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3 Tips for Becoming a Better Public Speaker

In a conference room, 40 financial advisors are sitting and waiting for the event to begin. My task is simple: welcome everyone to the Atlanta Regional Workshop and introduce the first speaker.

With sweaty palms, heart racing, and thick tongue, I walk to the front of the room. Greeted by 80 glaring eyeballs, I begin. “Hi, I’m Rebecca. I’m Rebecca. I’m Rebecca Houuuuuurihan? Ughhhhh ummm ugghhh hhh hhhh hhhh…” Mind blank, heart thudding, I feel the first speaker’s hands on my shoulders as he is guiding me off the stage. And with a big smile, he says, “Let’s give her a hand.”

I share this true story because no one is naturally good at public speaking; it’s a trained skill.

After that event, one gentlemen came up to me and said, “You know, we’re all here to hear what you and the other speakers have to say.” That sentence was the beginning statement that reframed public speaking for me. “We all just want to hear what you have to say.” How powerful. So the next time you’re in front of a group of people, remember they are there to listen, and they want to hear what you have to say.

With reframing, I learned that anxiety and excitement produce the exact same chemicals in your body. However, how you process those emotions has dramatically different affects. If you let fear, doubt and panic take over (see the story above), your brain converts to primitive thinking (fight or flight). But if you position the emotion as excitement, you shine.

Tip 1: Mindset

The only thing you can truly control is your mindset. Knowing that your body reacts the same way to anxiety and excitement, it’s time to trick your mind. Whether or not you’re truly excited, tell yourself a few times, “I’m really excited” (and mean it!) After a few repetitions, this statement will begin to resonate, shifting your mindset and ultimately becoming true!

Read more commentary by Rebecca Hourihan here

Tip 2: Confidence

Sure, “just be more confident,” ha ha. What?

Exactly – confidence is a skill that needs to be learned as well. There are a number of confidence-building exercises, but here is one of my favorites. Ready to give it a shot?

First, stand up. No, really. Stand up, right now. Make the shape of a human ‘X’: separate your feet a little wider than hip distance and extend your hands over your head a little wider than shoulder distance. Now puff out your chest a little bit. Pause. Breathe. Do it again. Do it three times. Do you feel more confident? (This is from a fantastic Ted Talk by Amy Cuddy about "Power Poses." If you haven’t seen it, I highly recommend it.)

Tip 3: Practice

Everyone knows that practice makes perfect, but often this step is skipped because it feels silly. I recommend practicing in front of a mirror. Do the presentation at least five times from top to bottom. Yes, five times. Sometimes we are our own worst critics. If you need additional feedback or something more challenging, try one of these:

  • Set up a row of empty chairs. Then practice in front of them. Right, this one is goofy. However, try it. You will find that for being empty chairs, they sure are judge-y.

  • Ask a colleague, spouse, and/or friend to watch; select people you know will provide support and constructive feedback.

  • Join a public speaking or networking group that allows practice in front of strangers.

Public speaking is live theatre. Remember that:

  • The people there want to hear what you have to say.

  • Anxiety and excitement are the same chemicals. Tell yourself, “I’m excited,” and you’ll shine with excitement.

  • Practice, practice, practice makes perfect.

Have fun, and let your personality come through. I can’t wait to watch you shine on the main stage!

Thanks for reading and Happy Marketing!

Rebecca Hourihan, AIF, PPC, is the founder and CMO of 401(k) Marketing.