British Gas business blog

How 4 experts succeed with public speaking

Speaker at Business Conference and Presentation.

We live in an age of authenticity, so go easy on the polish when presenting your business.

Entrepreneurs need to talk, present, pitch and sell. However, while face-to-face meetings are one thing, standing on a stage in front of a big audience is a different matter altogether. Public speaking can be nerve-wracking, but the biggest mistake many make is to try to overcome this by pretending to be someone else.

‘The start and end point of great public speaking is to relax and be yourself,’ says Sarah Lloyd-Hughes, founder of Ginger Training and Coaching, who works with business owners to improve their public speaking. ‘Don’t forget that all speakers experience nerves – I certainly do. The secret is to embrace the nerves and use them. After all, they’re a sign that you’re doing something important.’

For Lloyd-Hughes authenticity is key, as audiences are always able to spot someone who is putting on an act. ‘Speakers who are authentic are more trustworthy and actually do a better job. That’s because when you stop trying to be impressive, your physiology relaxes and everything becomes more natural. You can think, you can breath and your body stops doing awkward things,’ she says.

Practice makes it flow

Spending time practicing your pitch or presentation is key for public speaking. However, entrepreneurs say that the purpose of practising isn’t so the speech sounds scripted, but rather so that you know the facts really well.

Andy Atalla is the founder of digital agency atom42, and has won several contracts following public speaking engagements. He says business owners must know their facts off by heart, but then deliver them as if talking to a friend. ‘You should sound like when you’re talking to a friend in a restaurant. Tell stories, vary the tone and pitch of your voice, and be yourself. That’s the way to be interesting,’ he says.

Work the room first

When you arrive at a presenting event it’s important to familiarise yourself with your surroundings.
Talking and socialising with the people running and attending the function will both keep your mind occupied and build support in the room.

If possible, get on to the stage beforehand and ensure you understand how the microphones and presenting equipment will be set up.

Sofie Sandel runs leadership training courses online and works as a professional speaker. She says talking to the audience beforehand helps her to connect with them during her speech. ‘I always talk to some people in the audience before my talk, shake their hands and say it’s great that they are there. Then we already have a good connection when I start,’ she says.

Tell them a story

We all love stories, we grew up on them and don’t lose our liking for tales as we grow older. We can recount the plots of films and books we enjoyed years ago, even if many of the details have fallen from memory. Therefore, the best way to engage an audience is to tell a tale about yourself rather than a series of slides showing statistics.
‘Think about your presentation as a story – the best speakers tell stories – even if you are presenting the quarterly results, it is still a story,’ says Richard Ilsley managing partner of the Sales and Marketing Consulting Group. ‘Stories have a beginning, a middle and an end – studies tell us that the audience will remember the start and the finish.’

Ready to go public?

Public speaking isn’t a hidden science, it’s about being yourself in an open arena. The main things to do are to rehearse your speech, think about your audience, be sociable and tell your audience a story about yourself.

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