Public Speaking

    In the course of a consulting career, sooner or later you will end up giving a speech or Listen_Spreakerpresentation to a group of people – and probably many more after that.  People who work in consulting and professional services increase their chances of success if they have sharpened their skills in publicpresentation

    speaking.  In this week’s podcast, we will discuss why public speaking is such an important skill and what a consultant can do to hone that skill.

    1. Why is it important for a consultant to have good public speaking skills?
      1. Consultants are placed in leadership roles much sooner in their careers. Because of that, consultants are more apt to facilitate a meeting or be asked to facilitate a requirements gathering session.
      2. Most firms hold internal meetings on a regular basis and a young consultant may be asked to present an update on the project they’re working on to the whole firm.
      3. I’ve seen younger consultants given team lead responsibilities very early in their consulting career where they need to meet with a team and lead those meetings.
      4. Sometimes those opportunities are impromptu where someone turns to them on the fly and asks them to update the group on something.
      5. Other times, it’s a planned presentation, maybe with PowerPoint slides. Early in my career, I was asked to attend a sales meetings with customers where we presented a sales proposal.  They liked to have the actual consultants present to their prospective clients rather than just sales people.
      6. Consultants are also more inclined to be involved in professional organizations and there are always more opportunities for speaking at those types of meetings and gatherings.
      7. There are many other situations, but in any case, a consultant needs to be prepared and have the confidence to stand up and speak in front of a group of people.
    2. When should a consultant begin honing skills in public speaking?
      1. The earlier in their consulting career the better.  If you can begin doing that in college that’s great.  Especially as you get up to your junior and senior years, you begin taking classes where you may give group presentations.
      2. I’d recommend seizing those opportunities.  Unless it becomes a power struggle, try to take a leadership role on a team project to lead the presentation.
      3. And when you do give presentations, whether as an individual or with a group, don’t belittle it.  You may only be giving a presentation to your peers in your class, but treat it as a professional presentation.
      4. I remember my senior year in college we had to give a presentation to the class at the end of the semester.  The instructor had the department head come in to watch each team’s presentation.
      5. She had us dress the part with ties and professional attire (at least that was the standard for those days).  We had to prepare PowerPoint slides and make it seem like a professional presentation.
      6. It made it a bit more stressful, but it was more real world.  And I think it prepared us better for when we got into a professional setting.
      7. Many academic programs offer speech classes. I had a class called Business Communications, which was just a speech class as part of the business program. I’d recommend taking a class like this just to get the experience.  Again, play the part of a professional rather than a college student.  Much of public speaking is role playing and playing the role of a professional will get you used to that role early on.
      8. Another thing you can do either in college or if you’re just starting out in a professional services career is to join a professional organization.  A lot of professional organizations have student chapters on university campuses.
      9. It’s a chance to get involved and work with other people.  If you take a leadership role in an organization like that, you’ll get some good experience leading groups and giving presentations.
      10. Involvement in an organization like that gives a student experience not only presenting, but just interacting in a more professional environment.
      11. If you’re already out of college and in the work world, you can always volunteer at work to run meetings or to give presentations.  Your management probably won’t allow you to present every time you offer to, but they’ll usually find an opportunity for you if you show the willingness and desire.
      12. Even if it’s something as simple as leading a weekly team status meeting, that’s still valuable experience.
      13. Finally, I would recommend joining Toastmasters.  It’s a great organization that provides a safe environment to give speeches.  They provide mentoring and feedback on your speeches for positive feedback and constructive criticism.
      14. It’s an international organization with tens of thousands of chapters around the world.  You can find them at for a chapter near you.
    3. What should someone do about getting nervous when speaking in front of a crowd?
      1. That’s a pretty common situation.  There have been surveys where a majority of people say that public speaking is the number one fear – higher on the list than fear of death oddly enough.
      2. I remember when I was in college I was talking to a friend who was already in the work force.  He was preparing for a presentation he was supposed to give for something like 20 people.
      3. I told him I could never present to a group of people like that.  It just scared me to think of it.  It wasn’t a big deal for him and he seemed kind of surprised at my reaction.
      4. I look back on that now that I do it on a fairly regular basis and wonder what I was so afraid of.
      5. If you want to be a consultant and you get nervous in front of crowds, I would recommend getting as much practice as you can.  The more you talk in front of people the more comfortable you’re going to get with it.
      6. I would also recommend starting with smaller groups.  Running meetings with four or five people is much less stressful.  Once you develop a comfort level with a group that size, start building it up.
      7. I know that I used to get nervous and my heart would beat so fast I would get short of breath.  So here I’m trying to talk and I can’t breathe, so I’m taking lots of in and out breaths.
      8. I still get a little nervous like that in front of larger crowds.  Some tactics I’ve learned are to take some deep breaths before I speak. And then I try to speak just a little louder at the beginning.
      9. Speaking louder serves two purposes.  First, you get the audience’s attention right away.  This can give you some confidence that you have the audience in your control.  Secondly, it burns off some energy and anxiety and helps you calm down.
