Preparation is Key: How to speak in public successfully

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Hillary Clinton joked at the Al Smith dinner that the only performance enhancer she used during the presidential debates was preparation. When considering how to speak in public, what's your process? 

The presidential debates are finally over. If we've learned one thing from this depressing political season it's the importance of preparation in presentation skills and public speaking.

Most of us are so intimidated by public speaking that we avoid thinking about it all together. That total lack of preparation and practice can lead to a negative experience. It's a vicious cycle that we won't break until we learn how to prepare and practice for ourselves.

To start us off, here are two pieces of advice I stole from two women I admire:

Do more than nothing

The exceptional photographer Sai Mokhtari said this to me last week and it's been stuck in my brain ever since.  You may not have time to perfect a speech but if you do something more than nothing you'll set yourself on a trajectory towards success instead of failure.

Collect little victories

Katie McKenna, author of How to Get Run Over by a Truck talks about collecting little wins. When you feel disempowered, setting yourself up for success, even in small ways, can be key to building confidence for the long-term.

Design Your Preparation Process

Whether you're gearing up for a formal public speaking engagement or to ask for a raise you deserve, you get to decide what goes into your process for preparation. Knowing your strengths and weaknesses and identifying unconscious behaviors is key to improving presentation skills.  Do more than nothing by trying one or all of these practical tips—and collect little victories along the way:

  1. Set an intention

    Know what you want to get out of your audience and how you want to make them feel. Identifying and refining an intention will take the focus off of yourself and keep you grounded. Be specific and embrace your unique perspective.

  2. Bullet point your thoughts

    Most speaking opportunities call for improvisation rather than a script—especially if there's a Q&A component. Instead of sticking to a script, organize your thoughts into a series of bullet points, using keywords to prompt your memory. Knowing the essence of what you want to say in your bones will set you up for success.

  3. Practice vulnerability

    The head of TED says that the single most important thing you can do during public speaking is to make eye contact. Leading up to the speaking engagement, find safe situations to be open and connected. Practicing in a safe space ingrains these behaviors for when you take the stage.

  4. Wear shoes that make you feel powerful

    Many of us do not feel powerful or comfortable in our footwear. What shoes make you feel powerful? I personally prefer chunky wedges, but many women I know feel powerful in pumps. If you love those ballet flats, make sure you know why. Ditch shoes that make you feel small and take a stand instead.

Let us know how you prepare for public speaking!