Public Speaking For Executives Embracing the Challenge

If you’re climbing the ladder of success, you’re going to need the right equipment.

If you’re an executive looking to influence others, gain attention for your ideas or assume a leadership role, sooner or later, you’re going to have to embrace the challenge of public speaking. You might have the best ideas, own a terrific track record of achievement and be recognized for your abilities, but if you can’t communicate well, you’re limiting what you can achieve and how effective you can be.

Anyone who has ever listened to an effective public speaker can have little doubt about the power this one skill carries. Even if we don’t work with the person day to day or know much about him or her, we can be mightily impressed with their ideas, knowledge or passion. Most readily, this can be done by listening to a person speak in public. We can come to understand a point of view and be motivated to follow a call to action. Executives with the ability get up and hold the attention of others through the power of the spoken word find themselves rewarded and their abilities acknowledged.

Yet for all its power, many executives dread the thought of speaking in public, even to a room with friendly colleagues. Often, it’s because they fear they aren’t good at it or will be judged lacking. Executives who don’t embrace the challenge to speak in public, however, are missing out on the single greatest opportunity of their professional careers. What other skill can enhance reputations, prove leadership abilities, and cast you in the spotlight, all in the matter of minutes?

Here then are some brief tips to help those reluctant executives get started on embracing the challenge:

1. Start Small.
Look for public speaking opportunities that are lower risk for you; small groups of your peers, for instance. Volunteer whenever possible to deliver findings or present data. Simply volunteering for the job will set you apart from most and help get you accustomed to the process.

2. Assume Good Intentions.
Assume those you’re speaking or presenting to want to hear what you have to say. Remember to structure your presentation from the audience’s point of view and you will keep their attention and good will.

3. Preparation is the key to confidence.
Don’t ever “wing it.” Respect your audience enough to prepare well. Knowing your material is vital to a successful speech or presentation.

4. Prepare by mimicking the real thing as closely as possible.
You’re going to deliver a speech orally, so why wouldn’t you practice that way? That means you can’t simply read your material to yourself-you have to say it, as you would. Try on different phrasing, different words or intonations. If you’re going to be standing behind a podium, find one to practice with. If you’re going to be using a microphone, gets some practice using one. Speaking in a conference room? Try and find a similar one to practice in. Take some of the fear out of public speaking by getting to know the physical surroundings you’ll be speaking in.

5. Get some honest feedback.
If you can’t get professional help, ask someone to watch your practice delivery. Videotape your performance and play it back for someone whose opinion you respect. Ask specific questions and listen to the answers. Are you maintaining enough eye contact? Does your voice sound natural? Do you sound and look like you believe what you’re saying?

6. Show no fear.
Your audience more than likely has absolutely no idea you’re nervous. Be aware of signaling your nervousness through distractions such as fidgeting or lack of eye contact. Be comfortable with the silence by deliberately building in pauses after you’ve talked about key points and by avoiding “fillers” such as “ums” and “ahs.”

7. Remember to breathe.
When we are fearful, our bodies react accordingly. To consciously counteract that physical fear impulse, take several long, deep breaths, letting the air out slowly. Don’t be upset if you realize you are nervous. You want to channel that nervous energy, not get rid of it.

Remember, this is an opportunity to share your expertise. Seize that opportunity and let your confidence in your information carry you through. Soon enough, your performance itself will mirror the confidence you feel in your subject and you’ll find yourself reaping the rewards of being a powerfully effective public speaker.

Aileen Pincus is a communications consultant and President of the Pincus Group, Executive Communications Training. She can be reached at

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