Public speaking is a super weapon in the fight to stand out and be noticed. No matter what profession you’re in, presenting to groups sends out a billboard-size notice that you’re exceptional at your career, confident, and able to communicate well.
In the first part of this two-part series, we discussed those advantages and more. So now let’s get down to the details of how you should go about building your speaking skills and using them to enhance your career. For this, we reached out to expert public speakers in a wide range of specialties. Here’s what they recommend.
It takes courage to step up and speak in front of a group, but that’s what makes it powerful and unique as a career-building tool. You stand out because a lot of people aren’t willing to master the skills of controlling their nerves. Those who do reap the rewards.
Expert tip: Acknowledge your nervous energy and channel it. “The butterflies may never go away, but with lots of experience, you can make them fly in formation,” says professional speaker James Goodnow. “Breathe deeply and visualize success. Your audience wants you to win.”
Master the Basics
Don’t get stuck in the belief that speaking in front of others is a gift you have to be born with. Sure, some people are talented ‘naturals’ at it. But it’s something most people can learn.
Expert tip: Join Toastmasters. This worldwide organization makes learning public speaking as painless as possible, through its thousands of local chapters. “If you freeze up giving a speech at work, it might hamper your career. But if you make a mistake at Toastmasters, you learn from it in a supportive atmosphere,” says John Pejchl, senior financial-aid advisor at American InterContinental University and Toastmasters area director.
Develop Your Presentations
What do you want to build a reputation for? What kind of potential employers would you like to attract and influence? Once you’ve answered those questions, start developing presentations that address those goals.
Expert tip: Focus on serving the people you’re trying to reach. “The key to successful public speaking is to start with the audience,” says Dr. Philip Kim, assistant professor at Walsh University. “What does the audience need or want to hear? What interests or problems do they have? Where do those problems intersect with your expertise?”
Take It Out of the Classroom
Although public speaking involves many of the same skills as teaching a class, there are differences. Foremost among them is that the audiences you’ll find at conferences, seminars, and other public-speaking venues are looking for a much more immediate learning experience.
Expert tip: Focus your presentation more tightly than you would for students. “Outside of the classroom, you don’t have a captive audience,” says Kim. “Most people aren’t coming for you. They’re coming for a problem your speech can address. Make sure you have your content digestible.”
Step up to the podium
The very best way to improve your speaking skills and polish your content is by delivering it in person. So get out there and start speaking as soon as you can. The idea at this point isn’t to get invited to do a TED talk. You’re just trying to get comfortable in front of audiences and refine your presentation.
Expert tip: Don’t be too fussy about where you speak at first. “Take advantage of all opportunities, no matter how small,” says Bernadette Rodgers, communications coordinator at San José State University. “For example, ask to present a topic of interest or expertise at a staff meeting, or volunteer as a presenter for a campus event.”
Find Your Unique Voice
A lot of what will make your speeches unique is the voice that you establish with your content and delivery. Are you funny? Seriously? Passionate? Technical? All of these can work well, as long as they mesh well with the topic and they jibe with your authentic personality.
Expert tip: Don’t be afraid of emotion. “Even rocket scientists have hearts,” says Goodnow. “Although logic rules the minds, ultimate acceptance of your ideas will still hinge on emotional acceptance and support for concepts.”
Work in Your Best Format
Public speaking comes in a lot of different flavors, ranging from quick 20-minute talks to week-long training sessions. Concentrate on the format that suits your goals, personality, and expertise best.
Expert tip: Bigger formats give faculty speakers room to go deep with their extensive content. “Teaching and research translate well to training workshops (2-4 hrs) and breakout sessions (1.5-2 hrs),” says Kim. “We already spend time preparing for a class lecture every week, why not use a similar disciplinary approach to preparing for an engaging workshop?”
Get in front of your target audience
Once you get more comfortable and polished with your presentation, you’re ready to seek bigger game. Look for venues that will put you in front of people who can either hire you or have influence on those who might.
Expert tip: Professional associations are your best bet. “Keep an eye out on professional development conferences and workshops within your field,” says Rodgers. “Higher education professionals want to learn from each other, so sharing expertise is always appreciated.”
Like any professional skill, the key to effectively using public speaking as a career-building tool is to continuously improve. The best speakers are always working on their topics, content, and voice. They know that by doing so, their presentations will stay fresh and in-demand.
Expert tip: Bring in a pro to help identify ways you can improve. “Seek out the services of some good coaches in your area,” says image consultant Marian Rothschild. “Get involved with the National Speakers Association and ask around to find out who the good ones are.”
Although you’re going to be using public speaking primarily as a means of getting publicity and building connections, there’s no reason you shouldn’t get paid for it. If nothing else, charging for your presentations as soon as you’re able to allows you to legitimately add ‘professional speaker’ to your resume and LinkedIn profile. It also reinforces your stature as a thought leader.
Expert tip: Don’t sell yourself short. “You are an expert in your field,” says Kim. “If you can transform your expertise into smaller solution-oriented modules, you have something of value for the world.”
As you’ve probably realized by this point, public speaking isn’t a magic bullet for quickly snapping up a great job. Sure, you may have the good fortune of landing in front of just the right faculty recruiter for your first presentation and getting the call. It happens. But it’s more likely that you’ll have to build your presence as a speaker gradually and allow your position as a thought leader to emerge over time.
Expert tip: Think of speaking as an ongoing journey. “Be in it for the long haul,” says Kim. “As academics we’re constantly reading, researching, and improving our craft. Professional speaking is very similar.”