Whether to present a breakthrough idea, explain and defend a policy change, motivate a team, or position one’s self as a thought leader, business professionals are often called upon to speak before a group. But that doesn’t mean public speaking comes naturally or isn’t stressful. If you feel anxious about speaking to an audience, in person or virtually, you’re far from alone. Fear of public speaking, or glossophobia, is one of the most common phobias, right up there with heights, spiders and death. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, about 73% of the population experiences public speaking anxiety. At its root is the fear of being judged negatively by others.
As part of its professional development mission, American Management Association (AMA) has formulated strategies to help C-suite executives and potential influencers at all levels move beyond fear, step up to the podium or face the camera, and speak with the confidence, authority, and ease to make a great impression and a lasting, positive impact on their audience. To get you started, the experts at AMA offer a handy public speaking checklist. It covers the key elements—verbal, vocal and visual—you need to keep in mind as you prepare to ace your next presentation or shine in your speaking debut.
Verbal. In public speaking, the quality of your content counts. First, take time to really think through and assess the validity of the ideas you’re planning to present. Then, focus on carefully choosing the language you use to explain those ideas and organizing everything so that it makes sense to your audience. Say, for example, you’re giving a presentation on a reorganization in your company in an effort to gain stakeholder support: If you gloss over or fail to clarify the reason for this action, the credibility of everything you say next is likely to suffer.
Vocal. In public speaking, the quality of your voice is crucial. Crafting a presentation filled with great ideas, supported by the right words and a well-organized structure, is pointless if your audience struggles to understand what you’re saying or grasp the meaning you intended. Your voice is an instrument. Be aware of how you use it—and practice, practice, practice.
- Pay attention to your volume and projection. Can everyone in the group hear you without straining? Or, on the other end of the spectrum, will your audience be turned off because everything you say sounds like shouting?
- Sharpen your articulation. Mumbling and fumbling over words will make even the best planned presentation sound sloppy.
- Focus on the inflection and conviction you bring to your speech. And modulate your speaking speed or pace for emphasis and impact.
Visual. In public speaking, the quality of your appearance also matters. Casual attire is usually fine, but make sure to dress appropriately for your audience and take the time you need to start your presentation looking well-groomed and pulled together. Whether onstage or on screen, pay attention to your posture, physical movements and facial expressions. Common habits such as slouching, pacing, gesturing with your hands, keeping your arms crossed over your chest, wrinkling your nose, and rolling your eyes can not only distract people’s attention from what you’re saying, but also send them the wrong message. Also, aim to regularly make eye contact with audience members while you’re speaking as a way to connect with your listeners and keep them engaged. If your presentation calls for the use of visual aids or other equipment, be sure you’re adept and comfortable with handling them. Remember: Your audience will be watching!
Finally, always strive for consistency in the verbal, vocal, and visual components of your presentation. When working together in harmony, these three elements will make you look and sound like an accomplished public speaker—even if you still feel a bit anxious. And keep this checklist on hand to revisit whenever you need to.
American Management Association (AMA) is globally recognized as a leader in professional development. For nearly 100 years, it has helped millions of people bring about positive change in their performance in order to improve results. AMA’s learn-by-doing instructor-led methods, extensive content, and flexible learning formats are proven effective—and constantly evolve to meet the changing needs of individuals and organizations. To learn more, visit www.amanet.org.