I never intended to get involved in public speaking until my life took a dramatic turn: I was out of a job and struggling to make ends meet as an entrepreneur. I started looking for new ways to gain exposure and expand my network. I researched successful entrepreneurs in my industry and came to one simple conclusion: Successful people are confident public speakers.
I wasn’t comfortable speaking in front of large audiences. Keenly aware of my thick Polish accent — I moved from Poland to New York at 23 — I never believed I could be an effective speaker in America. But I’ve never walked away from a challenge, realizing early on that invisibility is a fate worse than failure.
Public speaking has allowed me to take my career to an entirely new level, granting access to people and places I never had before. I don’t claim to be a public speaking guru or a particularly gifted orator, but I have delivered a number of memorable keynotes, training seminars and talks around the globe.
Public Speaking Creates Opportunities
Public speaking leads to wealth. It will help you build your network, foster relationships, get new business, get job offers and increase your social media presence.
Most people are not comfortable speaking in front of large audiences: 74 percent of adults suffer from speech anxiety, according to the National Institute of Mental Health, and I’m certainly one of them. I get anxious every single time I get on stage or in front of the camera.
Taking a proactive approach to developing public speaking skills can boost your confidence quickly. As your speaking confidence multiplies, you will become less anxious. I’ve also read “How to Develop Self-Confidence by Public Speaking” by Dale Carnegie, which made me realize one simple truth: It’s not about you, it’s about your content. So take a baby-step approach to developing your confidence.
Here are a couple of tips to improve your public speaking game that have worked for me when I was just getting started.
1. Know Your Topic Inside and Out
Ken Linder notes on Entrepreneur.com that, “If you talk about things you know and are passionate about, that resonates with people.” He also mentions that you know more about your topic than your audience, so it’s your job to educate them.
Confident speakers develop their expertise by knowing their topic thoroughly. The work you put into research will be noticed and appreciated by your audience. Avoid picking topics that you don’t feel strongly about — it’s a sure way to ruin your self-confidence.
Confident public speakers deliver convincing arguments by absorbing as much relevant knowledge as possible. Read, study and memorize key concepts. Accumulate interesting facts, stories, quotes and examples. These will boost your confidence because you’ll have richer and more interesting content to present.
2. Prepare by Practicing
No successful public speaker became famous without preparation. The best prepared themselves by speaking for hours in front of mirrors or for a few select friends. Some renowned speakers simply speak at an empty room to hone their skills.
Toastmasters International suggests practicing with a timer and allowing time for the unexpected, as unforeseen events can distract nervous speakers.
Visualize yourself delivering an inspiring speech. Rehearsing the speech in your mind creates a type of dry run which increases your confidence for the actual event.
3. Use Visuals and Powerful Wording
Using visuals like slides, colorful images, graphs, videos and headline-heavy copy draws your audience’s attention like a magnet. It also takes away pressure and attention from your actual delivery. Draw your audience’s attention from you to your content.
Even the most dynamic speakers use imagery to keep audiences on their toes. You want to inspire, inform and entertain by delivering a high energy message. Your audience wants to use the content being presented for their benefit, so make dramatic statements to convey your message convincingly. Pepper your speech with power verbs to inspire audiences.
4. Enter With Boldness
Boldness and hesitation will elicit very different responses from your audience. Hesitation creates obstacles, boldness eliminates them.
Start your talk with boldness to appear larger and more interesting — the first impression is critical. Play a video, tell a story or a joke or make a bold statement about your material — just don’t start with a boring agenda.
Boldly entering the stage will also have the magical effect of camouflaging your inexperience and oratory deficiencies. Boldness gives you presence while the timid fade into wallpaper.
5. Learn From Other Public Speakers
Study from the best to improve. Follow your favorite public speakers on social media and sites like SlideShare. I also watch Ted Talks to learn from the best speakers in the world.
Attend live events to learn from and emulate your favorites. Observe how they use their hands to add emphasis to key points. Note how they raise and lower their voice to keep you focused on their message. The best public speakers are masters of inspiring an audience. Study their movements and delivery style to feed off their confidence.
6. Be Open to Receiving Feedback
Both positive and negative feedback can improve your confidence. One of the most painful experiences is watching recordings of yourself. Although I’m uncomfortable every time I view my performance, I push myself to do it and to find places I can improve.
Watch yourself on video and observe your overall delivery. What seemed to rouse the audience? Watching yourself from a third-person perspective can accelerate your growth. Negative reviews help you pinpoint areas for improvement. Even though negative feedback might sting your ego, these points of view usually boost your skills in the long run.
Being open to criticism helps you develop thick skin. Grow your confidence from both positive, inspiring feedback and negative, constructive feedback.
7. Speak Less to Say More
Brilliant public speakers use words economically to make an impact. Remove all unnecessary fillers. Respect your time and the time of your audience. Avoid hesitating unless you want the audience to reflect on some point.
Stick to your speech plan, refrain from adding points on the fly and speak only on your desired topic. Do not add extra examples and stay away from straying off course.
Public speaking changed my life, and I hope it will change yours.
A version of this post originally appeared on Medium here.