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10 Things You Can Do Now To Make Public Speaking Effortless

10 Things You Can Do Now To Make Public Speaking Effortless

Have you ever wondered how some well-known figures make public speaking look like child’s play? As we know, it is not like that at all. Remember that over 50% of UK senior management feel nervous about speaking in public, so you are not alone!

“People think actresses find public speaking easy, and it’s not easy at all; we’re used to hiding behind masks.” – Jane Fonda

My first venture into public speaking was when I had to give a speech at my brother’s wedding, as I was his best man. This was an enormous challenge for me as I had struggled through adolescence with a speech defect. After an operation and speech therapy, my brother’s wedding was my first match in the public speaking arena. Happily, all went well!

Public speaking is an important life skill because if you can master this, you can cope better with job interviews and giving presentations. Here are 10 things you can adopt now to make it all sound smooth and effortless.

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1. Prepare the speech.

This seems pretty obvious but many people skimp on this. If you are giving a presentation or seminar, preparation will be crucial. You will also have to practice and decide how much use you will make of the following:

  • All written out or just notes?
  • Will you use PowerPoint slides?
  • Are you aware of your breathing while practicing?
  • Are you familiar with the venue?
  • Do you know what equipment is available?

2. Research your audience.

In my case this was easy, as it was family and friends. Anecdotes about my brother were expected and appreciated. But when you are in front of a business audience, it is important to know their background. Are they colleagues, middle managers or trainees? Finding out about their business experience and their companies will be very important. Armed with this information, you can make a passing reference to their company’s history or profile, which they can relate to.

3. Don’t read your speech.

There are several reasons why this could be disastrous:

  • You may bore the audience
  • You will almost certainly not succeed in getting their attention
  • You will never make eye contact
  • You are at risk of mumbling or failing to speak clearly.

4. Think beyond the words.

Let’s face it. You are communicating a message or information, or entertaining. Or it may be a combination of all three. The words you are using are merely a vehicle for conveying your ideas. They are not sufficient on their own. You also have to use the following:

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  • Gestures
  • Body language
  • Tone of voice
  • Speed of delivery
  • Pauses
  • Emphasis.

Get the combination of all these right and you will make a great speech.

5. Practice makes perfect.

You need to get really familiar with the contents of your speech. If you lack confidence, the best way to do this is to try and memorize the main points, and you can use a list of notes for this. You have to go over and over it again, timing yourself so that you do not go over the time allocated. If you prefer, you can also use cards with the main points on them, just in case you forget. A good idea is to number the cards, just in case you drop them!

6. Avoid the PowerPoint death sentence.

People refer to ‘death by PowerPoint’ because these visuals, while an excellent tool, can become deadly boring, especially if you read what is written on them. Your audience can read too!

It is important to keep the number of slides to a minimum. It is a visual aid and it is not supposed to substitute for you. Go for facts and figures, charts, graphs, or something visually stimulating such as a dramatic photo.

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There are many true statements about complex topics that are too long to fit on a PowerPoint slide.” –  Edward Tufte

7. Personalize what you have to say

People still love stories. An anecdote or two can work wonders. Tell them about your personal involvement in a project and what went right or wrong. Jokes are great too, although these should be kept to a minimum. All these things are important for bonding with your audience.

8. Being nervous is good

“Adrenaline is wonderful. It covers pain. It covers dementia. It covers everything.” – Jerry Lewis

You may think that all those irritating and embarrassing symptoms of butterflies in your stomach and a tremor in your voice and hand is going to mean you fail.

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But look at it this way: These are just minor things that are happening because your adrenaline is flowing. This is giving you more energy, more determination, and also a much sharper you. Concentrate on these aspects so that you can power up rather than become a frightened mouse. These are primeval instincts to help you fight. Forget the flight bit. It will all be over soon.

“I don’t get stage fright, I actually love the energy, I love the spontaneity, I love the adrenaline you get in front of a live audience, it actually really works for me.” – Brooke Burke

9. Hope for the best, prepare for the worst

While remaining upbeat and confident, there’s no harm in being aware of what could go wrong and to have a contingency plan up your sleeve. Here are some common situations you may encounter:

  • Make sure there is a glass of water on the lectern. When your mouth becomes impossibly dry, this is a life saver.
  • Check to see that everything is working beforehand and that the PowerPoint is all set up. Do a trial run, if possible.
  • If you forget the next point, refer to your notes. These should be brief and clear, with main points highlighted.
  • You will not be judged on your quivering voice. You are not doing an audition for a Hollywood film, so concentrate on getting your message across.

10. Observe and learn from the experts

When practicing your presentation or speech, watch people speaking on YouTube. Observe people who you think are great communicators and whom you admire. Watch how they use pauses for effect. Study their speed of delivery and also their body language. Remember that they started out like you and were probably just as nervous and phobic about the whole thing.

