There are three components you must know in order to improve your presentation skills for better public speaking. When someone asks me how he can build effective communication skills and improve his public speaking, I quote to him the words of Elbert Hubbard, who said, “The only way to learn to speak is to speak and speak, and speak and speak, and speak and speak and speak.”
But while it’s true that the only way to become good at anything is by repetition, over and over, until it becomes second nature, there are many things that you can do to be more effective speaking in front of audiences.
The starting point in the art of public speaking is to pick a subject that you really care about. It is to think through the subjects that have had an extraordinary impact on you, the subjects that you would like to share with others because you intensely feel that others could benefit from your knowledge. With this, you have a springboard off which you can leap into your first public talk.
The second part of public speaking is preparation for effective communication. Preparing is more important than anything except caring about your subject. It’s not unusual for a person to spend many hours, days and even weeks preparing for a talk.
PLANNING FOR EFFECTIVE COMMUNICATION
To prepare for a talk, the first thing to do is to write out an objective statement of what you wish to accomplish as a result of your presentation. Whether it’s a 10-minute presentation or a 10-hour presentation, the statement of your objective is the same. It’s the answer to the question, “Who is my audience, and what effect do I want my talk to have upon them?”
So you need to ask, “What action do I want this audience to take as a result of the things I say to them?” Write out this action statement of your objective very clearly. Then write down everything that you think you could possibly say, one point after the other, to this audience to cause them to take this action. Remember, the reason for public speaking is not simply to teach or to share information. It’s to move people’s minds and hearts and to provoke them into changing their behavior in some way.
Once you have an outline of what you want to accomplish and some of the ways that you can accomplish it, begin to do your research, if necessary. If you don’t have enough information, begin to read and to ask questions.
If you’re giving a short talk, the very best strategy to improve your presentation skills is to write it out, word for word, in detail. Then read through it and edit it. Revise it wherever necessary. Add to it, and subtract unnecessary data. Work on it until it is polished, and then read through it several times so that you have such a good sense of the material that you can go through the entire talk prior to falling asleep or while you’re driving your car.
IMPROVE YOUR PRESENTATION SKILL
If the first two parts of successful public speaking are caring and preparing, the third part is practicing and improving your presentation skills. If you have a tape recorder or, even better, a video camera, record yourself giving the talk from beginning to end. Then listen to it or watch it, and make notes on how you could make it better. If you’re using a video camera, look into the camera and use the same facial expressions and the same body gestures that you would use if you were speaking directly to someone. When you critique yourself, be very hard on yourself. Remember, the more honest and objective you can be about how you come across to others, the faster you will build effective communication skills for success.
Practice makes perfect, and perfect practice makes it even more perfect. If you practice consistently, you will find that your presentation skills have dramatically improved over time. Remember, your ability to speak effectively in front of people can do more to advance your career and your life than perhaps any other skill you can develop.
OVERCOME YOUR FEAR OF PUBLIC SPEAKING
It’s normal and natural for you to be nervous about public speaking, but you must overcome that fear to improve your presentation skills. Fifty-four percent of American adults rank public speaking ahead of fear of death among life’s major fears. Most people become nervous and uneasy at the very thought of standing up to speak in front of an audience, and their hearts pound.
Speaking professionally really is not something that you can decide in favor of or against. You don’t really have a choice. If you want to realize your full potential in the world of business, you must learn how to improve your effective communication skills to better communicate with people. I have seen executives make extraordinary career jumps, saving themselves as much as five to 10 years of time working up the executive ladder, simply by using effective communication skills at a corporate meeting. I’ve observed men and women who’ve put their careers onto the fast track by overcoming their fears and developing their presentation skills.
Pay any price, spend any amount of time, overcome any obstacle, but make a decision, right now, that you’re going to learn to speak well before groups and practice your presentation skills consistently. It could be one of the most important decisions you ever make in assuring long-term success in your career.
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