A few decades of experience in your professional field can give you expertise that would benefit others in your field, or provide insight into societal issues that help community leaders solve problems. Whether your area is business, non-profit work or research, if you can speak knowledgeably and effectively on a topic, you can earn a part- or full-time living as a public speaker. Both verbal and non-verbal communication skills are important. Verbally, there are certain qualities that are necessary or that will enhance your effectiveness and success.
Sound systems can help a timid voice carry in a large room, but in public speaking, you need to be ready for anything -- and that includes a power outage or other technical malfunction. Also, some topics call for audience engagement tactics, such as walking in the aisle to be closer to your audience. If you can properly project your voice, you exude confidence, enhancing your credibility. Don’t let a perception of being “soft-spoken” dissuade you -- sometimes it’s just a matter of learning how to breathe properly. Singers and actors use coaches or vocal therapy to aid projection, and public speakers can do the same.
Your mother was on to something when she told you not to mumble. Many business professionals shed this tendency during their careers, but if your work life has been one of relative solitude you may not be enunciating as well as you could to ensure a clear, sharp delivery. One of the best ways to gauge articulation is getting feedback from others. Gather a small audience of friends and family and deliver a short speech, or have someone videotape you and then garner feedback. Practice every chance you get; most smart phones have a recording app so you can record yourself throughout the day and assess your progress.
Fast talking is for auctioneers -- not for public speaking. Particularly if your topic is conducive to note-taking by your audience, you don’t want to make it any harder for them than necessary. Remember that public speaking can be a nerve-wracking experience, particularly at first, so even if you don’t think you talk fast, nerves can change that. Make a conscious effort to slow your speech in your daily conversations, and an extra effort during your speech. Give your audience ample time to absorb your ideas and knowledge.
No one is interested in your memorization skills, and it’s not necessary. If you know your material -- and you should, before you attempt to speak about it -- a few notes or an outline should be enough to prompt your recall and allow you to fill in the information naturally. Rather than obsess over conveying the proper emotion or inflection, just think in terms of having a conversation with your audience. This style both holds their interest and allows you to deliver your material naturally, without a forced effort. It will also helps your nerves; once you realize that your audience doesn’t expect anything from you except for you to tell them what you know, telling them in a manner that is natural to you is easy.
Based in Central Texas, Karen S. Johnson is a marketing professional with more than 30 years' experience and specializes in business and equestrian topics. Her articles have appeared in several trade and business publications such as the Houston Chronicle. Johnson also co-authored a series of communications publications for the U.S. Agency for International Development. She holds a Bachelor of Science in speech from UT-Austin.