How to improve your public speaking

It might not seem like an essential skill for business owners, but the ability to communicate ideas clearly can make the difference in plenty of situations – whether you’re pitching to new clients or simply explaining decisions day to day.
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Even if you consider yourself an introvert, it’s not an area you should neglect. ‘A lot of times, people want speaking to be a personality trait instead of a skill. But it’s a skill,’ says Matt McGarrity, principal lecturer at the University of Washington’s Department of Communication. Like any skill, that means prep and practice. Here Matt gives his essential tips (which, by the way, he explained exceedingly well).  

Make clarity the priority

‘The canons of rhetoric are: invention, arrangement, style, memory and delivery. The arrangement is what most people are lacking. People think it needs to be flashy – I come along and say, “Give me a preview of your three main points.” A lot more needs to be done on the clarity side. Imagine someone was taking notes on what you're saying, and outlining the key ideas. At the end of your speech, their notes should, more or less, match your notes.’

Always outline

‘Start out, outline the basic ideas and get all the pieces that you want on the page. Don’t write the whole thing out. A good outline forces you to make decisions about inclusion and exclusion and the hierarchy of ideas. If you’ve got a good outline, you’ve got a guide to really good delivery.’ 

Refine it with run-throughs 

‘Stand up and try to talk your way through it. This is about discovering what sounds good. Run it a couple of times, then go back to the outline and make revisions – go back and forth. You're refining the outline based on what sounds good, what sounds natural. People have received years and years of education on how to write for the eye, but not for the ear.’ 

Deliver the key points

‘If you’ve got four big things or themes, I might know nothing else about your talk, but I know you better say those four things slower than everything else, because that's where the weight is. I know you should probably put in a pause before and after each one of those four things, because it's going to set it aside aurally.’

Flex up and down with prep

‘Develop your presentations iteratively. If it's a day-to-day thing, you don't really need to practice at home. If it's something that can impact your career, you're going to run that a few more times. For a high-profile talk, I always want to get in 10 run-throughs. But always prep. Even if it's five minutes ahead of time, set it down on paper and say: here are the key things, here are the supporting things.’

A version of this article was published in the Courier Weekly newsletter. For more useful stories, tips, tricks and simply good advice, sign up here.

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