Public speaking skills allow us to share important information with our coworkers, team members, and higher-ups. Yet if you feel nervous, sweaty, and afraid when speaking to an audience, you’re not alone. In this article, we’ll help you combat your fear of public speaking and improve these skills to become a confident, capable public speaker — without having to picture your audience in their underwear. You’ll learn:
- What Are Public Speaking Skills?
- Why Is Public Speaking Important in the Workplace?
- What to Do if You Have Public Speaking Anxiety
- How to Improve Your Public Speaking Skills
- Public Speaking: The Bottom Line
What Are Public Speaking Skills?
Public speaking is a soft skill you use every time you speak in front of a group. It’s a type of verbal communication where you talk in front of an audience, whether in an auditorium or a multi-team Zoom meeting. It’s also an interpersonal skill because an effective public speaker engages their audience and often involves them in their presentation.
Public speaking isn’t just about what you’re saying but how you say it. Your tone, volume, eye contact, and body language contribute to your public speaking skills.
Public speaking in the workplace can look like:
- Presenting your team’s strategy to executives
- Maintaining good eye contact with your audience on Zoom
- Providing context on a project while presenting before diving in
- Projecting your voice so everyone in the room can hear you
- Managing public speaking anxiety before presenting
- Sharing quarterly results in a monthly team meeting
- Articulating each point on your slide clearly
- Using engagement tactics to keep your audience attentive
Why Is Public Speaking Important in the Workplace?
Unfortunately, our work doesn’t always speak for itself. Public speaking is your way to shout out your achievements and demonstrate that you’re a valuable team member.
“In the workplace, we are often seeking to inform others or advocate for buy-in from our peers and management,” Bridget Lancaster, head of HR at Qrypt, says. “Knowing your audience and seeking to connect and interact with them are crucial public speaking skills to achieve this.”
We need to use our public speaking skills to communicate our work with others, whether our managers, teammates, or executives. When we speak clearly and confidently about our work, it’s easy for others to understand what we’re doing and see our impact.
Our public speaking skills also affect how others perceive us. For example, a 2018 study examined how someone’s voice pitch influenced others’ perceptions of them. They found that people with lower-pitched voices were more likely to be elected for office, even though lower-pitched voices didn’t correlate with any leadership ability.
Whether we like it or not, how we speak affects how others perceive us. This doesn’t mean that we should all talk in low pitches, but rather be aware of our tone, diction, and confidence when speaking — because if we talk confidently, others might start to see us as more capable.
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What to Do if You Have Public Speaking Anxiety
Glossophobia, a fancy term for fear of public speaking, is more common than you might think; 73% of the population has public speaking anxiety. Public speaking anxiety can make you not only dread talking to an audience but also have physical symptoms like dizziness, sweating, and a rapid heartbeat.
To overcome a fear of public speaking:
- Prepare. Know your material front and back, sideways, and upside down…you get the point. Practice in front of other people and film yourself to see how you look and sound.
- Take the pressure off. Yes, sometimes presentations are high-stakes. However, if you make a mistake, remind yourself that this doesn’t mean anything less about you. Everyone trips up sometimes!
- Understand why you’re facing public speaking anxiety. Maybe you’ve had a bad public speaking experience in the past or are facing imposter syndrome about your ability to give a good presentation. “In the past few years, I’ve done a lot of work on visibility and using something called shadow work to uncover where your fears are coming from,” Megan Hamilton, speaking, visibility, and confidence coach, says. “We’re not putting band-aids on deep issues, but learning how to work through them. The training ends up being just as important as the inner work.”
- Help yourself during the presentation. Bring notes, a water bottle, cue cards, or anything else you can use as a helpful tool or reminder while the presentation is happening.
- Remember that you’re not alone. Nearly half of your audience doesn’t want to be in your shoes because they have public speaking anxiety, too. It’s OK and normal to be nervous.
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How to Improve Your Public Speaking Skills
So, if public speaking is crucial to making ourselves seen (and heard) at work, how do we improve these skills — even without any work experience?
Start With Your Audience
If you fear public speaking, you’ll likely obsess about yourself and how you might perform. Shift your awareness toward your audience instead and focus on their experience. How do you want them to feel during your presentation? Is there a specific context you need to give them? What level of information should you share? This can help take the pressure off from worrying about yourself.
Mind Your Body Language
Your body language signals your confidence to the audience. Mind your posture, hand gestures, and eye contact — especially if you’re giving the presentation virtually.
Don’t Be a Robot
“I’m seeing less appetite for the scripted formalized, distanced, and invulnerable speakers we might have encountered in the past,” Adam Brooks, director of public speaking at the University of Alabama, says. “We’re in the era of post-Brene Brown and people expect vulnerability, they expect good storytelling, and they want to be taken somewhere when they listen to someone.”
This is where your interpersonal skills come in. Show off your personality in your speech, whether in a joke you make in your introduction, a personal detail you include, or a question you ask the audience.
Listen to Your Voice
Record yourself giving your presentation and listen back for your voice pitch, tone, and speed. Of course, you want to annunciate your words and speak clearly and slowly — but not at a turtle’s pace.
“Often, there’s a disconnect between what we think we’re doing when we speak and what we actually do. By watching a recording of [ourselves], we’ll notice things we’ve never seen or heard before — like the amount of ums, likes, and you knows we use when speaking; any nervous twitching; poor body language; low volume; monotone delivery — and we can, hopefully, adjust those habits the more we work on them.”
Bob Wiltfong, public speaking consultant for Fortune 500 companies
Know Your Message
“Begin with the end in mind,” Brooks says. “We tend to confuse the form and function of a presentation with its purpose. We think, OK I’m going to get through this and move from one idea to another. Instead, people should ask before going to any message ‘when I’m done, what is the one thing I want everyone to take away?'”
Focusing on your message will make your presentation clearer, keep your work thematically connected, and leave the audience with a meaningful takeaway.
Practice, Practice, Practice
The more you engage in public speaking opportunities, the better your public speaking will be.
“Consistently find low-stakes opportunities to get in front of people,” Brooks says. “You hone your craft by offering to lead a meeting, volunteer to present at your place of worship, lead your book club discussion, etc. The more you do this and the more you can get yourself in front of others you can learn to manage the symptoms of public speaking anxiety.”
It also shows initiative to volunteer for these opportunities in a work setting. This can help you stand out in the workplace, especially as an entry-level employee.
“I think companies are creating a lot more space for their employees (not just upper management) to have a voice, whether it’s presenting or pitching ideas, demoing products, or spearheading a committee within the firm,” Lancaster says. “We are an engineering heavy firm and do a monthly ‘demo day’ where the engineering team shows the company what features they’ve been working on. I suggest raising your hand for something like this. An entry-level employee could contribute in this setting and take a segment of the lunch and learn to lead a discussion about an idea/topic/new technology.”
Public Speaking: The Bottom Line
Public speaking is a highly regarded workplace skill that can be daunting and even difficult to master. By managing your anxiety and practicing your messaging, body language, and presentation skills, you’ll gain a valuable workplace tool to help you show off your work and prove you’re a competent, capable team member.
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