Entrepreneurs

5 simple ways to become a better speaker

Civil rights leader Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. delivers a speech to a crowd on October 16, 1965 in New York City, New York.
Michael Ochs Archives | Getty Images
Civil rights leader Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. delivers a speech to a crowd on October 16, 1965 in New York City, New York.

Every entrepreneur (and intrapreneur, too) spends a lot of time delivering messages. Whether it's leading a team meeting, pitching a client or keynoting an industry event, speaking opportunities are ever-present. Not to mention that speaking at events is a great way to enhance your status as an expert and create awareness for your business.

That being said, public speaking is one of the biggest fears that most people have, and it's an art as much as a science. But with some tips and some practice, you can leave a lasting impression that you will want people to remember.

Here are five simple ways that you can become a better speaker.

1. Don’t memorize your lines.

Far too many speakers believe that the best way to give a great speech is to memorize the content word-for-word. However, this is one of the worst things that you can do as a speaker.

Memorization makes you sound over-rehearsed (a.k.a. not natural), and worse, if your mind blanks out at any point during the presentation — a common occurrence even for the most skilled speakers — you will lose your place and potentially create an awkward silence. If that happens, it can lead to sheer panic and railroad your entire speech.

The better strategy is to memorize your key concepts instead of the specific lines. You can do this by creating bullet points of your key messages, stories, data and takeaways that you want to get across in each part of your presentation.

This allows you the latitude to speak naturally about them, change anecdotes to serve the audience and retain flexibility to move on if you forget something.

2. Practice in a noisy room.

This tip I learned from a seasoned Hollywood actor who liked to practice his lines for upcoming television and movie performances in a neighborhood pool hall.

While most people are inclined to go somewhere to practice where they won't be distracted, this doesn't prepare you for a real presentation. In live presenting, anything can happen, from cell phones ringing to people shouting feedback from the audience.

If you practice somewhere noisy, you can work through the distractions and learn to tune them out while you focus on the concepts and messages that you want to get across. This way, nothing will phase you during an unexpected presentation moment.

3. Embrace audio and visuals.

One of the most engaging speeches that I have seen in a long time was from Steve Hayden, advertising guru-extraordinaire and the man behind the iconic Apple "1984" Macintosh commercial.

His speech was on branding, but the majority of it was watching fun commercials on screen and him giving a bit of commentary on the impact of each one and what you could learn and apply from it.

Another keynote that I loved had a live DJ who changed up music every time the speaker had a new story or message to underscore (and literally score) his points.

While most speakers know to not read directly from slides (and if you didn't before, you do now), the more you can make your speech into multi-sensory content, the better. Not only does adding visual or even extra audio keep the audience engaged, but it's less content that you as a presenter have to remember and less performing to do!

4. Focus on serving the audience.

Even the most seasoned speakers can get nervous prior to presenting. The most effective way to take the pressure off of you is to change your mindset and think about serving your audience, rather than focusing on your performance.

Remember that you are there to provide your listeners with valuable information that helps them. If your audience leaves with even one or two new pieces of information or a new perspective, you have made it worth their while. By focusing on being helpful or in service of the audience, you will be able to relax.

Also chatting with the people that you are going to be speaking to before you give your speech can help you serve your audience even better. Not only does it warm them up to you, it lets you gauge their sense of humor, which is particularly critical if you are a speaker that tends to let a curse word fly or uses bold and provocative stories or language.

Moreover, you can glean insights to incorporate into your presentation. It's incredibly effective to use audience members as examples or transitions in a speech, because it creates intimacy with the audience and more engagement.

If you are talking to small-business owners about marketing and Susan, for example, told you a great story about how she used an unusual marketing tactic, incorporate Susan and her story into your presentation. "Speaking of clever marketing, earlier I was talking to Susan, who is sitting in the third row, and she told me how she used a PR stunt with 400 kittens to get new clients…"

5. Make it interactive.

One of my favorite speeches that I give is on elevator pitching. Once I have laid out the foundation of a good pitch, I show live clips (borrowing from tip #3 above) of real pitches and let the audience critique what was good and bad about them. This keeps the audience involved as part of the presentation, which is naturally more fun and engaging, and also gives them devices to remember the material.

As you plan your speech, think about where you can involve the audience and what devices you can use to involve them in the presentation so that you are talking with them, not just to them.

Carol Roth is a "recovering" investment banker, entrepreneur, investor, speaker, small-business advocate and author of The New York Times bestselling book "The Entrepreneur Equation."