Make your voice heard: Become a better public speaker


Do your knees knock at the mere thought of an upcoming speaking engagement? Follow this advice.

If the thought of hundreds of eyes focused on you makes you break out in a cold sweat, don't panic. The first part of this column, published in the April issue of Veterinary Economics, gave an introduction to the art of public speaking. Here are more tested tips.

1. BE CAREFUL WITH HUMOR. If done right, a joke can do great things for a speech. Humor can break the ice, make people receptive, drive home a point, recapture attention, and end a meeting on a high note. But used improperly, humor can backfire by alienating an audience, ruining a speech, or even discrediting you as a speaker. If in doubt, leave it out.

2. BE YOURSELF. Resist the temptation to copy the style of another speaker or performer whom you admire. It's an impossible task. There's no substitute for authenticity.

3. PRACTICE, PRACTICE, PRACTICE. Experience is the best teacher. Consider joining Toastmasters or another professional speaking association. Seek out situations where you can gain experience speaking before groups—volunteer for a committee, speak at your church, participate in school board meetings, coach a team, or teach a class.

4. TEACH THEM SOMETHING. If your only motivation for public speaking is to attract pet owners to your practice, you'll come across as self-serving and leave a negative impression. To avoid any misinterpretation, make little or no reference to your hospital, years of experience, expertise, or current clients. Keep your talk informative and low-key. The idea is to establish yourself as an authority on the topic—not as someone who's looking for business.

5. DON'T EXPECT OVERNIGHT RESULTS. Like practice growth, public speaking takes hard work, attention to detail, and, above all, time to pay dividends. Be patient, and the results will come before you know it.

So the next time you're faced with a speaking engagement, follow this advice, take deep breaths, and convince yourself to relax. Just don't let the standing ovations go to your head.

Veterinary Economics Editorial Advisory Board member Bob Levoy is the author of 222 Secrets of Hiring, Managing, and Retaining Great Employees in Healthcare Practices (Jones and Bartlett, 2007).

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