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Advice / Succeeding at Work / Management

Do You Have the Skill That Makes You Look More Credible, Confident, and Capable?

person speaking

Want to expand your reach as a leader? Deloitte partner Jennifer Knickerbocker has a tip for you: Become a more confident public speaker.

As you move up as a leader, you’ll eventually make the leap from leading two people to leading 20 (or 200 or even 2,000). You might need to rally a team, convince an organization to embrace change, or inspire a group of people to take action—and when you do, you’ll need to move beyond communicating effectively with individuals and start successfully addressing large groups of people.

To support that increasing responsibility, Knickerbocker, who leads Deloitte’s Global Compliance and Reporting Services practice, says public speaking skills are priceless. It’s an essential skill for any up-and-coming leader whose job requires him or her to influence, persuade, and motivate people—lots of people.

“Done well, public speaking is a way to quickly establish your credibility and communicate with a wide audience, versus communicating one on one,” she says. “Effective speakers are better able to create a followership and build momentum for their messages.”

Mind you, Knickerbocker didn’t start out as an amazing speaker. Far from it, in fact! “I started from a place where I was not being effective,” she explains. “I was often seen as deferential, and therefore, not someone who had valuable opinions.”

In the corporate workplace, confidence is often confused for competence, so Knickerbocker suggests that when you speak up in a way that seems tentative or deferential, you take the power out of your contribution.

Are you inadvertently signaling that you lack conviction in what you say? If you’re struggling to get others to follow your lead, it could be that your lack of comfort with public speaking or your hesitation to speak up is undermining your message.

So how did Knickerbocker develop into the powerhouse speaker she is today? She learned everything through practice, self-evaluation, and the coaching she received through Deloitte’s NextGen leadership development program for high-potential leaders. Now, she’s sharing her four keys for success.

1. Get Star TED

Knickerbocker recommends watching a few TED talks to see the many different ways effective speakers get their messages across.

“Watch how these speakers command an audience with confidence, a concise message, and strong vocal projection and body language,” she advises.

As you watch, make a list of techniques you’d like to add to your repertoire. And don’t be intimidated by your favorite TED speakers; many of them followed these four tips themselves at some point or another when they were learning to speak—and lead—more effectively!

2. Record. Play. Rewind. Play. Repeat.

It wasn’t by chance that Knickerbocker got better at public speaking; she made a concerted effort to observe, critique, and build her public speaking skills. “I watched myself on videotape over and over,” she said. “It was painful at first!”

To replicate her results, all you’ll need is a smartphone and the determination to get over the awkwardness of watching yourself speak. Then, follow this four-part technique developed by Ed Tate, winner of the Toastmasters World Championship of Public Speaking:

  1. Record Yourself Speaking on Any Topic: The subject matter doesn’t matter. Just pick a topic—any topic—and speak into your smartphone camera, as though you were speaking to an audience.

  2. Listen to the Audio Only, But Don’t Watch: Then, put the phone where you can’t see it and, instead of watching your performance, just listen to it. Was your message clear? Did you notice any verbal habits you’d like to change? Make notes on anything you’d like to improve so that you can work on those things each time you practice.

  3. Turn Off the Sound and Watch the Video: Pay particular attention to your facial expressions and body language, and make notes for future improvement.

  4. Watch the Video With Sound: Now, put it all together, listening to the sound as you watch yourself present, and make any final notes you’d like to remember next time you give a presentation.

Watching yourself speak can be cringe-inducing for sure, but the results you’ll see are well worth the discomfort.

3. Don’t Settle for Hearing “You Did Great”

From all of the areas for improvement that you’ve identified, select one aspect of your performance that you’d like to work on first, such as improving your body language, staying on-message, or making meaningful eye contact with your audience. The next time you’re presenting, enlist a buddy to critique you—sincerely and constructively—on just that specific aspect of your presentation.

“When I make a presentation that’s important to me, I find someone in the audience I trust and ask them to focus on one element and give me honest feedback about it,” says Knickerbocker. “That way, I have one person watching me to make sure I make eye contact or that I don’t say ‘um’—someone committed to giving me honest feedback and not just saying, ‘You did great!’ which is nice, but isn’t going to help me grow.”

Hearing constructive criticism isn’t always easy, but it’s a critical step in your ongoing evolution as a more effective speaker and leader.

4. Stop Avoiding it and Just Do It

Knickerbocker’s parting advice: “Simply stop avoiding public speaking. Take a deep breath and make a decision to embrace the discomfort.”

So, just go and do it. Learn from watching great speakers in action. Embrace the awkwardness of watching yourself on video. And don’t settle for hearing “you did great.”

If you persist, the payoff for your career can be huge. Knickerbocker says, “Today, I’m a far more effective speaker, which has built my credibility and opened doors that have led to more opportunities to lead initiatives and speak to large groups of clients and colleagues at conferences.” And you can do the same.

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