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December 12, 2014

Don't Make This Mistake if you Want to Improve Your Speaking Skills

Tom Hallett


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©©GettyImages/Martin Poole

If you've read our recent article on increasing your visibility at work, you'll know that one of the most effective ways to do this is to improve your presentation skills.

This helps you speak up in team meetings, deliver persuasive and engaging speeches, and facilitate events confidently. When you can do all these things, you'll be well on your way to raising your profile in your company, so that you're more likely to be considered for new projects and assignments when they arise.

Mind Tools has many in-depth resources on improving your speaking and presenting skills. However, there's one element that we can't provide - the environment for practicing the skills that you learn. This is why it's important to take opportunities to speak in front of others.

Much of the time, you have to create these openings yourself. For instance, early in my career, I worked for a large government organization with offices spread across the country. In the bigger picture, I was essentially a "nobody" among thousands of staff. However, I recognized that if I could improve my speaking skills, I might get the chance to present at some high-profile company events.

I started by volunteering to chair some small team meetings, to build up my confidence speaking in front of others. Then I asked if I could do short, informal presentations for visitors to the department, where I could give them an overview of the services we provided. I used the same slides each time, so I was able to practice my delivery and make gradual improvements to the content. I also persuaded my manager to let me train new team members. This involved some presenting, as well as some hands-on training.

Next was the chance to work with some of my colleagues to present our department's new strategy to two members of the board. This was my biggest test so far. I was nervous, but I managed to present my segment without too many problems. Plus, the executives liked our ideas. This led to an invitation to present to a board meeting. I was now building my visibility in the company, as well as improving my speaking skills.

Then, I moved into a new role in a different organization. This meant no more meetings to chair, no more visitors to present to, and no more opportunities to speak to senior staff. In fact, no more chances to practice my public speaking skills at all.

At first, I didn't think that this was a problem. I'd convinced myself that I was a competent speaker - surely I could just pull a great speech or presentation out of the bag when the time came?

I found out the hard way that this wasn't the case when I had to give a short presentation on a new project. It started badly, when I was visibly shaking because of nervousness as I got up to speak. I forgot what I was going to say - I ended up reading from my slides, so I didn't engage with the audience at all. I got my timings mixed up and ended up overrunning and eating into someone else's slot. The content was poor, and I couldn't answer people's questions confidently at the end.

In short, it was a disaster!

The lesson? It's all very well knowing how to present and speak, but it takes regular practice to sharpen your skills. So, don't rest on your laurels - take advantage of every opportunity you get to speak or present. Not only will you become an exceptional speaker, but you'll raise your profile too.

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6 comments on “Don't Make This Mistake if you Want to Improve Your Speaking Skills”

  1. Joining a local Toastmasters Club ( can give you regular practice of your speaking skills. There are many opportunities to speak at each meeting from prepared speeches, delivering evaluations or some of the leadership roles. It all helps.

  2. I wanted to support Bree's comment on Toastmaster's. It has helped me immensely and it focuses on both public speaking and building leadership skills. The roles are many:for example, Table Topics gives you about 1 minute to come up with the idea for your talk. Also, there are district competitions, culminating in a final TM speaker of the year. Practice is essential in maintaining the skill. Thanks.

  3. Thank you all for sharing. Can't agree with you more Simone that we have to practice a skill in order to maintain it.

    1. Great suggestion Amit.

      If we welcome each and every opportunity to speak, we gain so much experience and confidence, and as a result, improve!

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