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College is an opportunity to try new activities and have experiences we might not otherwise have discovered. In college, I was on the college speech team. I loved competing in the myriad of categories and events we would be required to participate in at a college competition. What I never realized then was just how important public speaking would be for me as business professional. Whether I was in a sales situation, pitching an idea to a group of colleagues, or giving a presentation at a conference, the skills I possess from my days on the speech team have served me well.

Many career changes involve the need to enter a more public-facing role. Whether that’s addressing your team at work or nailing a keynote presentation at a conference, a strong career is often dependent on the ability to speak in public.

For many, the idea of standing up in front of an audience can be terrifying. As one of the top phobias out there, a survey of 5.3 million Americans found that 74% of people suffer from speech anxiety. I would like to share with you some tips that have been invaluable to me throughout my career and my volunteer endeavors. I hope these skills can help you deliver a stellar speech and get your point across clearly and concisely.

  1. Know Your Audience

Who will you be addressing? While preparing what you will say, take time to consider who you’ll be speaking to and what they need to take away from the presentation. Do you need to leave people feeling inspired? Do you need to make sure your audience understands a complex topic? Setting goals will help you feel more confident knowing you’re hitting on all necessary points.

  1. Practice, Practice, Practice

In the days leading up to your presentation, make time to practice your speech every day. From the shower, to your morning commute, challenge yourself to recall your presentation from memory. Even if you end up needing to rely on notecards during the actual presentation, you’ll feel more confident knowing the ins and outs of your speech. You should also practice in front of a mirror, so you become aware of your body language, hand usage, and facial expressions.

  1. Slow Down

Many people begin speaking quickly when they’re nervous. However, if you want to leave a positive impact on your audience and make sure your message is made clearly, they need to be able to hear what you’re saying. If you find yourself racing through your speech, pause and take a breath. Continue again using a measured tone, and slow it down.

  1. Use Humor & Storytelling

Nobody wants to listen to a robot. Practice your voice tone, inflection and projection. By varying your volume throughout the speech, you can add emphasis to your point and may help keep the audience hanging on your every word. Staying away from a monotone voice will help keep your audience engaged. Likewise, interject some personal anecdotes into your story along with some natural humor. People remember stories, especially when they bring a point in your presentation to life. As for humor, when in doubt, some light self-deprecating humor can put everyone (including yourself) at ease and make your presentation more enjoyable.

  1. Remember Your Posture

Don’t underestimate the impact good posture can have with your audience’s first impression of you. Good posture conveys confidence! Sometimes, you need to fake it until you make it. Practice projecting confidence by standing in front of a mirror with a straight spine and your shoulders pulled back. Look your audience in the eye, crack a smile, and remember that your audience is there because they’re interested in what you have to say.

  1. Don’t Start Right Away

In an effort to “get it over with,” many speakers will launch into their presentation the moment they take the stage. However, this is an easy way to make your nerves known. Instead, quietly walk onto the stage, take your place, and cast an eye over the audience. Then, take a deep breath and wait a few moments before beginning. This will help you collect yourself and take some time to mentally prepare before you start to speak.

Hopefully these tips will leave you feeling more confident and prepared before speaking in front of an audience. Like any skill, practice makes all the difference in the world. The more you spend time in front of a group of people, the more comfortable you’ll find yourself each time you need to make a presentation.