Business management

Step up to the mic: five tips for better public speaking

Struggle with public speaking? Successful business owners and relevant experts discuss the best ways to become better at addressing live audiences.

Overcome the natural apprehension, however, and you’ll be better positioned to secure investment, sell products and build valuable relationships for your business.

Here are five of the best ways to build confidence in public speaking, with insight from business owners who’ve done it all before.

1. Prepare for every speaking opportunity

Practice alone won’t make perfect, but it will certainly help. And by practice, we mean both for specific presentations and for public speaking in general.

Make sure you rehearse for every speaking slot. Running through your material ahead of a presentation will help you become more familiar with it, and that will inevitably boost confidence. And by reducing your reliance on written notes, you’ll be free to make more eye contact with your audience.

“I’d suggest rehearsing it in a quiet room away from distractions,” says Yee Kwan Chan, founder of ice cream brand Yee Kwan. “I like to use my iPhone to film myself, too – I can watch it back to see how I’ve performed and where I can make improvements. You want the speech to roll off your tongue and to not be nervous about forgetting what to say.”

A word of warning from founder of virtual business support agency Get Ahead VA, Rebecca Newenham, though: don’t overdo it. “There’s a difference between knowing your material well and learning a script word for word. Rehearse too much and you risk losing your natural connection with the audience.”

2. Use the tools available to you

If you want to go a little further than the basic camera on your smartphone, consider using a dedicated presentation rehearsal app.

NatWest has developed the NatWest Pitch app (available on IoS devices; search ‘NatWest Pitch’ in the App Store) to help entrepreneurs fine tune their business pitches. The app allows users to record different parts of their presentation separately and then put them together to create the perfect business pitch.

Darrell Irwin, founder of Bristol-based branding agency Cre8ion and a NatWest Pitch app user, says: “Networking could help you increase your net worth, and having a pitch in the pocket really does open doors. Pitching is an extension of yourself and an opportunity to share your story. The ready-made structure [of the app] enabled me to get my story across quickly and simply.”

3. Get comfortable talking business

This bit is simple: the more you talk on your subject, the more comfortable you’ll find yourself – so embrace all opportunities to get used to the experience.

“Speak out, talk to more people,” says Anna Parker-Naples, entrepreneur and author of Get Visible: How To Have More Impact, Influence & Income. “The more you speak on your subject out loud, the more engaging you will become.”

Your practice doesn’t always have to be in front of a large and live audience, either. Parker-Naples adds: “One less obvious but effective way to become more confident with your topic is to be a podcast guest. You can raise your profile and talk naturally about what matters to you and your business.

“To find great podcasts to be on, search in iTunes or Spotify. Listen to the podcasts and work out who is speaking to those of influence in your industry, or to your ideal clients. You can then pitch yourself to the host. They will always be on the lookout for people with valuable insights to bring to their audience. And if you make it in, turn up to the interview knowing what you want to share, and what value you want to leave the listeners with.”

4. Sign up for classes

If you haven’t had many chances to build confidence on your own, professional coaching may be the way to go. A quick search online will give you a range of options, from one-to-one sessions to group-based classes. Jessica Mendoza, founder and CEO of online address-changing service Monadd, chose the latter and is reaping the rewards now.

“I signed up to classes because public speaking was uncomfortable for me, and I really didn’t feel confident,” she explains. “But when I started to learn how to calm down my nerves and see the audience as interested individuals, I knew that little by little I could take on bigger stages. Now I can represent my business with confidence and even answer difficult questions on the spot. Those classes really helped me get there.”

Hayley Smith, owner of London-based PR agency Boxed Out, adds: “Consider acting classes, too. These kinds of courses will help you work on everything you’ll need to excel in public speaking: confidence, learning lines, presentation and performance. You’ll also learn more about delivery and technique.”

5. Have realistic expectations

Ease the pressure on yourself by accepting that not every speaking opportunity will go flawlessly – and by understanding that no one is immune to mistakes. “We’re not actors with the time to do hundreds of retakes,” says Annabel Kaye, director of business contract specialist KoffeeKlatch. “Things can and do go wrong when speaking, just as they do in day-to-day business – and we just have to get used to it and soldier on.”

She adds: “Don’t try to be someone else – just be yourself, but slightly slower and clearer than usual. Have a plan to make between one and three points, depending on the length of the talk – don’t try to cram in a lifetime’s worth of experience into a 10-minute talk. Essentially, be realistic about what you can achieve.”

This material is published by NatWest Group plc (“NatWest Group”), for information purposes only and should not be regarded as providing any specific advice. Recipients should make their own independent evaluation of this information and no action should be taken, solely relying on it. This material should not be reproduced or disclosed without our consent. It is not intended for distribution in any jurisdiction in which this would be prohibited. Whilst this information is believed to be reliable, it has not been independently verified by NatWest Group and NatWest Group makes no representation or warranty (express or implied) of any kind, as regards the accuracy or completeness of this information, nor does it accept any responsibility or liability for any loss or damage arising in any way from any use made of or reliance placed on, this information. Unless otherwise stated, any views, forecasts, or estimates are solely those of NatWest Group, as of this date and are subject to change without notice. Copyright © NatWest Group. All rights reserved.

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