Speaking In Public: Are You Preparing Correctly?

BY Jessica Helinski
Featured image for “Speaking In Public: Are You Preparing Correctly?”

Speaking in public, whether it’s to a crowded room or to just two people, doesn’t always come naturally. Not only is fear a factor (75% of adults are estimated to be affected by a fear of public speaking), but also lack of best practices. Not many salespeople take the time and effort to understand public speaking or continuously work on their skills. Or, reps aren’t taking professional advice and, instead, creating and implementing poor habits. Reps must approach the entire process thoughtfully to ensure that they, and their words, have the intended impact.

Most people go right into getting their speeches written or taking speaking training without actually figuring out what they want to do and what the end goal is,” explains Cindy Ashton, CEO of Minerva Enterprises LLC, in a Manage Smarter podcast episode. While there are good intentions, salespeople aren’t devoting enough though to their public speaking skills.

What is public speaking?

First, reps need to have an understanding of what public speaking is and what it does. MasterClass defines it as follows:

Public speaking is the act of talking in front of a live audience with the intent to educate, persuade, or entertain your listeners. Public speaking is a broad category that includes formal public speeches in front of large audiences, like a keynote address at a conference, and more informal speeches in front of smaller audiences, like a toast at a dinner party.”

In particular, for salespeople, public speaking has a major impact on their careers. The ability to speak well in front of others has a variety of benefits for reps beyond just a pitch, including: 

  • Boosted confidence. Inevitably, the smoother and more comfortable with public speaking, the more poised and confident someone feels. 
  • Career advancement. Whether it’s pitching for a promotion or networking at professional events, ease with speaking is beneficial. 
  • Improved communication. At its very foundation, public speaking is about communication. “Learning public speaking skills will make you reflect on and improve your overall communication skills,” MasterClass explains. “This helps you drop bad speaking habits and become a better communicator in your everyday life.”
  • Expanded networks. The better you are at engaging with others, the more likely they will want to engage with you. Public speaking skills benefit every aspect of one’s ability to communicate, even networking
  • Drive your influence. This is where public speaking really impacts sales; the more efficient you are at communicating to others, the more influential you will be. Pitching your product or service, discussing price and upselling are all impacted by effective speaking skills.

Public speaking, thankfully, can be improved upon (and should be) throughout your career. Both Ashton and MasterClass share tips to help reps improve their own skills.’

Set the foundation with good content

As mentioned before, it’s vital that reps have a clear understanding of what they’re speaking about, their audience, and what they want to accomplish. To be good public speakers, they need to focus on the big picture rather than just one aspect like content or delivery. 

Look at the end game and then build the strategy,” Ashton explains. “You can have really amazing content, but if it's not positioned right, or you have great content but you don't know what that deeper point of view is for a specific market that's going to buy from you…it doesn't matter…you have to do the foundational work.” 

Even if a rep does have good speaking skills, public speaking is more than just a smooth delivery, contrary to what many think. “You might have great presentation skills and people love you, but they don't buy from you because again, you haven't done the foundational work of what's a strong point of view for which market and really then develop content based on the foundation,” she adds.

Pre-​speaking research is a major factor in effective public speaking and shouldn't be ignored. MasterClass also advises taking preparation seriously prior to a speaking engagement. The article emphasizes the importance of knowing the audience, pointing out that “preparation equals confidence. Before outlining your speech, ask yourself what your audience members want to hear.” 

Notice your breath

Likely, you are aware of how important body language is to public speaking. How you hold yourself, your mannerisms, your tics, all of these things combine to influence your audience. Looking to improve their delivery, speakers often focus on their posture, but they may not be thinking about it correctly. While Ashton does agree that body positioning impacts speaking, she says many speakers go about it in the wrong way. “A lot of people think, ‘well, I need to stand tall and project my voice to be confident and get attention,'” she says. “But often if we really stretch up and try to adjust our posture, what happens is that we end up holding tension in our throat and in our chest.”

This, she explains, can make the speaker sound abnormally loud and it can also intimidate listeners. “It sounds like you're yelling at someone and pushing your energy on them, which turns people off,” she adds. Rather than forcing yourself to stand tall or adopt a posture that is not comfortable, she suggests focusing on your breath instead. Her advice focuses on learning to prepare your body for public speaking by relaxing through breathing work. “Learn how to release your muscle tension, be in your body and use breath to intentionally slow yourself down and get focused,” Ashton explains. “In simple terms…you need to exhale longer than your inhale.” Here’s how she recommends doing this:

  • Exhale all the air in your lungs.
  • Take another breath in. 
  • Exhale, nice and long and slow.

Repeat this for three to four minutes, making efforts to keep your exhalations are longer and slower than your inhalations. Doing this, Ashton explains, stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system. “It releases your muscle tension so that you're able to go in as a grounded, focused, calm person,” she says.

Keep going

These are just a couple of the insights that Ashton and MasterClass share. Reps should use their tips and expertise to fine tune and continue improving their public speaking skills. Their advice can help you become the best speaker you can be; to, in the words of Ashton, “be present and learn how to release that stress and allow yourself to connect with other people in a grounded real way.”