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How to be a Better Public Speaker--And Why it Matters

Whether you’re a team leader, a manager, or a C-suite executive, becoming a better public speaker can give your career a boost.

By Inc.Arabia Staff
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This article first appeared in the March/April issue of Inc. Arabia's digital magazine. To read the full magazine, click here

Being a better public speaker can significantly improve your career prospects, boost your confidence, and build your credibility as a professional. This applies to everyone from team leaders giving pep talks to marketers giving presentations to managers looking to motivate their teams, according to Egyptian-American public speaking coach Dina Abu-Seif.  

“Public speaking and leadership are inextricable. You cannot lead effectively if you lack public speaking and communication skills,” says Abu-Seif. Former president of Toastmasters International, a non-profit that helps people develop public speaking, communication, and leadership skills, Abu-Seif began coaching managers and c-suite executives on public speaking in 2018. She explains that, at the time, public speaking was not a highly-valued skill in Egypt, where she lives and works.  

“Any career in the world requires you to have a team and to deliver presentations or speeches once in a while in the presence of at least 2-3 people. As a leader in your respective field, you have to be able to connect with people, you have to be able to communicate, you have to be able to lead, persuade, sell, inform, and transform,” she says. 

Here are 9 tips that can help you become a better public speaker.  

1. Prepare 

According to Abu-Seif, even the best public speakers need to prepare.  

“There are 5 P's in public speaking: Proper Preparation Prevents Poor Performance. Regardless of how eloquent you are as a communicator, every context will be different, and you need to be prepared for that,” she tells us.  

Making sure you have information about the size of the venue, whether it’s indoors or outdoors, the size of the audience, and technology and resources can all help you adequately prepare for a speech.   

“As public speakers, we all feel a little bit of anxiety. The first couple of seconds before we take the stage can be nerve-wracking, but once you break the ice and engage people, you’re unstoppable. And the only way to be unstoppable is to feel that you’ve adequately prepared,” she says.  

2. Content is King--But Structure is Key 

When speaking in front of a group, having a solid structure is key to delivering meaningful speeches. That means having clear, succinct messages that you communicate, with an introduction, body, and conclusion, with clear transitions.  

“It's important to engage the audience with the hook at the beginning. That could be a question, a quote, or a personal story,” says Abu-Seif.  

Next, work on the structure of your speech. This includes highlighting transitions as well as the transformative points of the speech.  

Finally, don’t underestimate the importance of your conclusion. “Sometimes, people focus so much on the introduction and the body that they neglect the conclusion. It’s pivotal to solidify your conclusion because your last words create a lasting impression. Make sure that you sum up all the important things that you want to say briefly in the conclusion and leave your audience with a call for action,” she says.

3. Learn to Listen 

If you want to be a good public speaker, you have to learn to listen. That means reading a room, understanding your audience’s verbal and non-verbal cues, and ensuring that you keep them engaged.  

“Public speaking is reciprocal. Even though we are the ones verbally communicating on the stage, it’s not just about us speaking. There is an audience that is communicating back to us non-verbally, and we have to be able to tap into their cues or else we lose their interest,” says Abu-Seif.  

4. Pay Attention to Body Language 

Body language can make or break a speech, according to Abu-Seif. Non-verbal cues like eye contact, hand gestures, facial expressions, vocal variety, and overall body language can help a speaker connect more effectively with their audience.  

This includes everything from positioning yourself on a stage, making and keeping eye contact, and screening a room. “You could have very solid content, but if you're very weak on your nonverbal communication cues, it's going to compromise how effectively you deliver your message,” she says.  

“When we work with people, we help them understand how non-verbal communication cues can help them connect with their audience,” says Abu-Seif. That includes making sure that your facial expressions are consistent with your message and keeping your body open.  

5. Know Your Audience 

If you’re doing a public speaking engagement, part of preparing is knowing who you will be speaking to in terms of demographics (men, women, children, seniors), learning about their interests, and getting an idea of their educational background. “You have to know who you're communicating with so you can tailor your content accordingly,” says Abu-Seif. 

“Each audience has its own expectations and has its way of kind of connecting with you," she says.   

Knowing your audience and speaking their language helps you connect with them and deliver your message more effectively.  

6. Be Authentic 

Abu-Seif tells us that, while she helps clients structure their content and manage transitions, she doesn’t tell people what to say. “I do not tailor my clients’ content, because the content reflects on the speaker’s authenticity, and it’s really important for them to be themselves,” she says.  

If a speaker seeks to please rather than communicate, there’s a danger that they might lose themselves and appear inauthentic.  

“You have to know your audience so that your message is relatable and so you can hook and engage them. At the same time, you have to know who you are, why you are there, and what you are bringing to the table so you can establish this authentic, personal relationship with your audience,” she says.   

7. Practice 

Public speaking is not a theoretical skill that you can learn from reading about in books. According to Abu-Seif, if you want to be a good public speaker, you have to practice. “It's great to watch and observe, but at the end of the day, if you want to learn and grow, you have to embark on your own journey, and that comes with practice,” she says.  

Public speaking coaches who work with groups give speakers time to deliver their speeches and then have them evaluate others. The evaluation segment, stresses Abu-Seif, is key because it allows them to develop their listening skills and coaches them on how to evaluate a good speech.  

“I do not believe that practice makes perfect. Practice makes progress and we need a constructive evaluation of our performance every single time,” she adds.  

8. Have the Right Mindset 

“Public speaking is not just about what comes out of your mouth or how you utilize non-verbal communication cues. It’s also very much about the mindset. You have to believe that you are worthy and capable and have value to add,” she says. This means fostering a positive and constructive mindset and understanding that it’s okay to make mistakes.  

9. Don’t Shy Away from Getting Personal  

Personal stories can make you more relatable and help you create a more lasting relationship with your audience.  

“Personal storytelling is important because it’s one of the tools that can give you an edge. If you’re just reading from a book or regurgitating facts, people are not going to feel like you’re communicating with them,” says Abu-Seif.  

“Keep in mind that people are not just going to remember what you said, but, rather, how you made them feel; and knowing you authentically is a big part of that,” she says. 

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