3 Simple Ways to Take Your Public-Speaking Skills to the Next Level



Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella believes that there are two types of people: know-it-alls and learn-it-alls. The latter have a growth mindset, always striving to learn more and do better.

Having a growth mindset is essential to building skills, and public speaking is a skill. The moment you think you’ve mastered the craft of public speaking is the moment you’ll stop growing. But if you actively look for opportunities to grow, you’ll see a significant improvement in your skills.

I recently received a call from the CEO of a $100 billion company that makes products inside your car, computers, and electronic devices. Years ago, I had helped him improve his presentation skills when he was second in command at another Silicon Valley company. Today as the CEO of an even larger global brand, he wanted help on his upcoming keynote presentation.

“You really are a terrific public speaker. Your stage presence is excellent,” I told him. “Why do you want more help?”

“I can always get better,” he responded.

Leaders and entrepreneurs who reach the top of their fields are nearly always people who strive to improve. And the best speakers never finish learning.

The good news is that we’re in the golden age of public speaking resources. Here are just a few of the ways you can take your public speaking to the next level.

1. Study TED Talks.

When I wrote Talk Like TED, I interviewed many speakers whose TED talks have gone viral. The TED conference selects the best speakers and coaches them to sharpen their presentations. The videos available for free on the TED website often represent the best examples of speakers at the top of their game.

Don’t just watch TED talks for their content. Study them for the way speakers package and present their content. For example, in most cases, you’ll find that presentation slides are highly visual: photos, graphics, and videos. TED speakers are coached to avoid showing cluttered slides with small text and bullet points that are hard for the audience to read.

There’s a difference between a slide and a document. Save the document for an email or a hand-out. Build visual slides to engage an audience.

2. Record yourself.

Most people have access to the single best public-speaking tool they’re not using–a smartphone. Prop it against something or put it on a tripod. Press record. Deliver your presentation. It’s that easy. Next comes the uncomfortable part–watching it.

Look for problems that you can easily fix.

  • Avoid annoying habits like flipping your hair, tapping your fingers on a desk, jingling coins in a pocket, or reading from notes instead of making eye contact.
  • Eliminate filler words like ‘uh’ and ‘ah’ in every sentence. Filler words also creep up at the end of sentences. Try to avoid concluding every sentence with “you know?” or “right?”
  • Smile more. People make snap judgments about your enthusiasm and competence, often based on your facial expressions alone. Show people you’re having fun and that you’re passionate about the topic. Smiling is contagious.

3. Ask for feedback.

Ask trusted peers or friends for feedback on your presentation or speaking style. If you don’t ask, they probably won’t say anything. You can’t grow as a speaker unless you know what people like and where they think you can improve.

Asking for advice is a sign of humility, a quality that will fuel your success. In my television career as a news anchor, I came across two types of guests: humble and arrogant. The humble ones asked me to evaluate their performance and asked for tips. The arrogant ones boasted about how many interviews they’ve done and how great they were at public speaking.

The arrogant guests were almost always the worst interviews. They suffered from what psychologists call the Dunning Kruger bias. It means that people overestimate their own competence. In other words, they’re not nearly as good as they think they are.

Don’t become a victim of the Dunning-Kruger bias. Be a learn-it-all and take advantage of all the resources available to fuel your success as a public speaker.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.



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