Business owners are often invited to make presentations, participate in panel discussions or speak at conferences and meetings. Public speaking is, in fact, a public relations opportunity to establish yourself or your employees as leaders or experts in your field. Experts often receive positive publicity at no expense that leads to favorable positioning in the minds of customers and investors.
Not everyone is an "ideal" speaker, so choose the best speaker from your group to represent your company. This might not be you, even if you're the CEO or the business owner. Be objective and evaluate who, within your company, is best suited for speaking engagements.
Characteristics of Good Public Speakers
- First and foremost, the speaker is knowledgeable about the subject.
- The speaker's voice and appearance assists, rather than hinders, a clear understanding of the message.
- The speaker is comfortable and "polished" when speaking.
- The speaker is capable and confident when answering audience questions.
Ideas for getting the word out that you are available as a speaker.
- Register with appropriate speakers' bureaus.
- Make your company's speaking capabilities known to appropriate audiences, such as professional organizations, civic groups or non-profit organizations.
- Send announcement letters or network to let groups know that you are available and which topics you can address.
- Prepare before uttering a word. This is true whether you're speaking to a packed auditorium or if it's just an informal talk. Being prepared means having a thorough knowledge of your topic, determining key points you want to make ahead of time and practicing. A helpful exercise for identifying key points is to force yourself to reduce the content of your speech to just a few "headlines" or "sound bites."
- A fundamental principle of any form of communication is to "know your audience" so you know what's relevant to them. If you're asked to speak to the monthly meeting of the Society of CPAs, you may think you know all you need to know - all audience members are CPAs. However, if you dig deeper you might find important information that shapes your presentation, such as the average age of members, average length of employment as a CPA, and industries the members represent. Be prepared to present information that is relevant to your audience.
- Your speech may be brilliant on paper, but no one is going to read it, you're going to say it. So, be sure you remarks are clear; audience members can't re-read for clarification. Use simple, understandable words that have definite meanings so that there is little room for misinterpretation.
- Know the time allotted for your presentation. Respect your audience's time and don't speak longer. Don't assume everyone wants to hear that extra anecdote or two. Likewise, if too much time is allotted, try to change it. You don't want people to think you are boring or long-winded just because you've been told to talk well beyond the time needed. (A good rule of thumb is 20 minutes if you are the sole speaker at a function, such as a banquet or a meeting with other agenda items. If the audience will hear several speakers in a row, plan shorter times for each speaker.)
- If there is a moderator or interviewer involved in your presentation, do what you can to familiarize yourself with their interview style.
- When you're joined by other speakers or panelists for a presentation, learn a little about them and their topics so you don't find yourself repeating others.
- If other speakers will be presenting information or opinions contrary to yours (as in a debate or political panel), plan what you will say to keep your position as clear and as unassailable as possible. (An old debate team tip works in this situation: Before you speak, prepare a speech supporting the opposing position. This will make you aware of all the issues that could arise and you will be prepared to refute erroneous claims.)
- Do all that you can to make yourself familiar with the setting of your speech. Will you be standing or sitting? What will the room look like? Will you have a podium, stage or microphone? Will your speech be live or taped? Will you be a member of a panel?
- Print or type your notes in a font size large enough so you can refer to them casually rather than stopping to look at them.
- If you anticipate being criticized by the audience, have your friends or colleagues role-play the adversary. Practice responding to their criticism.
- Don't wear anything that will detract from your message. You want the audience to focus on you, not a flamboyant scarf or a large, shiny gold pin. See Preparing for TV and Radio Interviews for more tips on dressing for public appearances.
- Arrive early and set up your speaking area ahead of time. Will you need a glass of water? A cough drop? Is there enough space for your materials so they won't get out of order?
- In contrast to news stories in which good communicators state all the primary information at the beginning, open your presentation with a few remarks or humorous ice-breakers to give audience members time to settle in and get their minds focused on your topic. Make these opening seconds count, though.
- State points in a memorable way. Every speech should have at least one memorable point.
- Know your speech. (Never read it) Practice your speech enough so you can deliver it from memory.
- Tell your audience three things:
- tell them what you are going to tell them,
- tell them what you want them to know (your message)
- tell them what you told them
For example: "Tonight I want to give you three reasons to support our company's position. . ." Then, continue with the three reasons. Finally, review the points briefly in your conclusion.
- Keep any references or examples current. Update your speech over time.
- Make frequent eye contact with the audience; look for friendly faces. Try this three-step
- Lock your eyes on one person before starting a sentence or thought.
- Move your eyes around the room, but complete a thought with each person whose gaze you engage.
- Pause and breathe while moving to another audience member.
- Avoid little transitional phrases like "Okay..." or "sooo..." and above all, "Umm..."
- Control your gestures. Practice your speech in front of a mirror. Where are your hands? Keep your hand gestures above your waist; don't let them flutter unnecessarily. Don't twist a ring, crack your knuckles, bite your lip, twist a button, push your glasses up repeatedly - unless that's what you want your audience to notice.
Using Visual Aids
Remember, you are the communicator. Overheads, slides, flip charts or other visual aids serve only to help you communicate your message. How you handle these tools provides the audience clues about your expertise and confidence as a speaker.
When using slides or overheads:
- don't dim the lights in the audience area,
- dim lights by the screen if necessary, but make sure you can be seen,
- face the audience, not the screen, when referring to items on the screen,
- tell the audience where to look on the screen, "The largest part of the pie chart indicates. . . "
When using videos:
- don't try to talk over a tape; always stop it when you want to comment,
- position yourself next to the monitor so audience members won't have to shift their focus when you stop the tape,
- use multiple monitors for large presentation spaces and position yourself near the monitor closest to the front and center.
Questions & Answers Following Presentations
Many presentation formats allow audience members to ask the speaker questions. While you can't prepare and memorize your answers verbatim (you don't know the questions), you can anticipate and prepare for questions.
- The most common meeting format calls for the speaker presentation first with questions following. A very informal meeting may allow for questions during the speaker's presentation.
- Use audience questions to clarify your points or clear up misunderstandings.
- Incorporate the answers to frequently asked questions into your next presentation.
- When selecting a questioner from the audience, don't point. Instead, extend your full arm with an open palm toward the person you'd like to hear from.
- Look directly at the questioner and listen for the issue behind the question.
- Break your gaze with the questioner, restate or rephrase the question while looking at another audience member. Look back at the questioner while answering.
- To avoid a follow-up question from the same questioner, break your gaze with them before you finish answering the question and make eye contact with another audience member as you finish your statement.