      10. I’ve also found that if I’m nervous in front of a group of people, that I feel better if I have a visual aid.  If you’ve got a PowerPoint presentation to show or even a simple flipchart, it takes the audience’s eyes away from you and veers their attention to the visual aid.
      11. It tends to calm me down a little.
      12. If possible, I would suggest checking out the room ahead of time and try to get a familiarization with it.  You can picture yourself speaking in that room ahead of time.
      13. I would also recommend watching good speaker and taking note of the way they present.  I like to watch politicians.  Some are better than others, but most politicians are pretty polished speakers.
      14. I watch how they refer to notes – or how they don’t in many cases.  I also watch their hands.  I used to get confused about what to do with my hands while speaking.  You can’t fold your arms and you can’t stand there wringing your hands.
      15. So watching professional or just very good speakers is a great way to pick up tips.
      16. In addition to practicing, the times I’ve gotten the most nervous is when I’m least prepared. If I don’t know my speech very well, or I’m unfamiliar enough that I won’t be able to answer any follow-up questions, I’m going to go up there fairly nervous.
      17. But if I’ve prepared well and know my stuff well, I go up there much more confidently. One note about that, it’s great to prepare and know how your speech is going to flow.  But you also want to be flexible.  If you’re going over your audience’s head or if it’s too basic for them, you have to be able to adjust.  Otherwise you’ll lose them.
      18. I’ve never been a big fan of imagining the audience in their underwear or anything like that.  It’s just kind of distracting and I forget what I’m talking about.
      19. I prefer to find three or four friendly faces in the crowd who are paying attention.  If they’re nodding while I talk I feel like they’re paying attention and tending to agree with me.  I’ll try to make eye contact with them and it will make me feel a little calmer.
      20. It’s important to just think positively.  Go up there expecting to succeed.  This speech isn’t as important to your audience as it is to you.  If you forget a line or misspeak, just move on.  The audience is probably not going to revolt on you if you make a mistake.
    4. What does a consultant do when they face an antagonistic group?
      1. That’s a much harder situation.  Hopefully, you’ve had the chance to get some experience in front of some friendly crowds before that happens.
      2. But in consulting, you may face clients that aren’t exactly angry mobs, but you may have a team that is a hard sell.  I’ve been in sales proposal meetings where we’re up against a couple of other top consulting firms and the project is worth several hundred thousand dollars.
      3. The client executives will ask some tough questions.  There are two things I recommend for a situation like this. First, don’t let them see you sweat.  Maintain your confidence.  There are ways to say ‘I don’t know’ in a confident way.  You can say something like, “I don’t have that information with me, but I can get it immediately after this meeting”.
      4. Once they see you break, you’re going to be putty in their hands.
      5. The other thing is preparation.  Whenever I watch a political debate on television, I think about all the preparation they go through.  They actually have another person play the role of their counterpart and ask tough questions.
      6. You see this in legal crime dramas on TV also when someone is going to be on the witness stand.  They go through a role playing process where someone plays the lawyer for the other team asking difficult questions to try to get them to break.
      7. If you’re going into any type of situation where you’ll be presenting to any type of hostile crowd, I would recommend you have a role playing session where you have someone or multiple people practice throwing these bombs at you so that you can get a little practice facing them.  If they can think of the toughest and potentially embarrassing questions and you can prepare for them, you’ll go in with much more confidence when it happens.
    5. Final thoughts on public speaking for consultants?
      1. When I first joined Toastmasters, there was an individual who had been in the organization for quite a while and he was an excellent speaker.
      2. I noticed how calm and collected he was in front of a group of people and what a great speaker he was.  He was a foreign-born individual with an accent.  I could tell English was not his primary language, but he spoke very clearly.
      3. So I went up to him and complemented him on his speaking abilities.  He told me that when he started out, he would just freeze.  He’d stand up in front of the group for a full minute, unable to say anything.
      4. He had come all that way just by practice and being determined to overcome that fear.
      5. Regardless of what you end up doing for a living, if you go into any type of work in the business world, you’re bound to end up doing some public speaking.
      6. If you go into consulting, you probably will do it more often.  I hope something like that doesn’t scare people who dislike public speaking away.
      7. It’s really not as bad as it may seem.  It does take some practice and preparation.  And if you make just a little effort to improve by seeking some experience or training, you’ll find that it gets easier and you’ll begin improving immediately.
      8. It’s also a matter of confidence.  I’ve always found that confidence breeds more confidence.  So if you go into a situation with your head up with a confident attitude, you’ll find that your confidence will build.
      9. And from that, you begin developing a confidence with larger crowds and more important presentations.
      10. You may even get to a point where people seek you out to speak because of your experience and professional speaking capabilities.
      11. For those people who suffer from public speaking anxiety, I’ve included a link in the show notes from the Toastmasters website titled 10 Tips for Public Speaking, which gives some great advice on how to calm down for a speech.  I’ve also included some links in the show notes to some good books on public speaking.

    Next week’s topic: Developing a Professional Network

    1 FREE Audiobook RISK-FREE from Audible

    Ten Tips for Public Speaking (Toastmasters):

    Recommended Books:

    Confessions of a Public Speaker

    No Sweat Public Speaking!

    In The SpotLight, Overcome Your Fear of Public Speaking and Performing

    Consulting 101: 101 Tips for Success in Consulting

    Consulting 101: 101 Tips for Success in Consulting

    Consulting 101 provides you with 101 useful tips to optimize your professional performance and jump-start your consulting career with success.

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