Digitally Speaking: Virtual Meetings Require Strong Public Speaking Skills

One thing that the new normal has laid bare is how bad some people are at public speaking. Yes, it was always obvious in a business meeting when a participant (or leader) was lacking in the communications department, but there were distractions (note-taking, reading on the phone, getting coffee). Now, with eyes trained on the screen, there is no escaping a painful reality: people should better prepare for meetings by practicing public speaking.

Have you ever given a speech to the mirror? Perhaps you should start. People trained in public speaking often train themselves by practicing in the mirror. It’s not just the words of the speech, but how those words are enunciated and punctuated with facial expression.

When giving a speech in person, an experienced communicator will seek to take command of the space with proper posture and walking in the stage space. They might firmly plant their feet and use their diaphragm like a singer to modulate their voice. By contrast, a zoom speaker might slouch over the computer while looking down at a spreadsheet and, wait for it, drone on.

Stunningly, a software company promoting its meetings platform is running a TV ad that can politely be termed as from Hell. The spot is meant to be inspirational, I suppose, depicting teams in live-action problem solving, but golly, it’s as wonderful as listening to nails on a chalkboard. Why? Because it depicts poor communications. The speakers halt, hem and haw to get their sentences flowing. The viewer is groaning. Feel familiar? Don’t be that speaker.

Here’s How to Improve Your Computer Speaking Skills

  1. Look at the camera while you are speaking as if you are looking into the eyes of your audience. This requires extemporaneous speech (more on this in a moment).
  2. Sit up straight and breathe out your words so they actually flow and you feel/appear poised and gracious. This will calm your audience so they can focus on what you’re actually saying. Hemming and hawing creates restlessness in the audience because they get annoyed wondering what you are trying to say.
  3. Prepare. Even if you are not giving a formal presentation, write out your main points and then bring your notes to a mirror. Standing or sitting up straight, breathe in and make your points so you are confidently speaking to the mirror without looking down at your notes.
  4. Smile. In the olden days, salespeople were told to smile as they worked the phones so that the person on the other end of the line would hear confidence and warmth in the voice of the caller. These is even more important on a computer screen. Smile. It goes a long way to engage your audience and to give you confidence as well.
  5. Listen. Just like pre-covid public speaking in a space with other people present, be sure to listen to points being made by other people and favorably respond to new ideas. It’s OK to say, “that’s interesting. I had not thought of that,” or, “that’s new. Tell me more.” Anything you would do or say to shut down someone in an in-person meeting that could be uncomfortable for other participants will be even more obvious within the confines of a group video chat. Be a leader by engaging as a welcoming, kind presence. We could all use a little more kindness these days.

Also, be mindful of time. Just because many meeting participants are stuck working from home does not mean time has become less valuable. On the contrary, time might be more of the essence as some decision-making has accelerated to meet the quickly evolving circumstances to function as a business amid a pandemic. Respect people’s time and they will respect you. In a trying economy, the economy of words is as important as ever.

If you are interested in a public speaking training session, contact me at katharine@adroitnarratives.com.

How Public Speaking Helps Your Business

I bet you think you are not an orator, but how often does your work require you to hold forth? Each time you give your elevator pitch, contribute in a meeting or handle a client relations call, you are indeed presenting. Ask yourself, how much preparation and thought do I put into this speaking content and can I do better?

The term public speaking conjures up an image of a speaker addressing the masses. When I say public speaking, do you envision Martin Luther King at the Lincoln Memorial? Intimidating, right?

Or, perhaps you think of an executive delivering financial results to an assembly of hundreds in a darkened hotel ballroom. Maybe not as inspirational. Then again, that content should be engaging if the executive is as committed to the audience as he is to the subject matter itself.

The reality is we all have daily opportunities to deploy public speaking skills.

Ever been in a meeting getting off track until a good speaker pleasantly took command?

Do you want to excel in giving presentations?

