Your Marketing Skills Put to The Test

In the Palm of Your Hand

Here’s the picture. You own a company that has a dazzling new product. You want to get the word out to the community about that product. So, you advertise in the local newspapers, magazines and TV. But that’s not all. There are industry roundtables, conventions, shows and other settings where you have a chance to spread the word.

Those situations, however, involve standing up and speaking to a crowd to get your message across. You might even have to stand behind a lectern on a podium in front of dozens, or hundreds, of people. All will have their eyes on you — an intimidating prospect if you’re not fully prepared or confident to do the job.

Indeed, confidence is perhaps the biggest characteristic that separates great speakers from mediocre ones, according to Margo Thomas, president of Tallahassee Toastmasters and president of Marlynn Consulting Group, an economic development consultant firm.

“I would say the biggest thing is confidence. If you’re not confident in what you’re talking about, the difficulty is you’re not going to be as effective,” said Thomas, who joined Toastmasters in 2008 to build her confidence and become a better public speaker. “When you give a speech, you are the expert. If you can’t do that confidently you are showing you are not the expert on what you are talking about.”

Marsha Friedman, CEO of EMSI Public Relations and author of “Celebritize Yourself,” a book on how to brand yourself, hated putting herself in the spotlight by giving speeches but knew she had to do it to boost her visibility and credibility — and to set herself apart from her competition by becoming a trusted authority in her field.

“I had no desire to seek the spotlight, and even had trepidation about it, but eventually I realized I had to for the sake of my business,” she said. Her first tip? “Start small. Give yourself time to get used to the spotlight.”

There’re all kinds of tips and advice on how to effectively deliver a speech, or deliver an effective speech. Those are actually two different things. You can effectively deliver a speech with the right mechanics, poise and style but if you really want to deliver an effective speech, you have to go beyond the mechanics and really connect with your audience, to urge them to take some kind of action.

“I think delivering an effective speech is probably better. I say that because when you give any type of presentation you want somebody to be moved in some way. You are trying to motivate someone to act, or you’re trying to encourage someone in some way,” she said. “The delivery and mechanics is part of the process of doing that, but you still have to work on the speech in general; i.e., what it is you are talking about, who your audience is and how your speech is going to relate to whatever the situation is or who the people are in that room.”

Knowing the material is, of course, highly important and can make or break your presentation. But Thomas also suggests that you should practice the speech, preferably in front of a mirror so you can see what the audience is going to see. Adds Friedman, “How do actors and Olympic athletes make their feats look so easy? They practice!”

Knowing the audience itself is essential to preparing the speech, but you should also arrive early so you can work the crowd and become more comfortable with them. Other essentials include eliminating “filler” or stammer words that detract from your message and cast doubt on your expertise, and mind your body language so you don’t let on to the audience that you’re nervous or anxious. Along with that, watch your vocal inflections to make sure they match your emotions. For example, if you say you’re happy, your body language and vocal inflections should show that you’re happy.

Speak clearly, but avoid a droning monotone (which can become monotomous). If you don’t speak clearly you can lose your audience. Everyone in the room should hear you, Thomas said. And, if you raise the pitch of your voice, you’ll add some excitement while showing confidence. Also, if you make a mistake, don’t compound it by loudly announcing it to the crowd. Never say you’re sorry for something or tell the audience that this is your first time speaking to a crowd.

“You don’t have to keep saying ‘I’m sorry,’ or ‘This is my first time doing this,’ or ‘I’m not good at this.’ It draws their attention to that, and they ask why are you giving the presentation,” she said.

Another “rookie” mistake speakers make is reading the script line by line. That’s another good way of losing the audience.

“If I have a presentation (that I’m just reading), then I’m not engaging the audience as much and I’m losing eye contact if I have to read the words,” Thomas said. Friedman said that making eye contact can help prevent you from staring into the distance or reading from your notes. “I’ve found that visually touching base with engaged audience members gives me little shots of confidence that help propel me through my presentation,” she added.

One thing to realize is that most people seem frightened by the notion of standing up before a roomful of strangers. But that fear that can be readily dealt with if you merely psyche yourself up for it and make it something you will enjoy and have fun with.

“I think when we go in with dread we more than likely won’t do well. It doesn’t become a pleasurable thing,” Thomas said. “It’s more of a thing where I’m afraid. I myself can relate to that. I was like that in college. My thinking was, ‘I can do the Power Point, but can someone else do the speech?’ Now I’m not afraid of it anymore. Again, looking at it in a more positive light, instead of with dread, helps. And the more opportunities you take to do this, the better you become.”

Getting good at public speaking is, naturally, an essential tool in a business owner’s tool chest. And if you are unable to articulate yourself properly, people don’t take you seriously, Thomas said.

“As a business owner you want people to really listen to what you are talking about because whatever you are proposing to the client, if you can’t make them really understand what your service or product is, more than likely you have lost that sale,” she said. “You may not get everybody but at the end of the day, if you give a speech and some people walk up to you afterwards and talk to you, then that is an effective speech.” 

Categories: Opinion