Make Yourself Heard: Public Speaking Tips for Finance Professionals

Public speaking is not an inherent talent; it’s a skill that can be worked on by almost anyone.

Sure, for the extroverts amongst us, the idea of speaking in front of groups of people might be easier to handle, but really, it’s only our fear of public speaking that inhibits us, not our ability to engage, persuade and make ourselves heard.

And by “public speaking”, I don’t just mean speaking to the public. In fact, more practically, I mean speaking, presenting or communicating to any group of people where you need to communicate an argument, message or business justification. In work, we do this all the time, whether it’s in Board meetings, annual planning cycles, customer meetings or when pitching a new idea to a potential investor, or bank.

To help build your public speaking tool box, I’ve listed out some tips from the top on how to improve your skill set, and make sure you’re not just speaking, you’re making yourself heard.

Voice: Tone & Breath
What is clear is that they way that we sound is the biggest element in whether we succeed in persuading. There are some common mistakes we all make. These include uptalk, which refers to the act of raising your tone towards the end of each sentence, making what you say sound more like a question, than a statement; and vocal fry, where you finish a sentence in a raspy tone, not quite making it to the end of your sentence without running out of clout.

Allison Shapira makes a very good point that we should all learn from in “Breathing is the Key to Persuasive Public Speaking”. She recommends that prior to a public speaking event, you should practice deep breathing, getting your body into a rhythm of taking deep breaths, so that when you speak, you will increase your ability to speak on the breath. By speaking on the breath, Shapira argues that number one, you speak in a lower tone, which science has proven is more likely to persuade, and number two, you will be able to overcome wobbles in voice, like vocal fry, that may make you sound less persuasive.

Impact: Language & Style
There are ways to optimise the impact of your speech, by paying attention to structure, style and language. A structured speech, or presentation, is far more likely to exude confidence and also a sense of control, so simple measures such as introducing, re-capping on main points and ensuring you conclude properly will have a massive impact. Always aim to run 15 to 20% shorter than your time constraint, so that you have proper time to answer any questions during your presentation and deal with any objections, without capping the length of what you have to say.

Ensure you don’t overcomplicate things, but having one main message, that you consistently go back to, throughout your presentation. If you think about how people learn, it’s impossible to work on the principle that your speech or presentation in its entirety will be taken on board, so ensuring you hit home one key message is vital to delivering with impact. Language and style also play a big part, as is pausing. Stopping to pause is essential in making yourself heard, to not only let the audience digest, but also to make them sit up and pay attention. Don’t fear silence; use it as a valuable weapon in your armoury.

Overcome the Fear
Possibly the most important point! Even the most seasoned of speakers or presenters don’t just take speaking in their stride, they are just better at preparing themselves for it. It’s foolish to disregard this as something you’ll just have to get over, so develop some measures to cope with the fear and to overcome it, not side sweep it.

The most obvious of these measures is practice, either using a smart phone to record or asking a colleague or partner to make recommendations. Becoming comfortable with saying the words out loud, and also hearing how they sound out loud, will make a massive difference. Likewise, some people find developing a pre-routine helps. Doing something useful like ensuring you take 10 minutes before the presentation to systematically check your equipment or PP document is working will help calm nerves, and get you “in the zone”, especially if you develop it as a routine task.

Critically, always have a contingency plan, or two. Think about what measures you can take to avoid disaster if your presentation slides freeze, or if you lose your train of thought. This might be to have hand-outs or flash-cards, but making sure you have a back up plan will calm any last nerves, and give you confidence in total preparation.

Read More: Shapira, A., “Breathing is the Key to Persuasive Public Speaking”, HBR

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