This story was co-written by Stacy Merrick.
With today’s technological possibilities, it can often be tempting to hide behind your computer – emailing colleagues and clients instead of calling them, or sending a deck instead of making a presentation in person.
But strong public speaking skills and effectively communicating your ideas verbally go a long way in building not only your clients’ confidence in you, but confidence in yourself.
Recognizing the opportunity to help us enhance our skills in public speaking, two of our colleagues created the rbb Toastmasters program. The program, modeled after the worldwide Toastmasters phenomenon, allows participants to perfect their speaking skills in both formal and informal speeches throughout the event.
Having participated in the program ourselves, we have learned several tips for how to speak confidently and more importantly, how these skills can be translated into our daily tasks in the PR world.
1. Practice Makes Perfect
Practice, practice, practice. While this mantra is used by everyone from school teachers to sports coaches, it really is true for public speaking. By preparing what you want to say in advance, and practicing several times, you will feel in control during your presentation and more confident when you are called upon.
In PR, this is particularly relevant for pitching media when you have precious few minutes on the phone to make your case. Before you pick up the phone to pitch your next story, practice what you are going to say and why the journalist should care. This will give you confidence upon delivery and alleviate nerves.
2. Deliver without Notes
Rely on your own expertise, and be confident in your delivery. This tip coincides nicely with practicing – the more you practice, the less you’ll need to depend on your notes. Speaking from memory allows you to make eye contact and engage your audience, and use your hands to gesture and emphasize points. It also allows you to be in the moment and change course or adlib.
This skill is crucial for PR pros. Being well-versed on the subject matter of your presentation or being up-to-date on your client’s account allows you to adapt to feedback and questions quickly and without pause. It also helps you deliver a great presentation – don’t just recite your proposal or results, wow your client!
3. Be Present
Use the space you have and work the room. By walking around and using appropriate expressive body language, you can create a presence that engages your audience.
No matter what level you are in the PR field, it is critical to exude confidence and make your presence known in presentations and client meeting. Even at the entry level, ask to attend the next client meeting or volunteer for a big presentation. The simple act of showing up and reaching for the next level will make a big impact – and bonus points for contributing your opinion!
4. Be an Active Listener
Sometimes you need to think (and speak) on your feet, and Table Topics does just that by forcing everyone in the room to be attentive and prepared for the unexpected. You never know when you will be called on to speak on a variety of topics throughout the session.
The PR translation? Listen even when you think you don’t have to. This is especially true in conference calls. You never know when your client will say, “What do you think about that?” And you better have a response better than, “Can you repeat the question?”
5. Go With the Flow
Public speaking isn’t just about standing up, regurgitating a written speech as fast as possible and sitting down wiping the sweat from your brow. It’s about going with the flow, improvising when necessary and expressing your message – whether it be your life story or a campaign proposal – in a thoughtful and meaningful way.
In the PR world, sometimes the meeting goes long and you don’t get to your section in a presentation, or the client decides that they want to discuss something completely different, or someone is sick and you have to make calls for an event in two hours. So it’s important to keep your cool and roll with the punches. Isn’t that why we love this job? No two days are ever the same!
What are your tips for how to become a confident, engaging speaker? Let us know in the comments section!