The statistics about people’s anxiety about public speaking are well known, and many public speaking coaches will quote The Book of Lists claiming that the fear of public speaking is greater than the fear of death. Other coaches will reference the Jerry Seinfeld joke saying that people at a funeral would rather be in the casket than giving the eulogy. In reality, though, glossophobia routinely ranks ahead of other fears, and 75% of people experience speech anxiety when delivering speeches and presentations. While the statistics may seem daunting enough to make you want to hide, there are legitimate business and personal reasons to improve your presentation skills, and below are the top 5 reasons to improve your presentation skills. Being a great public speaker is one of the best ways to promote yourself, so when you improve your presentation skills, you promote yourself!
Preparation Builds Mastery
A significant amount of preparation is usually required to give a quality presentation. Granted, if you are standing in front of a crowd or facilitating a webinar, you are probably already an authority on the topic. This fact, in and of itself, should alleviate some anxiety. However, one of the best byproducts of making a presentation to others is that it requires you to re-examine your own knowledge in order to build the content and educate the audience. This type of preparation helps to improve one’s own knowledge of a topic, and lead to mastery of a subject, all while putting together a dynamite presentation.
Personal and Professional Growth
We’ve already established that anxiety is common for those having to give presentations. While this may be a normal fear, turning the experience into a growth opportunity can help each of us grow personally and professionally. By stepping outside of our comfort zone, we experience growth, overcome fears, and can build the confidence to take on our next challenge or responsibility. One of the key aspects of presenting to others is the vulnerability of standing in front of a group of people. Nerves may be natural, but as consistent as those nerves is the fact that audiences generally understand and respect the fact that someone is willing to do what makes so many others nervous.
Professionally, effective presentation and communication skills are extremely important for career development and advancement. Within your career field or line of work, if your peers or bosses make presentations, you want to begin practicing and strategizing about how you will deliver those talks before you get to that level.
We often think of branding in terms of organizations. Some of the iconic brands in our culture are names like Apple, Nike and Coca-Cola. You may be speaking on behalf of an organization or a brand, but something else to keep in mind is that as individuals we have a personal brand. Through our work ethic, accomplishments, assignments, relationships, and projects we take on, we are continuously building our own professional brand. Whether you are presenting on behalf of a Fortune 500 company, a small non-profit, or you’re a subject matter expert, presentations are tremendous opportunities to showcase that brand and increase its value within your profession, organization or with potential clients and donors.
Being a good public speaker is not necessarily a prerequisite to a leadership role, but it never hurts. One characteristic that consistently sets good leaders apart is communication skills. By gaining experience speaking in front of others, and increasing your comfort and understanding of how to make connections with audience members, you have the ability to improve some of those leadership skills while concurrently enhancing your presentation skills.
This may be more of a “chicken or egg” debate, but another reason to consider improving your presentation skills is to enhance your storytelling. You may be thinking, “If I were a better storyteller, my presentations would be better,” and that could be true. However, presenting and storytelling are two related, but different, skill sets that can work great when they go hand-in-hand. Presentations are meant to inform, while storytelling is about creating connections. If you can inform through storytelling, think about how impactful that could be for your business or career. By working on and incorporating storytelling into your presentations, you can improve both skill sets and leave more lasting impressions on audience members.
Presentation skills are like other types of skills, the more you practice and use them, the better you will become. Some people may be more naturally inclined to speak in front of others, but some of history’s greatest orators put considerable effort into overcoming major obstacles to improve on their presentation skills. Find your nearest Toastmasters club or take on the next pitch for your team and see how you can make a difference.
Michelle Riklan is president of Riklan Resources and an instructor for The Leader's Institute® in the Northeast region. She is based in Trenton, NJ but she also conducts public speaking classes in New York, Boston, Philadelphia and other Northeast cities.