Jerry Seinfeld once said, “To the average person, if you have to go to a funeral, you’re better off in the casket than doing the eulogy.” While this is probably a bit of an exaggeration, most people do have a fear of public speaking. It might seem like an easy solution to take a job that doesn’t involve a public speaking component, these jobs are few and far between. In fact, most jobs require some level of public speaking - even if they don’t seem like they would.
Why it’s important to your career
Aside from the initial interview, most jobs will require you to sit in on meetings of some sort. You might be able to sit without speaking, but this won’t always be the case. It’s highly likely that at some point you’ll have to lead a presentation, whether it’s about the status of a current project, the results of a completed one or proposing ideas for the future. As Traci, a Hiring Expert at Accenture explains, “If you’re being asked to present to your team or even a larger body, you’re being asked to do so because someone is either giving you a chance to do so and be heard, or because someone thinks that what you have to say is important enough for everyone to hear. Make sure that you take that chance and show that you can well articulate what it is that you’re working on or have been asked to present because it will be remembered.”
Beamer, a Hiring Expert at Textron Inc. points out that presenting in front of a group can make-or-break your career. “Public speaking can help set you apart as a leader or diminish your credibility. Having confidence, charisma and conveying clear thoughts is extremely important to your career.”1 For each of these reasons, it becomes imperative to be at least reasonably comfortable speaking in front of others in the workforce.
How to improve your skills
Cut out filler words
Have you ever had a teacher or speaker use so many “uhms” “uhs” or “likes” when they speak that you stop listening to what they’re saying and instead count each occurrence of the word? Almost everyone uses filler words when they speak; it’s a way to let the brain catch up to the mouth. But too many becomes distracting, and the audience will stop listening to the content of the message.
Beamer, a Hiring Expert at Textron Inc. explains his tip for eliminating filler words:
“As far as tips, the "filler" words can be the most significant downfall but are easily fixed. There are some great TED Talks on this but by simply being quiet and pausing when you have the urge to say "um" or another word can do wonders. Learn to be comfortable with the silence. It may seem uncomfortable to you but your audience hardly notices it.”2
Know your audience
Have you ever tried to explain something and were left with blank stares, or told a joke to which no one laughed? Moments like these are awkward for you and your audience.
Traci, Hiring Expert at Accenture provides a tip to avoid such awkward moments:
“Know your audience! This is probably overlooked by those speaking to a group more than 90% of the time. Who are you speaking to? With your current message, is what you’re saying going to go over their head? Is what you’re saying going to offend someone or make them feel inferior? If you are the subject matter expert, have you sufficiently explained the topic so that everyone will understand? There is no faster way to lose the attention of your audience than to forget this while preparing.”3
Know your material
Have you ever blanked out on what you’re going to say in the middle of a presentation, only to be left with a long gap of uncomfortable silence? The audience begins to get restless and you probably turn red or choke up as the pause becomes too long.
Traci, a Hiring Expert at Accenture provides her best tip to avoid such a silence:
“First and foremost, for even the most skilled public speaker to do a great job, they have to be prepared! Speaking to your small team and speaking to a large group is going to be a struggle the entire time if you have no idea what you’re talking about, so make sure you spend a bit of time getting to know the subject matter. This way, even if you stumble, which even the most skilled do, you’ll be able to pick right back up because you’ll know where to go next.”4
Furthermore, it’s important never to read word-for-word from a document or presentation. The audience will quickly grow bored. Memorizing a speech might seem like a solid alternative, but this, too, is grounds for a problem. When a speech is rotely memorized, it increases the likelihood that a single stumble will derail the entire thing. It’s much better to know your information in-depth and only memorize a general outline of the information you’ll cover - that way you can change elements based on your audience and maintain their attention.
Make eye contact
Have you ever stood at the front of the room without knowing where to look, causing your eyes to nervously dart around without settling on anyone? The audience can tell.
Ashlyn, Hiring Expert at Worthington Industries explains the importance of locking eyes with members of the audience:
“It is important to maintain eye contact; if you are uncomfortable doing so, try to focus on their forehead. Body language is also something to think about; a lot of people sway back and forth, cross their legs, have their hands in their pockets, etc. and don't even realize it. You should videotape yourself and see if there is anything you're doing that may be distracting to the audience.”5
Prove Jerry Seinfeld wrong. Be more comfortable delivering the eulogy (or at least as comfortable as one can be while delivering a eulogy) rather than being in the casket. Or in a more applicable sense, conquer any presentations or meetings work might throw your way.