Originally published with the Forbes Coaches Council at Forbes.com on September 8, 2017.
Authenticity and confidence: These are the key elements of a great speech delivery, but developing these elements can feel like bottling lightning. Sometimes we seem to think they are qualities you are either born with or not. People say, “I’m just not a good public speaker. My nerves get the best of me,” or, “I can’t be myself when I’m speaking because I’ve been told that my natural demeanor is wrong.”
But like any skill, cultivating a great delivery is a matter of practice, preparation and persistence. The model my company has devised is constructed deliberately to boost both your confidence and delivery by following a simple path: being aware of the context in which you are speaking, assessing your goals and your audience, crafting a memorable message, and creating a simple and clear slide deck. With these tools, you can begin to stand in front of an audience with belief in both your material and yourself, confidently and authentically.
Of course, it’s never as easy as taking a set of skills and putting them all together. And remember, delivering a public speech isn’t just about telling people where they are — you are telling them where to go. To accomplish that goal, you need to make your audience believe in your message and to believe in you.
When you start to think about the actual delivery of your presentation, keep a few key strategies in mind:
Communicate with clarity. Make sure you know your message: your goal, key points and potential objections. Any hesitation or confusion will undermine your confidence. And don’t rely on your slide deck to be your script. The audience can read your slides for themselves. Your job is to tell them what the slide means.
Connect with your audience. First, listen to and understand your audience. Then craft a message that directly addresses their concerns. Without these underpinnings, no amount of stagecraft will convince your audience that you are speaking specifically to them. But the way you deliver that message should reinforce that foundation and build on it. Use strong, vivid language that is collaborative and inclusive. Take a confident stance that faces the audience directly and openly. Tailor the tone of your voice to your message. Choose anecdotes and examples that speak to your audience’s priorities and concerns.
Show your confidence. Even if you feel confident, you may still be stuck in habits that make you appear nervous or hesitant. Make sure that you make consistent eye contact with the entire room, square your shoulders to the room (don’t try to hide by standing sideways!), use a forceful and varied speech pattern that appropriately emphasizes your key points, and willingly engage with questions, even skeptical or critical ones, and engage in dialogue.
Of course, the small things count, too. Most of us fall back on verbal pauses in our speech, even when we aren’t particularly nervous. When I first started to speak in public I had tons of confidence, but I also used tons of “ums” and “ahs.” I had no idea how often I used these verbal pauses — I didn’t hear myself saying them. So I started recording myself. Reviewing my speech this way made me much more aware of these verbal tics, and I began to use them less and less. It’s not a quick process. It took me a year to eliminate this habit. But it’s well worth the effort, because all those “ums,” “ahs” and “you knows” are a big distraction and can make you sound less professional.
Another common habit: qualifying language. “This is a solution, kind of …” “Our solution, I think, is to …” Does this communicate confidence? Of course not. Many of us want to avoid sounding aggressive or prescriptive. But if you have the clarity of message and the business case to back up your recommendation, it’s not belligerent to say so.
Some communication experts have come out against certain habits: no walking around the stage, perhaps, or no hands in pockets. I disagree. If it is natural to you to walk from one side of the stage to the other, go for it — just make sure it doesn’t distract from the substance of what you are saying. If you feel comfortable with one hand in your pocket, go for it — just don’t jiggle your keys. Of course, you need to account for your audience. You may not want to keep a hand in your pocket for your most formal audience, or pace in front of your screen so that certain audience members can’t see your slides. But let yourself be you — authentic and confident.