You don't have to be Tony Robbins to need great public speaking skills. Every company owner needs them (even if you're only speaking to a handful of people).
Maybe you need to convince others that an idea makes sense. Maybe you need to show investors how a project or business will generate a return. Maybe you need to help employees understand the benefits of a new process.
Or maybe you're in sales (which you definitely are if you own a small business). If so, you absolutely need great public speaking skills.
But how do you improve your ability to speak effectively?
The following is a guest post from Sara Varni, SVP of marketing for Sales Cloud at Salesforce. She's responsible for the positioning and go-to-market strategy for Sales Cloud, the world's leading sales app.
As the youngest of five kids, I got used to never being the center of attention. I put my head down and worked hard, and this strategy carried me through the beginning of my career.
My comfort in staying out of the spotlight was fine until I came to Silicon Valley, a place where public speaking is a right of passage for people at all levels. Silicon Valley is a place where you can pave (or jackhammer) your road to success.
Unfortunately, when I started public speaking, I sucked. I was new to tech. I was nervous. I was focused on just getting through the pitch instead of engaging the audience. What I said made sense--but no one cared.
Managers would say to me, "You know your sh*t. Just be confident." But that advice wasn't something I could go home and practice.
I thought I was doomed to a Michael Scott fate of flailing in front of any public audience, but over time things changed. It was a confluence of events--namely becoming more confident in the subject matter, but also taking advice from my colleagues.
I am proof that you do not have to be born as Tony Robbins to engage an audience. You can get better, and I'm going to tell you how.
1. Find Your "Newman" and Get Lots of Feedback
You have a co-worker who drives you nuts. This is your Newman (Jerry Seinfeld's archnemesis), but that person also speaks the truth and will tell you exactly what he or she does and doesn't like about how you present.
Seek out your biggest critic. The person will point out things you might not notice yourself. For example, my Newman pointed out to me once that I say the word so a lot--I never would have noticed that without feedback.
The truth hurts, but it also helps you get better. If you don't have a Newman, see if your company offers public speaking courses or speech coaches. These are great resources to pinpoint your areas for growth too.
2. Make Your Talk Track Your Own
The bigger the audience and the more important the setting, the more you may need to stick to a "talk track" (a script, a checklist, key points, etc.). After all, there's a message you need to deliver.
Even so, it's important that you make that pitch your own.
Does this mean you should do a 15-minute introduction of your LinkedIn profile? No. But it does mean you should insert personality into your talk track to highlight the fact that you are a real person and not just a corporate robot.
Remember: Your responsibility is not just to deliver your message; it's also to engage the audience. (In fact, if you don't engage the audience your message is irrelevant.) And also remember that authenticity is what takes speakers from good to great.
Think about what gets you up every day to be awesome at your job and figure out how to bring that out in your presentation. I have a ton of friends in sales who complain about the dated software they have to use every day. I know if they use Salesforce their lives will be better, so I naturally try to bring out their stories whenever I speak.
3. Never Write a Word Down
This is controversial advice, but I have personally benefited from not writing down what I plan to say. Why? It helps me stay in the land of language that people actually use. For example, you would never use the word furthermore in a conversation with your friend--so why would you use that word onstage?
Think about the slides and key points you want to make. Think about why those points matter to your audience. How will what you're saying make their lives better? Knowing your points--and believing in your message--will ensure you won't be at a loss for the right words.
If you present more than once, you might not say the exact same thing every time, but that's OK. Speaking without notes will help you be more relatable and will draw the audience in.
4. Get Zen About Nerves
Sometimes before I presented, I felt like my body was taking over my mind: My heart was beating out of my chest, I felt lightheaded--I felt completely out of control.
Last year, I was prepping for one of my biggest presentations at Salesforce, to 4,000-plus people, and my boss said, "I always think I'm going to forget what I'm going to say right before I get up."
There was one of our best corporate speakers saying he gets nervous, and it was exactly what I needed to hear. Everyone gets nervous. Trust that when you get on that stage your talk track will kick in, especially if you are prepared. Prepare well and then trust your preparation.
And don't forget that with the right amount of practice and feedback anyone can become an awesome public speaker. Seek advice and you'll get plenty. Stay true to yourself, make your talk track your own, practice a lot, and you'll crush it.
As a recovering mediocre presenter, I can tell you there is no better feeling than owning a room.