Speaking in public is scary to most people, but it is a very effective way to grow your business and build your expert reputation. Good speaking skills are an asset, and everyone can be a better speaker than they are currently.
The single best way to improve your speaking skills is to practice speaking at every opportunity. Look for opportunities to speak in front of groups whenever you can. You might want to start with small groups and work up to larger ones, but practice, practice, practice!
Here are some ideas about how you can get more practice speaking and become a better public speaker.
Take an active role in your professional or community organization. When you accept a leadership position with a group you will be called upon to make short presentations regularly. You may be asked to give an update about your committee’s activities, introduce a speaker or chair a meeting. Each of these gives you the chance to practice speaking in front of a group of people.
Take an improv class. One of the reasons many people fear speaking is that they are afraid they will forget what they were going to say or that something will happen to distract them during their talk and take them off course. Learning improvisation skills will make you confident that you can handle anything that happens with skill and grace.
Join Toastmasters. There are Toastmasters groups everywhere, and joining a chapter near you will give you frequent opportunities to speak. The best part is that you will be in a supportive environment where the other members of the group will encourage you as you improve.
Record every presentation you give. Get a pocket-sized digital recorder and record every talk. We tend to be hypercritical when we hear ourselves, so listen to the recording not only to see how you can improve but to acknowledge what you do well.
Video tape yourself practicing your speech. Set up your video recorder at home or in your office and practice speaking. Watch yourself carefully to pick up good and bad mannerisms. Are your hands jingling keys in your pocket? Do you keep touching your tie? Are you blinking or otherwise looking nervous? Also watch for what you do right. Are your hand gestures natural? Do you have a great smile, and use it often?
Get honest feedback from others. Many years ago I was in a training program for speakers where we evaluated each other. After a presentation, each person in the class would tell the speaker one thing they had done well and one thing they could do better next time. Ask someone you trust and respect to do that for you. Constructive criticism (“Here is something you could do better next time…”) makes you better if you accept it and use it to improve.
After you have been speaking for a while, go back and listen to a recording (or watch a video) of one of your early presentations. You will be amazed at how much your speaking skills have improved!