Have you ever turned around a difficult customer service call – either as the customer or the company representative – by using a different tone of voice and the power of persuasion? Congratulations, you are well on your way as a public speaker.silhouette-774834_1280

There are techniques you can add to your verbal skills repertoire. Also, I encourage you to enjoy listening and watching how others speak, and see how effective some practices really are.

So much of what we convey in public speaking is in our body language. Where we are standing. What expressions cross our face. Our vocal variety. Some folks may be so enthused in these categories that the audience is distracted by criss-cross pacing, rapid-fire use of a laser pointer or, in the case of some politicians, excessive laughter at their own jokes.

It’s really not that complicated. Let’s break down the basics. You have your topic and should organize which material must be included. Consider how you are going to share this as a narrative. At the outset of the speech, you may give the audience a little verbal agenda to let them know what to expect. You’ve probably heard this approach and the reason it is widely used is it is often quite effective. It also shows the audience you care about their participation in your speech as listeners. They will appreciate a road map in advance as you embark on a verbal journey.

Now that your topic is organized, your role as speaker is that of an advocate. You may be selling an idea or a product, but using softer skills than the OxyClean guy. You want to place your topic in the audience’s minds as something that is contributing on some level to an authentic purpose. If not the greater good or a charitable cause, than at least something that is useful and worthy of respect.

Sounds great, right? Some of you, though, may loathe the idea of standing up to give a presentation. Perhaps you are somewhat shy. Some of us prefer to deliver well-honed and polished written material. Some people may have developed an aversion to Powerpoint.

For those of you who are shy, consider how your reserved nature may actually benefit you. You are not at risk of saying the wrong thing or going to far.

I’ve never been shy. When I was two years old, a family friend pinched my cheek and remarked “what cute dimples you have!” I was so delighted I was compelled to reciprocate with a compliment and told the chubby man, “And you have a fat face!”

Thus, I became active in the practice of public speaking to learn how to edit myself. I wanted to learn not only how to be more disciplined in my speech, but in how I listened and learned from other people’s speech.

Let’s review some simple steps to make giving a speech approachable, easy and painless.

  • Pick a topic you know or have time to research. Possessing a strong command of the subject matter will give you confidence.
  • Write the speech ahead of time.
  • Read the speech out loud and tweak things that sound funny.
  • Read the speech out loud to someone who cares about you and will praise what you are doing well and give an honest appraisal of what might not be working.
  • Turn on a stopwatch and read the speech out loud. Are you fitting within the allotted time you have been given? Edit accordingly.
  • Read the speech out loud, over and over. Consider different delivery styles with vocal variety and your placement on stage. What hand gestures are you using?
  • Read the speech over and over until you feel you know it and are very comfortable giving it.

Public speaking is not just about speech. It is about listening. The practice of speaking makes us more attuned to what we are saying and, in turn, to what are others are telling us. Once engaged in your aspiration to become a better speaker, you will find yourself more actively listening to others. Consider what words they chose, or should have chosen. Watch their body language and hear the tones. There are some techniques other people are using, consciously or not, that you can learn from. Emulate good habits. Cut people some slack in ordinary settings when you hear them flub their speech and listen for what they were trying to say. This thought process will help guide you as you improve your speaking skills.

Perhaps you already prepare for speaking by crafting bullet points ahead of a meeting. This is the same kind of groundwork that goes into speech writing. Think about what you want to accomplish in conversation, whether a speech, a presentation, a meeting or call, and how you will go about it. Have that bullet-point list, but also have a list of things to listen to in others. Did you hear vocal varierty and emphasis? Purposeful pauses? Strong vocabulary words?

Take steps to improve your public speaking in creative and constructive ways. Put yourself in the practice of speech by volunteering to give a presentation or run a meeting. Take every opportunity to get up to speak. Once engaged in this practice, you will become a daily orator. Strong verbal content will also improve how you convey your message elsewhere, including with social media. The most powerful driver for strong speech is crafting your ability to persuade.

For more communications consulting, contact Katharine Fraser.