Derek was shocked. He didn’t get the job, though he was by far the most qualified applicant. In a follow-up phone call, his interviewer kindly but bluntly told him, “Derek, you have great skills and a beefy resumé, but you have trouble communicating verbally. We need someone who not only has skills but can sell those skills to others.”
Although this scenario is fictitious, as a professional public speaker, I have seen the tremendous impact that a live presentation can have on an audience and understand how having this ability can translate beyond the auditorium to various aspects of everyday life. Here are three reasons why it’s important to be a continual student of public speaking, as well as three tips to help you do so. Plus, I’ve included a bonus rocket-you-above-the-competition advantage for further consideration.
Three Reasons to Improve Your Public Speaking Skills
1. Face-to-face interaction will always beat digital communication
While digital communication is helpful for convenience and even enhancement, human nature still demands relationships. A smiling marriage proposal done face-to-face with clearly chosen words always wins over a text message that reads “Marry me?” In the business world, the best deals are still brokered in person by someone who can clearly communicate the product’s value in an interpersonal setting. No technology can replace human contact.
2. Your ability to organize ideas will lead to opportunity.
Compare these two employees in a brainstorming session about customer appreciation:
Matt: “Hey, I think it would be cool if we, like, you know, did something really sick to, you know, say, like, thanks, or something, to our, you know, most awesome customers.”
Abigail: “I read a study this week which shows that customers who receive personal, hand-written communication are twice as likely to buy from that sales associate again. I propose an initiative to send thank you notes to customers to increase repeat business.”
Now, who are you going to take seriously if you are the boss? And who are you thinking is your next gifted leader? Obviously, the answer is Abigail. Matt might be bright and capable, but if he can’t communicate professionally, no one will take him seriously.
3. Public speaking skills translate into meaningful relationships.
Whether you are trying to convey your love for a significant other, are having a difficult conversation with your child, or are selling a product to a group of 500 conference attendees, your ability to meaningfully and clearly communicate will let people know you care for them and specifically how you care for them. You will build trust and commitment in all those around you.
Three Tips to Improve Your Public Speaking Skills
1. Put in your preparation time.
Great public speakers might have a natural gift, but I guarantee they also work at crafting their skill. Good writers agonize over a sentence. Great speech writers use alliteration, acronyms, and rhythm to capture attention. Outstanding leaders put hours of preparation into a 5-minute presentation. Multiple drafts and lots of editing create powerful communication.
2. Practice on a regular basis.
If you are uncomfortable in front of a group, let familiarity help. Perform your well-crafted presentation several times in front of a mirror and at least once to a practice audience. Ask questions such as:
- Did you get my main point?
- Did I hold your interest?
- Did I make eye contact?
- Were you convinced?”
Use the feedback to make improvements to your delivery. Repetition will help settle your nerves. Speaking of nerves…
3. Use your nerves to re-align priorities.
Let’s get to the root cause of nervousness. You are nervous because you care more about what people think of you than you do for your audience. The usual tricks of picturing the audience in their underwear or taking 10 deep breaths don’t truly address this underlying source of nervousness. If you are motivated by a genuine care for your audience, then nerves will often take care of themselves. What service are you providing? How are you informing and inspiring? How will you be improving the lives of your listeners? These questions will transform nervousness into confident anticipation.
Bonus Rocket-You-Above-the-Competition Advantage
You should make every presentation an argument toward a conclusion. There are two categories of presentations: one which gives information or one which makes an argument to convince the audience of your position. This choice is the difference between good and great. In a sales report, you could conclude, “And those are the five trends we’re seeing in the last quarter. Thank you.” Yawn. Or you could say, “And by these five trends, I’ve shown that while international sales are spiking upward, our three-year data shows that after each upward spike we suffer a 5-20% downturn. So, now is the time to try and change that pattern.” Trust me, if you make your data drive to a conclusion, you will command the respect of all.
Despite all digital and media technology, human beings still need the human touch of rational, heart-felt verbal communication. Pursue and practice this skill, and you will come out ahead.
*Ashford University is now the University of Arizona Global Campus
Written by Kevin Daley, a 2010 graduate of Ashford University, a former professional basketball player, and a 10-year veteran and leader of the world-famous Harlem Globetrotters. An award-winning author, speaker, and leadership consultant, his newest book, 1 plus one = TEN, is a must-read for both seasoned and up-and-coming young future leaders. Learn more at www.KevinDaleySpeaks.com.