If You Want to be Successful, Become a Better Speaker — Follow This 7-Step Process for Effective Speaking

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Back in the late 1980s, when I was in the early stages of establishing my advertising agency, an invitation came my way to speak at a Chamber of Commerce event in Upstate New York. I turned it down. At that moment, the idea of declining might have seemed counterintuitive, especially given my aspirations to grow my business.

The reason? I was afraid. Fear held me back from seizing an opportunity that could have propelled my agency forward. Not long after that failed opportunity, a pivotal moment arrived during a staff meeting. A few days after the meeting, my Art Director approached me with feedback that was both unsettling and enlightening. He said that everyone had been confused about a particular topic I had discussed, yet no one felt comfortable confronting me about it.

This incident served as a wake-up call, prompting me to confront my fears and recognize the crucial role effective communication plays in business success. It was clear that if I intended to thrive as a businessperson, especially in a leadership role, mastering the art of public speaking was not just an option — it was a necessity.

Fast forward to today, forty years later. I started and ran a very successful advertising agency for nearly twenty years. I have been speaking and training globally for over twenty years. I can say with 100% certainty that focusing on better presentation skills after that feedback from my employee was the most important career decision I’ve ever made.

Related: The Complete, 20-Step Guide to Ace Public Speaking

You don’t have to be a professional speaker to speak like a professional

Throughout my career, I’ve had the distinct privilege of coaching aspiring professional speakers as well as numerous executives, guiding them toward becoming not just better communicators but compelling presenters. Whether it’s delivering a critical pitch to board members, leading a staff meeting, or captivating an audience at industry conferences, the power to communicate with both passion and precision is paramount. And by precision, I mean far more than just covering bullet points. It’s about hitting those crucial, emotionally charged points that truly connect with your audience.

Related: What is a Keynote Speaker and Why Are They Important?

Improving presentation skills is an ongoing process that can significantly enhance a leader’s effectiveness and ability to achieve organizational objectives. Here are seven steps to becoming a better presenter and a more effective communicator.

  1. Understand your audience: Begin by researching and understanding your audience. What are their interests, challenges, and expectations? Tailoring your message to the audience’s needs and perspectives increases engagement and impact.
  2. Master your content: Know your material inside and out. This doesn’t mean memorizing your presentation word for word but being comfortable with the content so you can adapt on the fly, answer questions, and engage in meaningful dialogue.
  3. Practice relentlessly: If possible, practice your presentation multiple times in various settings. This can include practicing in front of a mirror, with a trusted friend or colleague, or recording yourself to review your performance. The goal is to become comfortable with your delivery and refine your pacing, tone, and body language.
  4. Engage with storytelling: Incorporate storytelling into your presentations. Stories are powerful tools for making complex information understandable and memorable. Use personal anecdotes or hypothetical scenarios that resonate with your audience’s experiences.
  5. Hone your nonverbal communication: Pay attention to your body language, eye contact, and use of space. Nonverbal cues can reinforce your message or, if not managed well, distract from it. Ensure your posture is confident, your gestures are purposeful, and you maintain eye contact with your audience to build a connection.
  6. Manage nervous energy: Learn techniques to manage anxiety and nervous energy. This can include deep breathing exercises, positive visualization, or a pre-presentation routine that helps you center yourself. Recognize that some nervousness is natural and can be channeled into dynamic energy that enhances your presentation.
  7. Seek feedback and continuously improve: After each presentation, seek constructive feedback from peers, mentors, or audience members. Reflect on what worked well and what could be improved. Consider working with a coach or joining organizations like Toastmasters International to gain insights and practice in a supportive environment.

By following these steps and committing to continuous improvement, you’ll become a better speaker or presenter and a more effective communicator, capable of inspiring and leading others with confidence and clarity.

Related: 10 Public Speaking Hacks I Learned From My TED Talk

Remember, effective public speaking is essential in leadership — it’s not just a skill. It’s a necessity. Now, let’s delve into the key benefits of mastering presentation skills for any leader.

  1. Influence and persuasion: Effective presentation skills enable leaders to influence their audience’s attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors. Persuasive presentations can motivate teams, sway stakeholders, and drive organizational change. A leader who is a compelling presenter can better advocate for their vision, inspire action and garner support for initiatives.
  2. Clarity and direction: Leaders often need to communicate complex information, strategies, and visions to a diverse audience. Being a better presenter helps ensure that messages are delivered clearly and concisely, reducing misunderstandings and aligning the team with organizational goals. Clear presentations help demystify complex issues and provide a roadmap for what needs to be done.
  3. Credibility and trust: Presentation skills are directly tied to a leader’s credibility. Leaders who present confidently and effectively are more likely to be perceived as knowledgeable and competent. This perception builds trust within the team and among stakeholders, which is essential for effective leadership and collaboration.
  4. Engagement and inspiration: Dynamic presentation skills help leaders engage their audience emotionally and intellectually. By being a better presenter, a leader can connect with their audience on a personal level, fostering a sense of community and shared purpose. This engagement is crucial for inspiring teams and driving them to embrace challenges and achieve goals.
  5. Adaptability and impact: Leaders must be able to tailor presentations to different audiences and situations. Effective presenters can adjust their message, tone, and delivery to suit the situation, whether they’re motivating a team, pitching to investors, or speaking at a large conference. This adaptability maximizes the impact of their communication, ensuring that their messages resonate broadly and drive desired outcomes.

In conclusion, becoming an exceptional presenter is a personal and professional evolution, marking a leader’s commitment to excellence and influence. It’s a path that amplifies a leader’s effectiveness and elevates the entire organization. For leaders aiming to leave a lasting imprint on their teams, stakeholders, and industry, refining presentation skills is not just a strategy — it’s a mission. As we’ve seen, the benefits are clear, transformative, and within reach for those ready to embrace the challenge and harness the power of truly impactful communication.

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