What can companies do to build a public speaking culture.

As Ronald Regan said in June 1987: “Tear down this wall!” To that I say “Tear down the walls that are preventing public speaking talent within the organizations to thrive.” The question is what can we do to increase public speaking performance? What can we do to create a safe and relaxed environment? What can we do to make our presentations more professional?

I had some tips for everyone in case we are on a workplace. Presenting in the office, meeting rooms and event spaces. All this is a little bit different when the pandemic hit and everything moved online. In that case I will pick a few tips that could be applied also in the online environment since the essence stays intact.

1) Give that format a different name!

In essence this point is saying: make the presentations more informal and make it more personal. Just imagine a situation. A colleague tells you

“hey, I wish you best of luck on your presentation!
Fingers crossed. Go get’em!”

and your reaction goes

“Right? I should nail it now. I hope I will make it.
Jeez, this is my time. I better not screw this.”

The heart starts racing.

We don’t want these reactions, do we? Just by thinking about the word “presentation” we think about something formal, important, something that needs immense preparation we have not done. All this is partly true in high-stakes situtions. The vast majority of public speaking opportunities though doesn’t need to be perceived overly exaggerated.

Instead, try to rename it to something that calms people down. Let’s have a discussion about this topic (and you tell us what you think in like 15 minutes). Give it a different name like “January chat about the direction” instead of “Presentation of monthly results and projections”. The name and perception of the event can help. This way we can take one stress trigger out of the equation.

Some of my clients have wonderful presentation formats that are friendly, supportive and informal. Microsoft had a Lightning Talks and Kitchen Talks delivered in the kitchen area. Unicredit Bank had a Touch & Feel format where talented managers could sell their achievements.

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Think of your informal format and launch it online as well.

2) Turn presenting into iterative process

You have one shot and then you are done. Well, that is the situation for many. We are preparing the presentation last minute and the first actual presenting is on the spot. At the very event where there is the official presentation you win or lose. Either you take it all or you are finished.

It doesn’t have to be this way. Of course it is connected to having a clear roadmap while you are preparing, having the presentation on time and having some space to rehearse. But what is even more important now is the notion that you can make versions. You can make iterations of your speech.

Just like standup comedians who test their performances with smaller audiences first, then adjusting their shows and only then kicking it off on the big stages. Speakers should make adjustments and keep tweaking their talk until it’s perfect. There should be no nerves if the first version is not ideal.

Speakers should tell it to someone, collect the feedback and be happy to upgade the talk. What is important is the desire to tell the second version as soon as possible. Being eager to tell the third and fourth version. Until there is nothing to adjust. Then the speaker is free to go on a big stage (metaphorically speaking :).

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Create the environment where the rehearsals are welcome. Where it is normal that people are testing their speech and are receiving feedback frequently.

3) Create internal cheerleading culture.

Simon Sinek says “Imagine a world where people wake up every day inspired, feel safe and valued at work and return home at the end of the day fulfilled.”

For me the important part now is feeling safe. Feeling supported and helped. Have you ever experienced a situation where you are presenting and there is this huge tension in the air. You could almost grab the air as it is feeling heavy. Noone is speaking. Everyone is looking suspiciously. The environmment feels competitive. Silent. Distant. Unpersonal.

There might be winners and losers. And you don’t want to be either of that. You just want to present and be gone. All you have in your head is:

“Omg, am I being judged? Do they hate me? Are they waiting for my mistakes?”

Well, they might be or maybe you cannot be further from the truth.

What all companies should do is to create an internal cheerleading. The audience creates that. It is everyone’s job. Any person who is listening or watching someone else. Audience is co-creating the supportive environment and the atmosphere in the room. Be the cheerleaders for the speaker. Clap. Shout. Cheer. Just like on a concert.

And it can be in any room. It can be also an online Zoom room. You can make a joke to break the ice for the speaker. You can tell them “hey, it is totally fine if you start over once again.” You can smile, you can praise them. You can become a moderator who is selling colleagues in a fun way saying:

“And now! Ladies and getlemen, here come our experts George and Rita who will make us fall in love with their topic! Give them a rouuuund of applauuusseeee!”

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Become the audience you wished you had if you were presenting yourself.

Those are the tips that will help you create a safe, inspirational and supportive environment where your colleagues can unlock their true speaking potential. At the end of the day, not only such space will be a magnet for other talent, but your organization will start building an aura of public speaking company.

By LUKAS HRDLICKA

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