Is public speaking your biggest fear? Maybe you're comfortable in small groups but not in larger crowds. What about leaning in and speaking up at important meetings? You aren't alone if this is an area of opportunity for you. Presenting, big and small, is a leadership skill you need to make your mark and influence others.
First, you want to own your message. It should be concise, clear, and in consideration of what your listeners need. You don't want to be a talking head, losing everyone's interest. This takes knowing your audience; you want them to feel something and connect with you. If you make your message relatable, they'll listen and not tune out. Think—and say—more “you” and less “I” to help you connect. Focus on what you want your listeners to remember and repeat it.
If it distresses you to speak up at meetings, here's a simple approach: Consider just agreeing (or disagreeing) with a talking point by making a short comment or giving a reason/example based on your experience. Even better, use a story or an analogy to support your point. Sometimes writing your thoughts as the meeting progresses helps you organize for standing up and speaking up. It also helps to be passionate about the subject.
Speaking of standing up, own your energy. Literally stand—it gives you authority and you'll feel more confident. Energy and confidence go a long way in engaging your listeners. And while you're standing, look at the audience. Pick out familiar faces, or even unfamiliar ones, to focus on when you're making a point.
You'll also want to own your speaking style. Slow down, make eye contact, and don't talk if you aren't looking at the group. Imagine a speaker talking to a wall or a screen, or even reading notes without ever looking up—it just isn't engaging. If you make a mistake or leave out something you wanted to say, it's likely that no one will notice because only you know the content. Take a pause, breathe, and keep going.
Have you heard of “death by PowerPoint”? If your slides can't be read or appreciated from the back of the room, then you have too much content on them. You're the message, not the slides. Look for ways to pare down the language and, ideally, replace words with images. As my mother would say, “A picture is worth a thousand words.” And please don't read your slides. Just talk and be yourself. Authenticity is key.
There are resources to help you with improving your public speaking skills such as www.speakeasyinc.com, where I learned some of these tricks. Talking in front of a mirror or being videotaped and watching yourself can be painful, but it can help. So does practice, practice, practice.
If you want to make a presentation that people listen to rather than being on their phones, you'll have to own it. Speak up. Pause. Make eye contact. Connect. This works in staff meetings, hallway meetings, hospital-wide meetings, board meetings, professional meetings, and anywhere you speak. Being able to speak in front of people is critical to success and your role as a leader.