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Practical advice for federal leaders on managing people, processes and projects.

Ways to Improve Your Public Speaking


Many managers, especially those with only a few subordinates, don’t think of public speaking as part of their job description, at least not in the traditional sense. They rarely, if ever, have to walk upstairs, stand behind a podium with a microphone, and address a large crowd. If they did think of their communications with employees this way, then it likely would cause a lot more anxiety; many, many Americans list public speaking as a top fear. But a few pointers on how to address an audience large or small can help managers to be more effective.

Toastmasters, the nonprofit dedicated to teaching public speaking and leadership skills, offers 10 tips for public speaking, many of which managers can apply to daily interactions with their team. For example, know your material. Speak on a topic on which you are well-versed so you can talk knowledgeably without memorization. At the office, you similarly will be more successful briefing subordinates on an issue when you have a strong grasp of it yourself. Do you have to pass on performance expectations from the higher-ups? First make sure you fully understand what is expected and the metrics that will be used to gauge success, and decide how you think your team can best meet these goals. Then you can address your team and answer questions without stumbling.

Also, practice, practice, practice. Doing this before a major speech is a no-brainer. But managers should practice for smaller interactions too. For example, if a manager is dreading a meeting with a problem employee, role-playing with a peer or even at home with a friend or spouse can be incredibly helpful. Even simply running through the planned talking points out loud and brainstorming possible employee responses can help calm nerves and ensure the meeting goes more smoothly.

Toastmasters advises public speakers not to apologize for any nervousness or any hiccups that occur during delivery. After all, audiences likely will not notice small slip-ups. For managers, translating this advice can be tricky. Undoubtedly, if a manager makes a mistake that adversely affects the team, admitting to this mistake and apologizing for it can help ease resentment. On the other hand, managers should not constantly apologize for good-faith efforts to do their jobs or for challenges that are out of their hands. Excessive apologies can erode subordinates’ faith that managers have things under control, just as they can highlight the nervousness or awkwardness of a public speaker.

Finally, realize that people want you to succeed. Just as audiences root for the speaker addressing them, genuinely wanting them to be interesting, stimulating, informative and entertaining, managers’ subordinates know that their work experiences will be exponentially better if their boss is successful. Keeping this in mind can help managers avoid a “me-versus-them” attitude and stay confident and in control.

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