The world's best leaders have one thing in common: the ability to captivate an audience, moving them to action through powerful communication. This skill is crucial to acquire whether you are speaking to an audience of your staff, investors, peers, or target consumers.

An effective leader doesn't have to be the smartest person in the room, but she / he definitely needs to be able to motivate other towards a collective goal. Just like a world-changing product is useless if it sits on a shelf, a great idea is nothing unless it can be effectively communicated. We are not talking about simply sharing the facts. What we are interested in here is presenting the information in a way that makes the audience desire it like a molten chocolate lava cake after a killer meal.

Public speaking terrifies many, but is usually necessary for career success. Some of the major pitfalls of an unseasoned public speaker include:

  1. Lack of confidence. Some people believe in what they're saying, but don't truly believe in their ability to convey it. They are in constant judgment of themselves-which will cause an audience to subconsciously feel uncomfortable.
  2. Overconfidence to the point of arrogance. The people guilty of this don't feel a need to do an emotional check-in with their audience. They look at their speech as a monologue, rather than a conversation. The speech becomes about the speaker and how smart he/she is. The effect? They belittle their audience and induce mass daydreaming episodes.
  3. Poor preparation. The terrifying aspect of public speaking may cause the speaker to want to avoid rehearsing in front of close friends or trusted colleagues. But half-heartedly practicing a speech by yourself will not prepare you to connect with an audience or smoothly recover from a slip up.

The preparation involved in delivering a powerhouse speech is very similar to the work of a professional stage actor because of the huge emphasis on deep listening, clear communication, an emotional investment, and emotional intelligence. In fact, many CEOs are turning to theatre professionals to help them become more effective conversationalists and spokespersons.


Award-winning theatre directors Leah Bonvissuto and Jackie Miller are the founders of Bespoken, a specialized coaching service that trains top professionals to be dynamic speakers. Here are their best tips for ramping up for a big speech:

Do some self-sleuthing

Identify what makes your leadership style unique and acknowledge what throws you off your game: are you confident in front of large crowds, but shrink in front of smaller groups? Dissect negative past experiences as well as positive ones--take notes, dig for clues and seek feedback from trusted sources.

Embrace your #onlyness

What is that thing that only you can bring to the table? Flesh out not only why you do what you do, but also what you do differently than anyone else. Create a shortlist of words to pull from on-the-go that authentically represent your vision.

Find your voice

Anyone can learn to speak powerfully and purposefully--actors have been practicing how to speak with clarity and distinction for thousands of years. Take a class or work with a coach to learn how to be open and responsive, especially when the stakes are high.

Go back to your roots

Combat nerves in the moment by breathing deep and focusing on the physical--especially your feet. Your shoes should make you feel grounded. If those ballet flats aren't making you feel powerful it might be time for some retail market research!

Embrace discomfort

Seek out opportunities to practice being uncomfortable--think of it as a muscle. Rehearse your speech while maintaining direct eye contact with a trusted friend. It may feel scary at first (so start small and in a safe environment!) but with practice and patience you can improve your discomfort tolerance.

And speaking of practice...

If you only run through it in hushed tones in your office, imagine how different it will feel when you need to fill that 500-seat hall. Seize any opportunity to practice full out (or in the actual space if possible) to minimize the unexpected and unfamiliar.

Keep it conversational

No one can follow your lead if they don't know where you're going. Establish communication that is direct, clear and compassionate. Even presentations can be framed in a conversational tone.

Seek feedback constantly

Understand the impression you're making. Don't be afraid to ask clarifying questions. Asking "Is that clear?" for example, will show that you are open and proactive, and it will make your team feel validated and heard.

Connect with your audience

Picture someone who will be in the room and think: How do I want to make them feel? The simple act of putting yourself in their shoes takes you out of your own head and into the space around you, helping you form more meaningful connections.

A matter of time

Owning the room doesn't come easy or overnight. Be patient with yourself and practice in a safe space to build your confidence before venturing into the outside world.

Yes, public speaking may be a bit scary at first, but when you learn how to deliver impact-it is extremely empowering! Plus, the more you do it, the fewer butterflies you get. Believe in the power of your message and use these tools to let your passion and innovation shine.

Published on: Jul 21, 2015
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