Being tasked with – and the thought of – public speaking strikes fear in the heart of many professionals. That fear is so prevalent, there’s a term for it. I find peace in knowing that it’s perfectly normal to possess such trepidation with the mere thought of giving a presentation. As my career has progressed, I have reached the point of being asked, and sometimes expected, to speak publicly. I have found and utilize these three tips to help offset my own apprehension with public speaking that can work for you as well.
My first panel
It wasn’t that long ago I was asked to sit on my first panel as a cybersecurity expert. It was a panel of two, and the other individual next to me was a PhD of all things.
I wasn’t nervous, although admittedly maybe I should have been. Despite being in a room with 100-plus participants seeking insight on cybersecurity, I was confident I could deliver an educational message enveloped in wording conducive to those attending.
That first event went well. I thought I must be a natural at public speaking. I found out I definitively was not.
You see, as a municipal department head, I sometimes speak at city council meetings. I could not figure out how I could captivate a room full of people on the topic of cybersecurity, yet still felt like I occasionally fumbled through speaking to the council on topics I know well. Why was I not hitting it out of the park at every engagement?
Public Speaking 101
I came to the realization that I did not know how to prepare for delivering a persuasive speech. I never mind putting in the time and work, but, seemingly for the first time in my career, I literally did not know how to go about it.
An education was needed on how to properly prepare for a presentation. I Googled it as any good tech employee would, but I needed grassroots comprehension. I wound up purchasing Dale Carnegies’ The Quick & Easy Way To Effective Speaking, and it helped immensely. Here are three tips I took from the book that helped me grow as a public speaker, and I suspect it can help you as well.
Tip 1 – Preparation
Lesson one, don’t memorize. A memorized speech is a recipe for disaster. I was so relieved when I learned this. Prior to knowing this little nugget, I would try as best I could to remember how I wanted to say something in the order and manner intended.
Not once could I ever do this to the degree I was preparing for. Maybe some people can speak publicly in such a way, but I am simply not that person. I would get lost in my head. I knew my material, but I was so consumed in delivering it in the way I felt was optimal I was essentially shooting myself in the foot.
Prepare an introduction. Know your audience, and whether you can open in a serious or joking manner. Know your high-level points, your material and let the words flow out of you as they may.
Tip 2 – Speak from the heart
Be yourself when the spotlight is on. An audience will receive the individual speaking to them in a natural state versus a robot trying to deliver a wholly prepared message.
Passion can feel palpable. If you feel strongly about your message, the audience will feel it through your words and delivery. Some people call it speaking with a smile. Know and be the subject matter expert on your topic.
Tip 3 – Accept opportunities to practice
Practice makes perfect. If you want to master a task it is imperative that you invest the time and opportunities to hone your skill. This is true no matter the desired expertise. I write about it often on my website.
With public speaking, you are absolutely putting yourself in the line of fire, but by building up your confidence through practical experience, you are developing your ability to deliver high-level content via public speaking when it really matters. If you want something in life, be ready to work for it.
My personal reason
In December 2020, I gave my first presentation to council since reading Mr. Carnegie’s book. I knew my material, but it was important to me that I deliver a quality message to our council members on a critical and expensive project the city had recently completed. You can watch the presentation here, beginning at the 6:38 mark.
Was my presentation delivered in perfect public speaking form? Assuredly not, but there’s always room for improvement no matter the task. I felt good about it because I knew I went about preparing in the right way. I’ll get better at public speaking.
Today I know what I need to do leading up to and while speaking at an event. If you’re like me and struggle with the fundamentals of public speaking, these tips can help provide the basis to elevate you as a public speaker. Good luck!
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Shane “El Jefe” McDaniel is the first Director of Information Technology for the city of Seguin, Texas, with more than 24 years of experience across multiple IT disciplines. He began his technology career in 1996 through an enlistment in the Air Force supporting military intelligence, subsequently transitioning to NSA, NRO, private industry and municipal government technology operations. Shane is the proprietor and champion of Country IT, running the countryexec.com website promoting personal and professional development for future leaders. You can find him on LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook.