3 Ways to Upgrade Your Public Speaking Skills

public speaking

By Yvonne Milosevic

The ability to present your ideas persuasively is the key to success in any field. Yet public speaking ranks high on the list of things people fear most—right up there with snakes, heights, and zombies. Thankfully, we don’t often encounter scary things that slither and shuffle at work. But at some point, you may need to speak at a conference, a company meeting, or with outside stakeholders.

Fair or not, people judge us on our presentation skills. That’s why it’s worth the extra effort to improve in this area. Warren Buffett told Inc. he considers public speaking the most valuable skill anyone can build.

“The one easy way to become worth 50 percent more than you are now—at least—is to hone your communication skills—both written and verbal,” Buffett says.

The good news is, you can learn to communicate more effectively, even if you’re not a fan of the spotlight. And if your presentations all take place over Zoom nowadays. These pro presentation tips can help.

Tip #1 Be authentic

A while back, researchers from the Stanford GSB analyzed 100,000 presentations to glean the secrets of effective public speaking. They offer many actionable tips related to verbal and body language you should check out. But they also urge us to focus on authenticity, which means showing warmth and passion when presenting.

The research team discovered that the top 10% of authentic speakers were considered 1.3 times more trustworthy and 1.3 times more persuasive than the average communicator.

As you prepare and practice your speech, keep in mind what excites you about the topic and how your audience will benefit, suggests GSB lecturer Matt Abrahams. Thinking about your motivation can energize you, even if you need to give the same presentation many times, he adds. “This doesn’t mean you have to be a cheerleader,” Abrahams says. “You need to find a method for relaying your message that is authentic and meaningful for you.”

Tip #2 Be strategic with your slides

If you want to make a compelling presentation, avoid the common PowerPoint mistake of having Too.Many.Slides. Also, steer clear of slides that display the actual notes you are speaking. “That’s the last thing people want to see,” says Tuck School professor Paul Argenti in his how-to article on perfect presentations. “They want to see pictures and stories and to understand the material visually.”

A recent piece in Harvard Business Review echoes that point. Visionary Steve Jobs rarely showed slides with only text or bullet points, notes author Carmine Gallo. Instead, he interspersed photos with text. “Experiments in memory and communication find that information delivered in pictures and images is more likely to be remembered than words alone,” Gallo explains.

The increase in retention is remarkable, he adds. Studies show we remember 10% of spoken information, whereas we can recall 65% if presented with a picture at the same time.

Tip #3 Practice, practice, practice

Some of you are already thinking, ‘No duh, Captain Obvious.” But hear us out. People underestimate the importance of repeated practice before they give a speech. They imagine it will sound stale or overly rehearsed. But there’s no such thing as too much prep. Besides knowing the material backward and forward, ample practice boosts your comfort and confidence. That way, you won’t have to rely as much on notes or your slides once the framework of your speech becomes ingrained.

Practice in front of a mirror. In the car. While you shower. It can help to record yourself speaking so you can look out for verbal ticks or awkward body language that could distract listeners. Then, move on to a live audience. Recruit a few friends or family members to hear your speech. Grill them for honest feedback about your delivery. Did you sound clear? Engaging? Knowledgeable? Review their feedback and tweak accordingly.

You don’t have to go all Malcolm Gladwell and aim for 10,000 hours of prep to knock it out of the park. But incorporating passion, authenticity, and imagery into your presentations can make all the difference between a successful and bland experience.

Need more tools to help you handle a high-pressure situation like public speaking? Don’t miss our earlier post with strategies to avoid choking under pressure if nervousness is a factor undermining your performance.