sharp. If you’re starting out, or you’ve had a break and you want to get back to it, here are a few steps to help you get going.
1. Play it safe. You need to gain confidence and get used to the self-exposure of presenting. At first, speak on occasions where the consequences of your talk are not vital to your career, your relationships, or your ego.
2. Keep it short. Begin with a ‘talkette’ or ‘mini-prez’. Maybe there’s a family event where a few words and a toast are needed. You could make an announcement or deliver a report at a team meeting. Or why not be a functionary? Offer to take the chair at a meeting, introduce a guest, or lead the Q&A at a conference.
3. Set specific goals. Any opportunity to speak is a chance to develop your skills. So make a plan. For example: ‘Today I will make a comment which shows I know my audience’s interests’, ‘ At this meeting I will make eye contact with five people‘, and - most important - ‘I will prepare my points in advance’. I tell my clients that one point is powerful, two create contrast, three give a feeling of well-rounded completeness.
When you’re ready for the real thing:
4. Rehearse in front of an audience. The idea is to simulate the pressure of a real event – much like the dress rehearsal of a play. You can do it for the folks – but family may be too easy on you (or too hard!), so invite the neighbours in. Many workplaces have ‘lunch and learn’, a semi-formal opportunity for a presentation and discussion. Do one. Use the response of your colleagues to refine your presentation for future use. I once rehearsed a presentation for a women’s education conference over lunch, and as a result of my colleagues comments I redid the whole thing - to much better effect. If you have a youth audience handy they’re always up for it. Teens and young people love the role reversal when an adult asks for their feedback – and they certainly give it to you straight!
5. Go public. If you’re the kind who does karaoke or theatre sports or improv – go for it! It’s a wonderful way of learning to command an audience’s attention. You could attend a public lecture or shareholders meeting, take the mike and ask that VIP a question. You could suggest a debate or speech competition to address a major issue at your next corporate retreat (I know of a company who got execs engaged in a discussion of a major corporate threat by formally debating it) - and put yourself on the bill of course. It’s invaluable ‘strength training’ for speakers.
Check out a whole bag of great suggestions at The Eloquent Woman (one of my favourite blogs, and thanks to Denise Graveline for including my post in her blog carnival).