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Speak easy

by Nicola Macdonald

Nick Gold, managing director of Speakers Corner, on building the public speaking confidence of your employees.

Communication is the lifeblood of any business. The conversations between employees within the business or with their clients or suppliers is what drives a company forward. It’s where true inspiration, creativity and innovation come from and where casual conversations spark ideas and breakthroughs that can make an impact on an individual or a business resulting in positive momentum.

And yet, take communication and combine that with a formalised setting and suddenly those same people who were the idea generators, who gave clarity and direction to the processes that they were involved in every day, are filled with dread and traumatised by the thought of speaking and delivering their expertise in a public setting.

A successful team is one which delivers successful results for a business but also has the ability to communicate confidently both as a team as well as individuals. Based on this, one of the roles of senior management is to give the employees the tools to be able to communicate successfully in a public arena.

There are three key areas that can be worked on which will help build the confidence of individual team members when speaking publicly.

Suddenly those same people who were the idea generators are filled with dread

Firstly, and this is true for all speakers at any level of experience and expertise, they should only be placed in situations where they are speaking on subject matters they have absolute confidence and clarity about. Anyone speaking about their personal expertise or experiences will have an inner confidence about the words they are delivering, no matter what environment they are in.

It is absolutely the case that a speech should be carefully structured but it should also be delivered with natural rhythm and energy that comes from the confidence of an individual who knows their subject matter inside out. I am quite often asked by individuals about which orators they should watch to improve their public speaking and I always tell them to go to a comedy club to watch one or two of the sets.

Here, you’ll start to understand that the comedian is hitting certain marks or stories at specific points in their sets but, within the set as a whole, they are reacting to the audience and using their own expertise to bring the right material in at any point. Admittedly this is an extreme case of improvisation but for any speaker, experienced or otherwise, the faith in their knowledge of the subject matter will mean they can bring their personality into the speech. This, in turn, will give them the confidence to deliver rich content and performance in any setting.

Secondly, building confidence when speaking in public should start with small audiences or gatherings and then the individual can work up from there. A team meeting is an ideal environment for someone taking the first steps to building confidence in speaking. The team manager could encourage one employee to speak at each meeting, for example, presenting what they are currently working on or even a subject matter that is of interest to them.

Speaking before an audience that is already on the person’s side, and kept brief and positioned as a small part of the bigger meeting, will give the person a great initial experience of public speaking. This doesn’t have to be standing up at the front or a room or any forced environment but rather just encouragement in a natural setting for the individual to become confident that they can communicate in a public forum and that people will be engaged and listen.

The last is is practice, practice, practice. The more an individual understands themselves and the words they want to deliver, the easier it will be when they take to the stage in public. Everyone should understand that, whether they are delivering a speech on stage or presenting their work in a team meeting, spending time running through what they will be saying, preferably with an outside observer who is happy to give non-judgemental feedback, will underpin and strengthen the confidence of the individual in the world of public speaking.

The critical aspect to remember is that we are all natural communicators as we have numerous conversations every day of our lives. Giving individuals the perfect environment and encouragement to share their expertise is something that will benefit both the individuals and the companies that they work for. No one expects soaring oratory from every person who speaks publicly but being able to deliver insights in a public forum where they have confidence and expertise is something which is eminently achievable for everyone.   

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