Public speaking ability is among the most critical, yet also the most feared, skills. But the lack of it can really impact your ability to lead a group effectively.
Public speaking allows you, as a leader, to show your team what you are thinking and what direction you want to take: they will see you as not only an actual leader, but as a thought leader, helping to motivate them to the action that you are seeking from them.
A leader isn’t just someone who states what they want done and waits for people to do it. A leader is someone who motivates positive action, who inspires innovation and growth, who sets a set of goals for a group of people and helps them to find the path to their mutual success.
There’s no question that the only way that any of these ideals get accomplished is through clear communication—both as an active listener and speaker.
But as I said before, while it is critical, public speaking is often the most feared skill that a person acquires in their quest to lead. So what can you do to improve your public speaking skills, and by extension, your leadership skills?
Speak like a leader
A leader of a Fortune 500 company is probably not going to drop an F-bomb every few sentences and for good reason. A conversational tone is perfectly acceptable, particularly when you’re trying to reach a large group of people and still make them feel like you are talking directly to each and every one of them; but conversational doesn’t mean crude or inappropriate.
That can only cause discomfort for some or all of your audience; they will ignore the message and then you will have lost an opportunity.
You need to be focused on your message and on your audience and find ways to connect your message to them in a way that makes sense and is absorbed. Storytelling, anecdotes, examples are far more effective transmitters of the message than just the message by itself.
Focus on Your body language
Just as important as your actual voice is how you present yourself to your audience. Having an open, relaxed stance, and using eye contact where you can, has the same effect as the appropriate tone, mentioned in the previous point. Your body language will offer a lot in terms of engagement, for the audience.
Speak at a level that matches your audience
If you’re a scientist but you are speaking to a group of non-scientific laypersons, match your language to their knowledge and abilities. If they aren’t familiar with the vernacular of the area you are speaking about, including acronyms, you will lose them.
Similarly, if you’re a business leader and you’re talking to a group of CEOs, you don’t need to talk down to them and explain basic concepts of economics. Not matching your speaking level to the audience in question can result in you confusing them and losing the message.
Practice, practice, practice!
If you’re new to public speaking, the best thing you can do is practice.
It’s best if you can deliver your speech without detailed notes and leverage some points from reference cards instead. But this takes some preparation.
Why is it best?
Because you’ll engage more effectively with the audience if you’re not looking down at pages of notes the whole time you’re speaking. Your voice will project better and you’ll be able to read nonverbal cues as to whether or not your words are making a connecting (nodding of heads, open, relaxed faces, etc.)
If you can, record yourself on video. You’ll never hear or see the things you do that are distracting if you don’t literally hear and see yourself. The incessant ‘ums’ and ‘ahs’ that some people insert into their speaking are distracting for the audience and detract from the overall effect of the words. Similarly, nervous laughter or over excited arm movements and gestures can overwhelm the audience.
Speaking well gives a person authority, a quality that is not just handed over simply because you have a title. It’s this authority that is among the more difficult to pinpoint aspects of quality leadership.
That said, when a person has it, the audience knows it and responds accordingly, whether that set of people is a small team or an assembly of four hundred investors. Master public speaking and you’ve mastered a vital skill for leadership.