One comforting thought is that one journalist noted that President George Washington, in making his inaugural speech, was as nervous as hell. He was “so visibly perturbed that his hand trembled and his voice shook so that he could scarcely be understood.”  Nobody ever judged George Washington’s achievements by his public speaking!

Have you any tips about how to make public speaking easier? Tell us about them in the comments.

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Robert Locke

Author of Ziger the Tiger Stories, a health enthusiast specializing in relationships, life improvement and mental health.

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Last Updated on April 23, 2019

How to Set Stretch Goals and Keep Your Team Motivated

How to Set Stretch Goals and Keep Your Team Motivated

Stretch goals are a lot like physical fitness. When you adopt a physical sport such as running, continual practice leads to increased stamina, growth and progress.

While commitment to the sport improves performance, true growth happens when you are stretched beyond your comfort zone. I know this from personal experience.

For years, I was an avid runner. I ran with a variety of running groups in the Washington, D.C., area and in Columbus, Ohio, where I lived prior to moving to the nation’s capital in 2011.

While I was initially fearful about slacking off on my exercise habit when I moved to D.C., running enthusiasts in the area provided continual motivation, inspiring me to lace up my shoes day after day. Much to my surprise, many of the area’s running stores (including Pacers and Potomac River Running) boasted running groups that met in the mornings and evenings. So, it was relatively easy for a newcomer like me to connect with like-minded peers.

I was never a particularly fast runner, but I enjoyed the afterglow of the sport: being completely drained but feeling a sense of accomplishment; setting and reaching goals; buying and wearing out new tennis shoes. The sound of throngs of feet pounding the pavement in semi-unison is still enough to bring tears to my eyes. Yes, I sometimes tear up at the start of races.

Of all the groups I ran with, the Pacers Store group that met on Monday nights in Logan Circle boasted the fastest runners. I met up with the group week after week only to be the slowest runner. It was difficult to muster the courage to get up every week and meet the group knowing what was waiting for me: sweating and watching the backs of fellow runners.

Each time I joined the group, I was stretching myself without even realizing it. Instead of feeling like I was transitioning into a better running, for a long time I felt I was torturing myself.

Then something remarkable happened. I went for a run with a different set of runners and noticed my time had improved. I was running at a faster pace and doing so with ease. What was once uncomfortable for me I now handled with ease.

The reason I was becoming a better runner was because I was taking myself out of my comfort zone and challenging myself physically and mentally. This example illustrates the process of growth.

Fortunately, we can create situations that stretch us in our personal and professional lives.

What Is a Stretch Goal?

A stretch goal – as authors Sim B. Sitkin, C. Chet Miller and Kelly E. See detail an article “The Stretch Goal Paradox” in Harvard Business Review[1] – is something that is extremely difficult and novel. It is something that not everyone does, and it’s sometimes considered impossible.

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In general, you establish stretch goals by doing things that are difficult or temporarily challenging.

For instance, when I was first promoted to a senior communications management role, I knew I needed to beef up my relationships with media personalities. I set a goal to once a month book a day of media interviews in New York City – which is home to many media outlets, including SiriusXM radio, CNN, NBC News, HuffPost, VIBE.

This was a huge goal because it meant not only identifying the right people to meet with but convincing them to meet with me and my team. While I didn’t end up meeting the goal of doing a full day of media interviews in New York City, I met more people than I would have met had I not established the goal and instead stayed in the comfort of my D.C. office.

It is important to note that just because you establish a stretch goal doesn’t mean you’ll achieve the goal each time. However, the process of trying is guaranteed to provide some level of growth.

The Importance of Creating Stretch Goals

The beginning of the year is a perfect time to assess where you are excelling and where there is room for you to grow. I typically start the year by creating a yearlong strategic plan for myself.

I think about the things that are necessary to do and things that would be cool to do. I assess the people I should know and think through how to meet them. Then I ask myself if the goals are realistic and what would need to happen for me to achieve them.

Over time, I have learned that there are five things I can do to set stretch goals:

1. Get Outside of Your Head

If I exist within the confines of my imagination, I imperil my own growth and creativity.

If I examine my accomplishments and celebrate them in isolation of others’ accomplishments, my vantage point is limited.

I want to be comfortable with what I accomplish, but I also want to be motivated by watching others. In some respects, stretching is about expanding your network of friends, associates and mentors. These are the people who will propel or slow your growth and development.

Since two are better than one, I always value being able to share my progress with others, seek feedback and then map a plan for success.

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2. Focus on a Couple Areas at a Time

When setting goals, it is important to focus on a couple of areas at a time. Most of us are only able to focus on a few things at a time, and if you feel you are unable to tackle all that is before you, you may simply disengage.

