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Useful public speaking tips for business owners

Many business owners dread making presentations to would-be clients and customers. Here, Dorothea Stuart from Toastmasters International answers our questions about public speaking, and how to successfully engage with an audience.

Toastmasters Speaking Public
Can you succeed in business if you are an ineffective public speaker?

Good communication is a key part of business success. This includes one to one communication as well as the one to many that we tend to think of when we see the words “public speaking”.   For a small business owner it is particularly important to be able to present your business in every kind of situation you find yourself in.

Many people think their audience will find them ‘boring’, and this can affect their performance when delivering a pitch or speech. What advice do you have on this concern?

This sounds like a “chicken-or-egg?” problem. If you are delivering a pitch or presentation you truly believe in you are unlikely to be boring. Enthusiasm and authenticity will communicate to your audience.

If you worry about how you’re being perceived the danger is that you focus on yourself – your own feelings and anxieties. If your attention is going inwards it won’t be on your audience.

The best advice I can give is:

  • Prepare with your audience in mind. Focus on delivering what they need to hear
  • Practice your presentation so that you are familiar and comfortable with what you will be saying (and demonstrating if you have a physical product to show)
  • Record yourself and listen to how you sound. If your voice is monotonous try again so that you can hear yourself sounding more lively and engaging.

Do you think ‘props’ can aid public speaking, if used sparingly?

If a prop fits with an important point you are making it adds impact.   Used sparingly, props will help your presentation stick in the mind. Just remember to practice with the prop so that you can use it smoothly – no fumbling. You want props to make your presentation memorable for the right reasons.

Do you have any tips for preparing to appear in front of an audience? How should you conduct your research?

Consider the first impression you will make. Dress for the part and be ready to stride up to your stage with confident posture.

The more you know about your audience the better. Research is key. If you are speaking at an outside event ask the organisers questions to establish as much information about the background and expectations of the people in the audience. If someone is speaking ahead of you make sure you know what will be covered, if possible, be there to hear that presentation. You don’t want to repeat what someone else has already said. If you can refer to a previous presentation when it’s your turn it will make you look extra impressive.

If you’re the type of person who enjoys public speaking, are there any behavioural traits you should be aware of, such as over confidence?

The danger with over-confidence is that you think you can wing it. If you know your subject you may be able to speak with only a little preparation but you may find yourself running out of time or missing a key point that a specific audience really needs to hear. This links to the research question above.

Another risk for people who loves speaking is that they may talk too much and fail to observe or listen to their audience. As audience members we need the occasional pause to help us absorb what is being said. We also enjoy having the opportunity to ask questions and have the speaker listen to us carefully and respond.

What does Toastmasters International do, and how could a typical small business owner benefit from the services the organisation provides?

Toastmasters International is a world leader in communication and leadership development. Our membership is more than 332,000. Members improve their speaking and leadership skills by attending one of the 15,400 clubs in 135 countries that make up our global network of meeting locations.

Small business owners, who are members, benefit from the opportunity to practice and improve their skills in a supportive environment. They particularly benefit from getting helpful feedback (something which can be lacking in a small workplace). Toastmasters make their meetings fun so it also good to feel you can do something productive, useful and enjoyable all at the same time. Many of our members have stories of personal and business success based on their learning at a Toastmasters club.

For Toastmasters in the UK, visit toastmasters.org.uk.

Follow @ToastmastersUKI on Twitter.

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