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6 Tips to Help You Become a Better Public Speaker

Do you feel queasy or light-headed when you're about to give a presentation? You're not alone. Glossophobia — the medical term for the fear of speaking in public — is extremely common. In fact, studies have shown that approximately 75 percent of the population struggles with this phobia on some level.

Public speaking is something many small-business owners encounter at different points in their career. Here are some tips and advice on how you can improve this invaluable skill.

A woman presenting in front of the crowd.

  1. Think Positive
    Before you begin to outline what you're going to say in front of a crowd, think positive thoughts. Having a negative mindset can create self-defeating behavior. For example, if your internal voice says, "I get nervous when I speak in front of a group," this can actually lead you to feel more anxious when it's time for your presentation. Change your internal dialogue to give yourself a boost of confidence, such as, "I'm passionate about my business and can let that shine through."

  2. Be Prepared
    Even if you're a subject matter expert on the information you're speaking about, it's best not to try and "wing it." Instead, take the time to organize and outline your ideas, then write out a script for yourself. If you're giving a formal speech, the first few minutes are especially important in grabbing the group's attention. Make an impression by connecting with the audience on a personal level -- tell them a little bit more about yourself and your story.

  3. Practice, Practice, Practice
    Rehearsing repeatedly can be the key to success. While having your speech close to memorized is ideal, you don't want to sound monotonous. If possible, record a video of yourself while practicing. This way, you can hear areas where you can add more personality, study your body language and take note of any fidgeting or busy hand movements.

  4. H2O at the Ready
    Have a bottle or glass of water within reach during your presentation. Being anxious combined with speaking at length can cause your mouth to become dry. To help you speak as smoothly and clearly as possible, try to take a small swig of water during natural breaks, such as when an audience member is asking you a question.

  5. Focus on Friendly Faces
    Even if you don't know anyone in the crowd, it can help to look for friendly faces -- people who are nodding their head or smiling. Try to focus on "speaking to" these people. Instead of looking directly at them, try focusing your gaze just above or to the side of their heads.

  6. Master the Video Conference
    Not all public speaking opportunities happen in person. In our digitally focused world, you'll probably have to participate in an online presentation or webinar. When doing so, make sure your camera is positioned at face-level, and try to have the best lighting in front of you to avoid shadows for the viewers. Also, if possible, have a colleague on standby who can help with troubleshooting technical issues or answering questions in the chat box. That way, you can concentrate on giving your presentation.

As scary as it can be, public speaking is an important skill to have in your professional toolbox. The next time you need to speak in front of a crowd, remember these tips to help you embrace the opportunity.

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