Public speaking is the number one fear of people and an essential skill for anyone taking on a leadership position within a company. Being an effective communicator is a powerful leadership skill. Something that takes practice and thick skin to get better at. Presenting to small and large crowds alike opens you up to judgment and possible rejection. This potential rejection can be debilitating and halt your speech long before you hit the stage.

Presentations, like most things in life, are judged by the finished product but in reality took significant time to learn and perfect.

The things you do before you get the stage are drastically more important than the first words out of your mouth.

Set yourself up for speaking success by implementing the five techniques below.

1. Don't follow a firm script

This is counter-intuitive, but a completely scripted speech is actually a bad idea. Unless you're a professional actor, and a good one at that, your speech will come off as scripted and inauthentic. Not to mention, if you get off script or forget any line at any point it can cause a serious break in your presentation as you try to get back on track.

Instead of scripting, outline several themes/stories you want to tell as you go through your points. You should only be speaking on things you know a lot about, and if you know your stuff then finding the words to articulate your points will be easier.

2. Remove anything that could distract the audience

Keeping people's attention is difficult, keeping it while you've got a weird hat on, infinitely harder. Before you get on stage, make sure you're not wearing anything too outlandish and that your pockets have all been emptied.

3. Don't rely heavily on PowerPoint

PowerPoint is intended to assist your presentation, not be the presentation. Crowding PowerPoint slides with loads of text is a great way to send your audience to snooze town. Instead, use large fonts and limited words (under 10). PowerPoint slides are great visually queues for you as the presenter to tie certain stories/points to.

4. Create content around providing value to the audience, not a commercial

Your speech is not your commercial. If you've ever been to a conference you've seen the self-promoting type on stage -- they are up there for themselves, not their audience. This is the fastest way to lose your audience and any future prospects of getting customers from the audience.

When you're crafting your speech ask yourself, "what do I know that could be of value to the audience?" Whatever your answer is, that's what your speech should be about. Know and understand what your audience is wanting

5. Plan to leave time for questions

It's better to end a speech early than to have no time for questions. As a rule of thumb, allot 25 percent of your slotted time for questions. A good question period, (i) lets you help the audience and demonstrate further credibility as a knowledgeable person in the field and (ii) gives you insight into what content you should include in your next speech. If there's a running theme in the questions it is smart to incorporate that material into your next talk.

Published on: May 9, 2017
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.