Not everyone is natural at public speaking, but knowing how to confidently deliver a speech or a presentation is a powerful tool in your career arsenal. Of course it's normal to have some fears but excelling is worth the effort, says Sherri Thomas, author of "Career Smart -- 5 Steps to a Powerful Personal Brand." "Being a good public speaker builds your credibility, influence and opens all kinds of opportunities in your career," she says.
There are plenty of ways to get over your fear of public speaking. Eager to gain more confidence when it comes to your speaking skills? Here's how:
1. Start out small
You're not going to give a perfect 40-minute lecture on the first try, so make sure to build up to giving a more in-depth presentation. Get practice by volunteering for any opportunities for public speaking engagements. Whether you're speaking at a neighborhood association meeting or as part of a roundtable discussion, being in front of an audience can ease your nerves. Going through the prep work in even the shortest presentation will help you build up to longer engagements.
2. Leave room for mistakes
When it comes to delivering a live speech, go easy on yourself, Thomas says. Most audience members have been on both sides of the fence and are more understanding than you think. Stumbling or even technical malfunctions are part of the deal. Use your sense of humor to quickly acknowledge any noticeable mistakes and move on.
3. Practice with people you trust
Asking those in your network to provide honest feedback can help you feel more at ease in front of an audience. "Start looking for safe environments where you can strut your stuff and share your knowledge," Thomas says. "This could include presenting a new idea to your manager or colleagues, or sharing your tips with a best friend or neighbor."
4. Make time for follow-up questions
Depending on the size of your audience, answering questions can be tricky. Especially if you're speaking to a larger group, set aside one-on-one time to answer more specific questions that others may not want to learn about, suggests Thomas who did just that when she first started speaking in public. "That let me off the hook for feeling like I was in a pressure cooker having to answer questions in front of a crowd, and allowed to me have more private conversations with attendees who wanted specific information," she explains.
5. Don't fret over your expertise
Just because you're not the total expert on a specific topic, doesn't mean you can't give a presentation that's helpful to your audience. "I encourage my clients by letting them know that they don't have to be the smartest person in the world in order to share their ideas, tips and strategies with other people," Thomas says. While it's important to understand the material you're presenting, there's no need to know everything about the topic.
6. Skip the slides, for now
It's always good to have materials, but giving a presentation shouldn't mean just reading your preparation materials aloud. "Practice giving five-minute mini-presentations without any PowerPoint slides to focus on delivering two to three points crisply and passionately," Thomas says. Afterwards, work in your materials to clarify concepts, which will help to ease your nerves.
7. Prepare for a long-term process
Most stellar speakers didn't get there overnight and it takes a while to really feel comfortable in front of an audience. Make sure you're in it for the long haul and don't expect to feel confident in your speaking skills right away. "Step up and do the research, get the training, talk to other experts, formulate your key ideas and then go for it," Thomas says.
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