How to build your credibility as a public speaker


Public speaking has a historical place in the defining moment of nations, politics, business and PR. Often, it takes just that one pivotal opportunity to seal one’s reputation as an expert and a thought leader.

In my previous experience as a communication consultant, a large part of my job was to train C-suite executives in public speaking and media and analyst communication. The premise is simple – intelligence and knowledge does not automatically convert to stage presence or articulate meaningful communication. While it does come naturally to some, who take upon the thrones of leaders and personalities, most of us have to work on this skill and build a presence that inspires the audience to take note and listen.

Image: Shutterstock

Public speaking is daunting even for the smartest men and women. I have seen global leaders break into cold sweat before interacting with a large audience, relying almost entirely on speech cards. Native speakers getting worked up before speeches or interviews in a language they were not comfortable with.

Even in the case of thought leaders, there is often palpable build up before they enter the stage. Yet, as soon as they take the stage, you can see them exude confidence and turning heads and even get a standing ovation.

Style and tonality varies depending on the mode of communication and the subject matter at hand. But I did pick up some timeless and all-encompassing lessons I gleaned in my years of training executives on communication principles and watched them set the stage on fire.

You do you

As a leader, you will be asked to speak on several topics and give your opinions on industry issues. While a drawer statement is a safe way to navigate risky territories, it is important to be as authentic as possible. Use your own words, say the things you mean, and be original. Often as a corporate leader you will have to internalize, especially if something it is not your area of expertise. Your audience is smart, it will recognize discomfort. Don’t go public till you are comfortable with what you need to say and you can speak from the heart. 

Remember the message, not the script

Often, your risk-averse PR team will give you a script to memorize before a critical conference or interview. Unless your PR team has aced the art of mirroring your style, often the script only reflects a grammatically accurate way to communicate the message at hand. As a leader you must remember this message that the delivery itself must be personal and as natural to your style as possible.

Prepare your structure

Every speaking opportunity is a performance. It takes upon the traits of storytelling. As part of your practice, prepare the structure of your delivery. Good storytelling demands that your narrative has three parts – setting the scene, the content of your piece and a powerful conclusion that leaves your audience with a call-to-action.

Know your audience

The content of the subject may differ significantly in accordance to your audience. For instance, if your startup is launching a product, chances are that your internal team has insight into the market gap for the launch, but unaware of your long-term plan to develop or market the product. External parties like media and analysts on the other hand will need insight on the market gap too. It is important that your content tells each audience what they don’t know, in order for them to listen and stay engaged.

Crunch down those jargons

I worked in technology PR for the most significant part of my communication career. And I will tell you this – the best speakers fall prey to jargons or technical terms that they are comfortable with but others outside their niche circle may not be. When interacting with a larger audience outside your industry or organization, these jargons are just empty words people don’t use in everyday conversation. They alienate the audience before you even get started. In order to be relevant and more importantly, understood, it is important that you deliver your presentation in a comprehensible manner. Use words that your audience can relate with, ask questions and be interactive. In essence, have a conversation instead of a one-way speech.

There is just one small difference between good speakers and average ones. With practice and exposure, the best ones only get better with each delivery. Like us mortals, it takes practice to convert successful C-suite executives into influential speakers. The rules are the same for all of us.

Read also: 10 phrases to avoid while public speaking.