How to Get Started In Public Speaking

Public speaking is among the five most feared activities human beings encounter.

The majority of us fear it worse than anything else. Yet, the mastery of public speaking is an important tool in our business skill set.

It's never too early (or too late) to learn to speak in public. Every one needs to start somewhere. The best strategy is to look for non-threatening opportunities with familiar surroundings, friends and colleagues. Plan your speaking gigs in stages starting out with a small comfortable group then increasing the number of members in the audience and finally tackle the prominence of the engagement.

Become a member of the leadership team where you need to give reports or host meetings. In these instances, you will have prepared material in front of you. Practice with the material as if you were giving the speech. Don't just read the material; live it and convey it with feeling. When you begin with an audience, remember to make eye contact. Watch how people are receiving your information. Do they look bored? Adjust your inflection accordingly.

Do you participate in a professional association, social club or sport that hosts regular meetings? Ask to make a short presentation. If this is too daunting volunteer to introduce another speaker. This will get you in front of an audience but the spotlight won't be on you because you are not the primary focus. It will help you to feel comfortable with a stage, a mike, and an audience. If you are comfortable with jumping right in, ask to be the keynote. Plan for it to be informal so that you get the experience of speaking in front of a group but you don't have to extensively prepare or make a formal presentation.

Make sure to ask for feedback. The simplest way to do this is to have an evaluation sheet. Write the questions using a ranking of 1-5 for answers. Leave space for writing an additional assessment, but the less work someone has to do in an evaluation the better the response.

Tip: Make sure to collect the completed forms before the audience leaves the room. Otherwise, you will never get them back.

After a few informal speaking occasions plan to make a "real" speech. Make it about something you are an expert on so the material will come naturally. Prepare for 20 minutes tops for this type of presentation with a ten minute Q& A You will want to have notes but it is imperative that you are comfortable with the topic. It has to be part of your repertoire so that it comes to you even if you get off track. The more you know about the subject the more comfortable you will be with your audience.

Tip: About 8 pages of typed material equals 20 minutes if you speak in an even measured rate.

Tip: As a friend or a moderator to ask a question even if the audience doesn't have one (Prepare several questions in advance).

Look for panel opportunities that allow several participants. Once again, this gives you time in front of the microphone where the focus is not just on you. It also helps because there is a moderator who will keep the dialogue going if you hit a rough patch. It's also good to discuss before hand what the moderator will ask and what they expect from you in the way of a presentation. How long will it take? How many questions you will be asked, etc.

Tip: In this instance, you are part of a team. Don't hog the limelight. If your material is good and you are well prepared, you will come out as a credible participant.

Tip: Never serve on a panel blindly without knowing what you are going to be asked in advance.

After you have mastered the informal and the panel, it's time for some serious speech giving: The 45-minute program with 10 minutes of Q&A.

This requires preparation and practice; a good venue for this is a trade show or conference. At these affairs they are always looking for speaker. Plan months in advance. Contact the organizing group about your topic. Make sure your topic fits with the conference theme otherwise it might not draw the audience you want.

Tip: Abstracts are required in advance of the actual event. Unless you are an expert at winging it, do your homework early. The abstract should be the framework for your presentation. This will give you ample time to prepare your speech and presentation and add new material should something relevant happen.

Tip: You want your material fresh. Always look to current events or hot button issues to make the presentation contemporary.

Tip: As a beginner, be advised to stay away from the more exotic aspects of speech giving. If you use PowerPoint, make it simple. Remember, the more complicated it gets the greater the chance for something to go wrong. Always take a backup CD and at least two printed copies of your speech.

There are groups such as toastmasters that you can join that will allow you the opportunity to speak in front of a group in a non-threatening environment. To find out about a group near you go to http://www.toastmasters.org/

Remember everyone has to start somewhere. The more you speak front of people the more comfortable you will become. The audience is not the enemy. They are there to learn from you. Share the wealth of your knowledge. Keep that thought in mind when in front of the podium.

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