Woman giving presentation

Get comfortable speaking in public

Your path to comfort and impact

Written by Dr Shaun Ridley FAIM
2 minute read
Woman giving presentation

It’s hard to find the origins of the often quoted research that says people fear public speaking more than death.

Regardless of the validity of the research, you can be reasonably confident that speaking in public is not high on most people’s list of things they love to do.

However, in leadership roles, the need to speak to small or large groups is surprisingly common and the positive or negative impact of how well you do it, is disproportionately large.

Whether you like it or not, when you speak as a leader your words and how you say them matter.

Staff who are already supportive listen for confirmation that their judgement is sound and affirm that you value their contribution to the organisation.

Similarly, staff who don’t admire you, listen for confirmation that their judgement is sound. Either way, the words of a leader carry extra weight and meaning.

Leaders are therefore wise to develop some level of comfort and expertise in speaking in a variety of contexts.

You don't need to develop the skills of a great orator for social change or motivational sports coach or stand-up comedian. You just need to be authentic, confident, competent and, at least a little engaging.

Each of these characteristics can be achieved by most people.

Perhaps the single most important thing you can do to get better at speaking is to prepare more. It is always interesting to compare the amount of preparation done by people who speak for a living versus those who only speak occasionally.

Those who speak for a living could be forgiven for skimping on preparation given how often they have done it before and how much more comfortable they are in front of groups of people. However, regular speakers invariably commit much more time to the task of preparing to speak than those who speak occasionally.

Infrequent speakers either feel they can “wing it” or don’t believe the extra effort will make the slightest difference to the quality of their performance.

For most, even a modest amount of preparation will be immediately recognised by the audience.

One more small step in the next 24 hours

Seek out the advice of a speaker you admire and get some tips and tricks on how they prepare for their speaking engagements. Attend a course, join a community speaking group or take up whatever other opportunities arise to help you build your skills and confidence.

Then, volunteer to speak at the next management meeting or staff meeting. As a leader your words will be influential, so take these opportunities to deliver those words expertly.