Public speaking is an excellent way to gain visibility and credibility for your business. It’s also among one of the most feared activities for most people. But with practice, you might actually enjoy having the chance to share information that is genuinely helpful to others. I personally have a serious shy streak, and I used to hate public speaking. I had to consciously imagine swiveling a spotlight onto the audience, so I felt that the attention was on them. I then began to understand I was there to be of service to the audience, not an object for their scrutiny. Once I flipped that switch in my head, I’ve had a lot of really fulfilling opportunities to help other people. It just took some practice, so here’s what I learned:

First, a good preliminary strategy is to seek out smaller, more intimate environments where you can practice and gain confidence. If you belong to a networking group, offer to serve on the leadership team or on a committee where you will have to present reports to your group on a regular basis. Remember to practice a bit beforehand to make sure your delivery is engaging and natural. This is an excellent way to gain speaking experience in familiar territory.

Next, if you belong to a larger professional organization or club, ask if you can make a short presentation to the group. You’d be surprised how fast 5 to 10 minutes can fly by: once you introduce yourself, share 3 topics that could help your audience, and then make your closing statements, you won’t know where the time went. I write everything out and walk around my house while practicing my presentation out loud. I probably look crazy to my neighbors, but by the time I show up, I know the material in my bones.

If being a lone speaker feels too unnerving, there may be opportunities to serve on a panel of speakers who are covering a topic where you have expertise. Serving on a panel is another way to more comfortably grow accustomed to being on stage, since you won’t be solely in the spotlight. In the company of your colleagues, you also might discover that you know more than you give yourself credit for. That alone is a confidence boost. Again, all of this is about gaining a comfort level and a natural public presence.

After you have some informal speaking experience under your belt, consider making a longer presentation and start to broaden the venue possibilities. A good deal of effort will need to be devoted to speaking at this level. It may be more convenient to recycle material rather than reinvent the wheel, but make sure you continue to infuse your basic outline with relevant information. Weaving current events or new industry trends into your presentation will make sure your material doesn’t grow dull.

Remember, these efforts are about progress, not perfection. Start small and expand from there. You will be pleasantly surprised at how much your public speaking confidence will grow!

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Small Business, Big Voices: Episode 15