5 Foolproof Ways to Boost Your Public-Speaking Skills
For young entrepreneurs, no matter your industry, solid public-speaking skills are invaluable. And if you want to get to the big time one day, chances are, you'll need to take the stage -- a la Mark Zuckerberg or the late Steve Jobs -- which could possibly open you up to scrutiny from the media, analysts and investors.
If you fall flat, you'll hardly inspire excitement among consumers or check-writing venture investors. But no pressure. After all, practice makes perfect.
Here, we tapped several polished public speakers for their inside secrets:
1. Study with the best.
While it's possible to teach yourself how to become a good public speaker, it’s more efficient to work with professionals. Depending on your resources, this usually means one of three options: Finding a mentor, hiring a formal public-speaking coach or joining up with the local outfit of Toastmasters.
The first two strategies are by far the most straightforward. Both mentors and coaches will evaluate you on your natural speaking style, critique where you fall short and fill in any blanks by walking you through the finer points.
The difference, of course, is that coaches charge big bucks, usually about $75 an hour.
By contrast, Toastmasters charges just $36 for six months. The Rancho Santa Margarita, Calif.-based non-profit sponsors learn-by-doing public-speaking workshops all over the world. There are no instructors at these meetings, and members evaluate one another.
2. Pick a passion.
Passion and enthusiasm goes a long way in this world -- especially when you’re standing in front of a room full of people. So, speak about things that get your blood pumping.
"People would much rather hear from someone who inspires them, someone who gets really excited about the subject of a speech," says Travis Allen, the 21-year-old president and CEO of the iSchool Initiative, an education-focused nonprofit based in Kennesaw, Ga. Allen adds that audiences respond just as well to passionate gestures as they do to passionate words.
"Body language is 70 percent of being an effective communicator, how you say it is 23 percent and content is only 7 percent," he estimates, offering a breakdown based on his own personal experiences.
3. Plan ahead.
In the movies, it makes for great drama when public speakers toss aside their notes and speak extemporaneously. In the real world, however, that almost never happens. Ever. With this in mind, it behooves you to plan out a speech as you would a white paper or doctoral thesis.
Some speakers say this means writing the end first and working backward from there. Others, such as 26-year-old Andrew Schrage, co-owner of Money Crashers, a personal-finance site in New York, say that crafting a simple outline works wonders.
"I write down which specific points I want to cover and in which order, and try to include examples for each point," says Schrage. "I also include a modest timeline with my outline based on the allotted time I have to speak."
4. Use examples.
Audiences respond best when they experience a sense of empathy. This means speeches with personal anecdotes and other humanizing elements tend to work best.
Stacey Ferreira, the 20-year-old co-founder and vice president of MySocialCloud.com, a Los Angeles-based online backup and bookmarking site, says she prefers to select stories that engage the audience and give listeners something to relate to.
"I’ve found that telling stories are an amazing way to get listeners’ attention and bring everyone in the audience into your speech," she says. You might also try incorporating jokes or video clips to break things up, too.
5. Practice makes perfect.
Once the speech is written, it’s time to do something NBA-star Allen Iverson doesn't care for: Practice. With a stopwatch. And no do-overs.
Jeet Banerjee, a 19-year-old serial entrepreneur and college student based in Orange County, Calif., says he tries to run through each speech under "real-world" conditions at least four or five times before the main event.
"Practicing around friends, families and co-workers helps me deliver a much smoother presentation and gives others a chance to critique my speech, which can be valuable," he says. "I don’t think you can ever master the art of public speaking, but you can improve with every speech you make."