Public speaking is something many people fear — even visionary CEOs. Tesla’s Elon Musk, for example, has publicly chastised himself for his lackluster performances. Even if you’re not Musk-level famous, public speaking is an essential skill. It could be argued that every time you speak, you’re doing so to influence opinion, inspire action or stir up a certain feeling. You’d better know how to present like a pro.

If you’re a business owner, speaking might arguably be one of the most powerful tools in your arsenal. I realized this recently when I interviewed Michael Port, a best-selling author on the subject. He reminded me that great speeches have changed the world many times over—like Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech. What most successful speakers like Port will tell you is that natural talent only takes you so far. The key is practice. Many of the best public speakers approach public speaking as a craft that can be honed through dedicated persistence.

Use the following tactics to improve your skills, whether you’re giving a big presentation, pitching to a potential client or even having one-on-one conversations with your employees.

  1. Home in on your goal — Figure out why you are speaking and why your audience wants to listen. Are you educating, persuading, or simply connecting with them? Your goal will help you decide which tactics you will use to engage your audience.
  2. Rehearse, but wisely — Steve Jobs practiced his speeches thoroughly, and it paid off. His keynote addresses were legendary, even praised by rival Bill Gates. Rehearsing will make you feel more comfortable and more likely to achieve your objective. A good rule of thumb is to spend less time on low-stakes opportunities and more time on high-stakes speeches.
  3. Put on a show — Truly great speeches live in the intersection of education and theater. What theatrical elements can you inject into your presentation to make it memorable? You could perhaps use visuals on stage with you or simply add some improvisation into your speech once you have rehearsed it enough to feel comfortable.
  4. Don’t let a slide deck do all the talking — Nobody has ever been truly inspired by a slide deck. Instead, your presentation should rely on your words, i.e. the story you’re telling. But if your presentation must include slides, prepare them after writing your speech.

Some people have a natural talent for public speaking. But for the rest of us, it takes practice and smart tactics to become effective and memorable speakers. If you take the time to hone your skills, speaking could become your greatest business-development tool.

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