by Mark Leonard
One of the most important skills a manager possesses is the ability to speak in public. Some managers don’t have to work at it, they just naturally have a knack for communicating. Other managers are not so lucky, but the good news is that, like many things in life, it is possible to overcome lack of natural ability with a little bit of hard work. I fall into the latter category, and am constantly seeking to improve my public speaking. I’ve developed a strategy, based on over preparation, that has allowed me to give well received speeches despite my high level of speech anxiety.
- I create a power point presentation with 3-4 bullets per slide and 1-3 sub-bullets per bullet. The PowerPoint lists main concepts and I try to rattle off 2-3 sentences per bullet. When I limit the text on the slide, the audience focuses more attention on me, the speaker. This also shows the audience that I am a subject matter expert, capable of speaking on the subject rather than reading off a slide.
- I run through the presentation 10-15 times with a timer on. This allows me to deliver the speech from muscle memory. Every word, articulation, and gesture becomes automatic. Even when my body fails me due to the anxiety, the words just keep coming because I’ve practiced so much. No ums, no uhs, no unknowns, I just get up there and let it loose!
- I keep a bottle of water on hand. If I lose my voice, get too nervous, or need to reset, I reach for the bottle.
If you, like me, experience high levels of speech anxiety, you know what I’m talking about when I say there is a tangible, physiological change in your body when you are about to give a speech. Your heartbeat increases (up to 120 bpm for me every time), your throat tightens, you may begin to sweat, and you may experience a number of other physiological changes. Next time, embrace these physiological changes; you know they’re coming so you can anticipate them. Overcome your anxiety by over preparing and you will own your next public speaking challenge!