If you have ever seen a really good public speaker, they make it look so easy.
They look as cool as cucumbers as they deliver presentations and speeches to groups of a dozen people to 1,200 people. It looks natural and effortless.
The truth, however, is that successful public speakers do a lot of work behind the scenes. They research, prepare and rehearse their presentations. It's not enough that they know their subject matter inside out. The reality is giving a good presentation is a performance that involves intense preparations and a continual search to improve your content and delivery.
In the business world, good public speakers are widely admired. If you have ever seen Seth Godin, Don Tapscott or Mitch Joel speak, for example, their ability to present has allowed them to be seen as thought leaders within their markets - and enabled them to demand lucrative speaking fees.
Despite having an admiration for good public speakers, most people do not present well, and they fail to seek out ways to improve their skills.
Trevor Currie, the founder of Toronto-based Podium Consulting, which offers presentation training and coaching, says there are many reasons why people don't look for ways to get better at public speaking, including the fact many of them have an exaggerated and inaccurate sense of their own capabilities.
"People don't know what they don't know," he says. "They aren't aware of their skill-set. They don't know how they can actually improve and how small changes can make can make a big difference."
Mr. Currie says one of the most common mistakes made by people when they present is trying to be too comprehensive and explaining too much about how things work.
"They want to give the listener everything, and one of the things they do is focus on what they want to present rather than what matters to the listener," he says. "Apple CEO Steve Jobs doesn't tell you every little feature about the product or service. He picks the most compelling one or two things. If you buy into one or two features, he ascribes more value to the balance without talking about the balance. If people talk about too much, the audience is overwhelmed, they aren't engaged so there 's no opportunity to buy into one or two features."
Mr. Currie says strong speakers skills are important, particularly if you work in an environment in which the product or service may be an abstract concept. For example, he says someone selling an iPad would have an easier time doing a presentation on why it is such a great product. On the other hand, someone launching a new hedge fund would do better if they had strong presentation skills to explain what they were offering and how it was different from other options.
Another truth, he adds, about why strong public speaking skills are critical is that they make people believe there are lots of other things you can do well.
"A client told me there is a halo that comes with presenting effectively," Mr. Currie says. "Just because I can give a presentation without falling on my face, people think I can do other parts of my job very well. But just because I write a white paper, people don't think I can do other things. If you can be a good speaker, people can think you can do other things well. If you are a terrible speaker, even if you are good at your craft, people can assume you are not great at other things."
For those who may not have the resources to take speaker training, Mr. Currie says some quick fixes include filming yourself speaking, and then getting someone you respect to provide a critique. Some other options are groups such as Toastmasters, or finding someone who also wants to improve their speaking skills and then presenting to each other.
Special to The Globe and Mail
Mark Evans is a principal with ME Consulting , a content and social media strategic and tactical consultancy that creates and delivers 'stories' for companies looking to capture the attention of customers, bloggers, the media, business partners, employees and investors. Mark has worked with three start-ups - Blanketware, b5Media and PlanetEye - so he understands how they operate and what they need to do to be successful. He was a technology reporter for more than a decade with The Globe and Mail, Bloomberg News and the Financial Post. Mark is also one of the co-organizers of the mesh, meshUniversity and meshmarketing conferences.