3 Keys to Public Speaking

Dec 29, 2010

by Tom Ricci ASME.org

Whether you are addressing a small group or find yourself behind a podium in front of hundreds, public speaking can be unnerving and downright frightening to some, while seemingly innocuous to others.

So what separates the two mindsets? Mainly, those who struggle with public speaking do so because it is outside of their comfort zone, they lack confidence, or they exhibit a disdain for the practice altogether. For many engineers, public speaking is outside of their comfort zone.

There are many reasons why public speaking skills will help in the professional world. For example, often you work in a small project group. You may have the best idea, or the best approach to solving the problem, but if you can’t communicate it better than the other team members, your idea will not be heard.

You may be asked to work in your company’s trade show booth, where you need to present the features and benefits of the company’s products to prospective customers. You may be asked (or told) to present a technical paper at an industry conference of your peers. Or, you may one day become an entrepreneur, where you will find yourself presenting your business plan to a group of potential investors. In any case, you need to communicate effectively to achieve your goals.

Follow the 3 P’s to Success

For most people, public speaking does not come naturally. Good speakers are made, not born. Even those who seem to be naturally gifted speakers follow these simple rules of thumb: Prepare, Practice, and Personalize.

1. Prepare

How long will you be speaking, five minutes or an hour? Who is the audience? What is the venue —a staff meeting or a large group? With that in mind, you need to prepare and organize your thoughts. It is important that you thoroughly understand your topic and what you plan to present. Prepare your presentation with the audience in mind. What are you trying to communicate and what is the desired outcome? Once you have a clear objective, be sure that your speaking points succinctly support your objective. Don’t cloud the presentation with too much information. Finally, anticipate questions and prepare answers.

2. Practice

Practice your presentation out loud. As odd as this may sound, it is important that you get used to the sound of your own voice. Are there words or phrases you want to emphasize by changing your inflection? Practice it. Even the public speakers who seem the most natural practice.

3. Personalize

By personalize I mean be yourself. If you are outgoing and have a great sense of humor, use it to your advantage during your presentation. Be yourself. If you are not outwardly demonstrative or emotional, don’t try to be so during your presentation—you won’t be able to pull it off. Just be yourself. I recently attended a breakfast meeting at which the CEO of a large company was the keynote speaker. In his introductory remarks, he came across as knowledgeable and personable with a great sense of humor. However, once he began his formal presentation, he read from a script (perhaps someone prepared it for him) and came across as dry, humorless, and uninteresting. He wasn’t being himself.

Anyone can turn themselves into a great public speaker. It just takes preparation, practice and a bit of personality. There are also many organizations out there, such as Toastmasters, that can help you hone your skills. It truly is a skill that will help you in both your professional and personal life.

Tom Ricci is the owner of Ricci Communications.