There are pros and cons though. The good news is that – in my experience – the standard of public speaking of many business leaders is not that high – hence you don’t need to be that good to stand out.
The bad news however – if you’re not that great, or perhaps aren’t as good as you think you are – it could backfire and prospects could actually be put off!
So what are the key pitfalls to avoid? I recently attended the UK and Ireland conference of the public speaking and leadership development organisation Toastmasters International, and picked up some great tips on this subject from Barbara Moynihan. Barbara’s a trainer in communication skills and here’s her list of the top 10 reasons presentations fail and advice to counteract them:
Lack of initial rapport. Make sure you smile, talk to audience members before your formal talk, start on time and dress appropriately for the occasion.
Being wooden. Take the time to prepare, practice and just be yourself.
Intellectual orientation. Go beyond the theory – get into your audience’s shoes and connect with them emotionally.
Being uncomfortable. This is really fear of failure and can come out in all kinds of nervous habits such as the classic jangling of change in pockets. Counteract this by good preparation!
Poor eye contact (and lack of facial expression). How many talks have you been to where the presenter is merely reading from PowerPoint slides? If you have to use slides, make sure they add value and aren’t just a crutch. Look at and visually connect with members of your audience.
Lack of humour. You don’t have to be a stand up comedian though! (I’ve seen some top business leaders make the mistake of inserting completely irrelevant jokes into their speeches just to get a laugh). Use anecdotes, relevant pictures or short movie clips to enhance and add to your content.
Lack of speech direction. Ensure you have a clear structure to your speech with a beginning, middle and end, with appropriate signposts and transitions to keep your audience on track.
Inability to use silence. This can be linked to #4, as silence can feel very awkward. Use pauses to add impact and emphasise your key points.
Lack of energy. Counteract this by projecting your voice, varying your pace and pitch, and using gestures.
Boring Language. Use what performance story teller Andrew Brammer (www.speakingwords.co.uk) calls “linguistic sparklers”: adjectives, adverbs, and rhetorical devices such as metaphors and similes.
Whether you want to raise your business profile through public speaking, or simply want to motivate your team to take on new challenges, investing some time in developing your speaking skills will pay handsome dividends. Speaking clubs such as those run by Toastmasters International are an ideal environment to try out your talks, learn new skills and get constructive feedback to make sure that when you do stand up, you and your business will be noticed for the right reasons!