I see this in so many areas of life:

When people get in debt, if they believe the debt is insurmountable, they refuse to look at incoming bills for fear of facing down the debt. Unfortunately, many businesses go awry when setting stretch goals.

In “The Stretch Goal Paradox,” Sitkin, Miller and See note:

“Our research suggests that though the use of stretch goals is quite common, successful use is not. And many executives set far too many stretch goals. In the past five years, for example, Tesla failed to meet more than 20 of founder Elon Musk’s ambitious projections and missed half of them by nearly a year, according to the Wall Street Journal.”

Goal-setting is like a marathon, not a sprint. It doesn’t all need to happen at the same time, and pacing is extremely important if you want to get to the finish line. It is better to focus on a couple goals at a time, master them and then move on to the next thing.

3. Set Aside Time Each Year to Focus on Goal-Setting

When I was a managing director for communications for the Advancement Project, I spent the first part of every year facilitating a communications planning meeting.

The planning meeting began with the team members assessing the goals the team had established in the preceding year, and whether those goals were realistic or not. If we failed to meet certain goals, we broke down why that happened. From there, we brainstormed about possibilities for the current year.

For instance, one year we set a goal of pitching and getting 24 opinion essays published. This was audacious because no one on the eight-person team had the luxury of focusing exclusively on editing and pitching opinion essays to publications around the world. We would need to focus on pitching in between the rest of our work.

We hit this goal within the first eight months of the year. Remarkably, in total, we ended up getting 40 opinion essays published that year, which was an indication that our original goal was too low. We upped the goal to 41 the next year, and amazingly, we hit 42 published opinion essays or guest columns.

From this experience, we not only learned what was feasible, we also learned the power of focus.

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When we focused as a team on getting the commentary on our issues out in the public domain, we were successful. The key in all of this is that there was a ton of discussion around which goal we’d pursue and why.

Equally important, as a manager, I didn’t set the goals alone; the team members and I established the goals collaboratively. This ensured buy-in from each individual.

4. Use the S.M.A.R.T. Goal Model to Set Realistic Goals

S.M.A.R.T.

is a synonym for specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and time-bound. For the sake of this article, the realistic portion of the acronym is most important.

While you want to set audacious goals, you want to ensure that they are realistic as well. No one is served by setting a goal that is impossible to accomplish.

Failing to meet goals can be demoralizing for teams, so it’s important to be sober-eyed about what is possible. Additionally, the purpose of setting goals is to advance and grow, not depress morale.

For instance, my team would have been discouraged had I begun the year asking it to pitch and place 40 opinion essays if we didn’t already have a track record of placing close to two dozen essays.

By using the S.M.A.R.T. formula, we were able to achieve all that we set out to do.

5. Break the Goal up into Small Digestible Parts

I am a recovering perfectionist. As a writer, being a perfectionist can be counterproductive because I can fail to start if I don’t see a clear pathway to victory.

The same is true with goal-setting. That’s why I join Lifehack’s fellow contributor Deb Knobelman, Ph.D., in noting that it is critically important to break goals into bite-sized chunks.

When I had a goal of doing daylong media meetings in New York City, I had to think through all the barriers to achieving that goal and all the steps required to meet the goal.

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One step was identifying which reporters, producers and hosts to engage. Another step was writing a pitch or meeting invitation that would capture their attention. Another step was thinking through the program areas I wanted to highlight and the new angles I could offer to different reporters.

Since reporters want to cover stories that no one else has written, I needed to come up with fresh angles for each of the reporters I was engaging. An additional step was thinking through who from my team I’d take with me to the various meetings.

I was clear that, as a talking head, as public relations reps are sometimes called, I needed the right spokesperson in order to land repeated meetings with different outlets.

A final step was thinking through what I needed to bring to each meeting and which reports, videos and testimonials would buttress our claims and be of interest to media figures.

As I walked through what was needed to bring my goal of doing daylong meetings to reality, I realized that not only was the idea within reach, but I was excited to tackle the challenge.

From that point until now, I have learned to break down goals into smaller parts and tackle the smaller parts on the path to knocking the goal out of the park.

The Bottom Line

These are my recommendations for setting stretch goals, and there are a ton of other resources to support you in the workplace and in your community.

For instance, LinkedIn’s Lynda.com platform has a wonderful suite of leadership development videos, including ones on establishing stretch goals. This is a paid resource but may be worth the investment if you lead a team or want to invest in tools for your own growth and development.

Featured photo credit: Avatar of user Isaac Smith Isaac Smith @isaacmsmith Isaac Smith via unsplash.com

Reference

[1] Harvard Business Review: The Stretch Goal Paradox

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