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Fear of public speaking is real, with more than 25 percent of people reporting a strong dislike of the activity. But it doesn’t need to be anxiety-inducing. Mastering the art of public speaking helps you excel at work, empowers you to better influence decisions and can ultimately advance your career. Here are the steps the experts recommend taking to help you master this common yet dreaded work requirement.
Find the Story
Stories aren't just for novels. Whether you are writing a short speech, telling a tale at a cocktail party or working on a memoir, the way to captivate your audience is to gather the information together in story form as opposed to listing out facts. This requires a compelling introduction (the hook), a middle and end. Start with a personal anecdote, a short tidbit about a struggle or a very unusual piece of information to capture the audience's attention.
For example, in software and service companies, it's common for team members to give regular presentations about a client’s success. The wrong way to give that presentation is to read down a list of numbers or stats from a spreadsheet. The right way is to open with a personal anecdote from the client. Maybe they've told you that before switching to your product they spent hours in tears trying to do a task that they now complete in minutes. Make it powerful and personal – that's how you hook your audience.
Remember Your Audience
Are you speaking to industry-veterans or those early in their career? Is it a room full of prospects you need to educate on developing trends, or is it packed with peers who have relatively the same experience? Take these factors into account to determine what they care about, the knowledge level they have on the topic of your speech and what knowledge they'd like to ultimately walk away with. This will keep them poised on the edge of their seats without a yawn in the crowd.
Instead, use short notes to help you better connect with your audience. To prepare your presentation, first make an outline. Then write out the rough draft of your script in the same tone and language you speak--including pauses, transition words and anything you want to emphasize. Finally, jot down your main points on paper or notecards and use those materials while presenting. This will help to keep you on the right path, while also ensuring you look up at the audience. And since you're spending more time looking out into the crowd than at your notes, remember to smile or gesture for emphasis when appropriate.
Practice, Practice, Practice
Read over your notes to better lock the information in your head, then practice giving the speech or presentation. Rehearse alone until you feel confident enough, then grab a friend, co-worker, spouse or even your child, and do a run-through in its entirety. Make notes of where you stumbled, where you feel you need to revise your speaking points or anything else you want to change. Then keep rehearsing until you feel (mostly) confident and have worked out all the kinks.
Let Your Personality Shine
During practice runs, be sure to take a step back and ask yourself, "does this sound like something I'd say or advice I'd give?" While it needs to be professionally appropriate for your audience, that doesn't mean it should be dry. Throw in humor when applicable, provide relevant personal anecdotes and give the audience a chance to see what makes your tick, too.
Kristin Amico is a career and business writer who spent more than a decade managing creative teams at digital agencies. She has written for The Muse, The Independent and USA Today.