One of my favorite things to do is to speak to a group. It’s mostly because I am a teacher at heart and I really enjoy helping people understand a new idea, deepen their knowledge about a topic, or help them move from point A to point B about a subject. From a young age I wanted to be a teacher and I have been blessed to be a teacher for most of my career.
Similar to leadership, teaching is something that has naturally come with each of my positions. When I’m a manager, I train others how to do their job – teaching! When I’m in a meeting presenting a new way to reach customers, I’m teaching! When I’m in the classroom in front of a bunch of college students teaching them about leadership, I’m teaching … okay, that one was kind of obvious.
One of the best ways to spread your message is through public speaking. Whether you’re in a pulpit on Sunday morning, presenting a PowerPoint presentation to your colleagues, or leading a family meeting at home, you’re speaking. And most of us can get better at this skill. And, I am more and more aware of people who are being asked to speak who aren’t trained and who have no experience in speaking at all. So, this post is for all of you!!
1. Consider your audience.
When I’m preparing to speak in front of a group, the first thing I do (other than settle on a topic) is spend some time thinking about whom I will be speaking to. Are they moms, teens, kids, professionals, volunteers, etc.? What are their backgrounds and experiences? Why are they at this particular event and how does my topic intersect with where they are in life? And, it will be rare that everyone in the room can fit nicely into one bucket. So, you must consider and include everyone who is in the room when you craft your talk. In other words, you must be remedial and advanced all at the same time. It takes work, but it can be done.
2. Prepare and practice.
There are far too many of us that think we can walk into a room and “wing it.” The best speakers in the world prepare and practice … trust me. It is not a sign of skill when you don’t prepare and practice. It reminds me of my experiences eating in a restaurant and the waiter/waitress doesn’t write down my order. More often than not, they mess up my order. In their minds, they probably think that it makes them feel more skillful. In reality, it doesn’t. The same is true here. Do your research. Plan the parts where you’ll be funny. And practice your speech in front of a mirror, in front of your spouse, or in front of a trusted friend and listen to their feedback! One of the best ways to get rid of the nerves when you’re speaking in public is to feel confident by being prepared!
3. Give actionable next steps.
This is one that happens time and time again. We listen to a really good speech and the speaker simply ends with really good content … and nothing else. We speak for change. When we step on the stage, walk up in front of the Board of Directors, or sit down in front of our families, we are looking to inspire and inform them. We want our message, whatever it is, to stick. The best way to do this is to give the listener something to do because of what you said. Have regular points where you stop and ask them to write down their thoughts. Point them to additional resources at the end of your talk. Ask them to jot down 3 goals that they think of that is related to what you just shared. Invite them to give you feedback on what they’ve just heard. Give them something to do.
If I’m being honest, I’m still working on all three of these items. But, if I want to be better … and if you want to be better … we should focus our energy on these items and we will see tangible results.