Five Steps to Confident Public Speaking

Nothing builds credibility like confidently presenting valuable ideas and information to a live audience. They will look up to you, trust you and recognize you as an expert … if you do it right.

As someone who has spoken professionally for over twenty years, let me share some of the ‘secrets’ I’ve picked up.

I want you to know that when I first started speaking I was scared to death. The first time I was asked to speak, I was in my twenties. I was asked to run for president of the Midwest chapter of ASTA, and of course, had to give a platform speech. At that time, chapter meetings were over 200 people, including many influential leaders. I did so badly that I decided then and there that I had to learn how to speak effectively.

Step One: Here’s a piece of advice that was given to me early, and I share it with you with a very strong GO DO IT! Join Toastmasters International ( ). There are thousands of clubs worldwide. There is a club close to you that meets at a time that will fit your schedule. You will meet weekly with a small group of people who want to be better speakers and all want to help one another be better speakers.

Step Two: Pick a topic and become an expert. Two important aspects to consider when you choose a topic: You must be interested in (hopefully, passionate about) the topic, and there must be audiences out there that would be interested in hearing about it. You’re already an expert. You know more about travel than 90 percent of the public. But what aspect of that general topic would be interesting to your audience? What can you talk about that would showcase you as an expert? Start with one, focused topic and prepare one speech. You can add other topics later, but get the first one right first.

Step Three: Pick an audience. By that I mean a specific type of group. What groups contain a large number of people who would make likely business prospects? A likely business prospect lives or works where they could do business with you easily, has a high likelihood of buying the kinds of things you sell, and has the money to afford them. When you first start speaking, you don’t have to be as picky about audiences. You’re speaking as much for experience in front of live audiences more than for business. But as you get comfortable and confident, you’ll want to make the best possible use of your time. That means you only want to talk to groups whose members are most likely to be prospects.

Step Four: Build your speech. If you’ve never done this before, do some reading to learn how to do it right the first time. I highly recommend Presenting to Win, by Jerry Weissman. It gives you everything from speech structure to on-stage presentation tips. Don’t just get in front of the room and ramble. Have an opening, a close, and a specific structure in between or you’ll quickly lose your audience.

Step Five: Get the speaking engagements. Local service clubs are a good start. Search online for ‘service clubs’ in your city. Pick up the phone and call them one by one. Tell them about your unique take on your topic and your background. Then ask if their audience might be interested in hearing your program. Some will say no, some will say yes. This is a selling situation, so go in with thick skin! After you’ve spoken at local service clubs, you can go for larger audiences at local and state association events.

Step Five-and-a-half: Fine-tune your speech. After you’ve presented it a few times, you’ll see what draws the audience in and where you might lose them. You’ll see what questions they typically ask. You can be ready with answers, or you can cover them in the updated presentation so they don’t have to ask.

The more you speak, the more comfortable you’ll become. You’ll establish yourself as a confident, competent expert. And that can only be good for business!

Smart business owners, marketers and sales professionals (people just like you!) turn to Larry Mersereau, CTC, for the ideas and insights they need to bring in more business and take home more money. More at