Woman professional standing on stage with a microphone in front of a presentation speaking to an audience

Improving your public speaking skills can go a long way toward opening up professional opportunities and advancing your career. 

It’s easier said than done, however, especially if you’re one of the millions of people who cringe at the thought of getting up in front of a crowd to talk. The Mayo Clinic says the so-called ‘fear of public speaking’ is one of the most common anxieties, with symptoms ranging from mild jitters to a full-blown panic attack. 

Public speaking is a necessity for so many situations in life: giving a toast at your best friend’s wedding, leading your religious gathering in prayer or instructing a group of visiting relatives on how to use the remote, to name a few. For most of us, though, the public speaking situation where the stakes are the highest is at work. 

Here, we’ll explore why public speaking is arguably one of the most critical skills for getting ahead in your professional life and share some steps you can take to get better at it. 

Why are Public Speaking Skills Important?

In the workplace, you’re judged by how you present yourself. It’s the reason most offices have a dress code and don’t let you come to work in your pajamas–appearances matter. Strong public speaking skills allow you to present yourself as a confident, knowledgeable and capable professional who people will feel enthusiastic about working with. 

While the term ‘public speaking’ may bring to mind scenes of narrating powerpoint slides in a crowded boardroom or getting up on a stage to give a speech, it’s more than just making presentations. Public speaking skills serve you anytime you need to communicate with another person or group of people, like meeting industry peers at networking events, talking to friends about what you do for a living or conducting training for your company’s new recruits. 

5 Benefits Of Strong Public Speaking Skills In The Workplace

Communicate information

From giving instructions to a team to selling your services to a prospective client, business relies on the effective communication of information. Being a better public speaker means you’ll be able to convey your message more accurately and succinctly, which helps minimize confusion and achieve your desired outcome. 

Win leadership roles

When someone speaks with confidence and authority, it’s our natural reaction to feel as though they’re someone we can trust and rely on. Being a good speaker helps people at work see you as a leader, which is important if you want to be considered to head up important projects. Securing leadership opportunities enables you to build a strong track record of success, which you’ll want to have when you decide to ask for a promotion or raise. 

Related: How to Be a Leader in the Workplace

Gain buy-In

The two public speaking benefits we just covered–communicating information and positioning yourself as a trustworthy leader–are also two essential components of getting people on board with your ideas. Whether you need to inspire your team to hit a stretch goal or convince a customer that they should choose you as their service provider, being able to gain support from others will serve you well in pretty much any job. 

Improve one-on-one interactions

Part of being a good public speaker is being able to organize your thoughts, which has benefits beyond speaking in front of a crowd. It can help you write more effective emails, have more productive conversations, and feel comfortable making contacts outside of your close circle, all of which will give you a leg up in your professional life. 

Advance your career

Fair or unfair, the fact is that poor public speaking skills can really hold you back. To advance in your career, you have to be your own biggest advocate, which means selling your skills and accomplishments effectively. Requesting a raise is one prominent example–it’s essentially like making a presentation to an audience of one. 

You can be the most diligent worker in your department, but if you lack confidence when communicating, it will be all too easy for higher-ups to pass over you in favor of more poised, well-spoken colleagues for things like promotions and continued learning opportunities. So, it’s in your own best interest to make sure your public speaking skills are as sharp as possible. 

Steps to Enhance Your Public Speaking Skills

1. Watch great speakers

Spark your motivation (and maybe even get a few goosebumps) by watching historical greats like Martin Luther King, Jr., Winston Churchill and Nelson Mandela speak. It’s not just what they say, but how they say it that makes an impact–everything from their cadence to their hand motions to the slight changes in their facial expression imparts greater meaning to their words. 

It’s interesting to note that while these speakers were all able to inspire millions of people around the world, they really don’t have that much in common when it comes to their style of speech. Each has their own distinct vocal characteristics, pacing and inflection that make them unique. Refining your own voice is part of the beauty of becoming a better public speaker. 

2. Gather your thoughts

There are very few people who can speak off the cuff and make it sound excellent. In fact, even some of the best public speakers have flubbed when speaking candidly, like when answering an unexpected question from a reporter. 

This is proof of the power of talking points: a list of topics you want to address along with key points to make about each one. Create a short, bullet-point list ahead of time that you can hold in one hand and easily reference. It’s a great way to make sure your speech sounds polished and you don’t skip over any important items. 

3. Focus on your breath

When presenting information or making an argument, the time when you’re not talking is just as important as when you are. Not only do strategic pauses give your ideas a moment to resonate (Barack Obama is famous for this), they also help you deliver your words with the proper emphasis and ensure you have enough breath for the next set of lines. 

Because of its emphasis on mindful breathing, many people find that practicing meditation is helpful for improving public speaking. 

4. Be mindful of body language

Your voice isn’t your only public speaking tool. You also have your face, your arms, and the rest of your entire body to help you make your point. When rehearsing ahead of a public speaking event, consider how your body language will impact your message. 

Here are a few basics:

  • Stand up straight, with your shoulders back and your feet about hip-width apart. 
  • Don’t lock your knees.
  • Don’t stare at the same spot for the entire speech. Vary your eye contact between several different focal points. 
  • Use hand gestures to emphasize keywords and phrases.
  • If you’re referencing visual aids, like a powerpoint, point to what you’re talking about. 
  • Don’t be afraid to step away from the podium or walk around the room instead of standing in one place. Changing up your movement can help keep the audience’s interest. 

5. Take a public speaking course

There are hundreds of courses dedicated to helping professionals become better speakers. Most cities have clubs for this, too. 

Note that while taking an online course in the privacy of your own home might be more comfortable, a setting where you can work on your skills in front of other students (even via a video conference) is best. 

6. Practice, practice, practice

Practice in front of family and friends. Record your speeches and watch them back. Consider joining an organization like Toastmasters, where participants take turns presenting to the group on various topics to get better at public speaking. The more you can hone your skills, the better. 

Whether you totally loathe public speaking or your skills just need a little fine-tuning, investing in becoming a better speaker can pay dividends in every aspect of your career. 

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Pete Newsome is the founder of zengig, which he created after more than two decades in staffing and recruiting. He’s also President of 4 Corner Resources, the Forbes America's Best Staffing and Recruiting Firm he founded in 2005, and is a member of the American Staffing Association and TechServe Alliance. In addition to his passion for staffing, Pete is now committed to zengig becoming the most comprehensive source of expert advice, tools, and resources for career growth and happiness. When he’s not in the office or spending time with his family of six, you can find Pete sharing his career knowledge and expertise through public speaking, writing, and as the host of the Finding Career Zen & Hire Calling podcasts. Connect with Pete on LinkedIn