Public Speaking For Executives Embracing the Challenge

If you’re climbing the ladder of success, you’re going to need the right equipment.

If you’re an executive looking to influence others, gain attention for your ideas or assume a leadership role, sooner or later, you’re going to have to embrace the challenge of public speaking. You might have the best ideas, own a terrific track record of achievement and be recognized for your abilities, but if you can’t communicate well, you’re limiting what you can achieve and how effective you can be.

Anyone who has ever listened to an effective public speaker can have little doubt about the power this one skill carries. Even if we don’t work with the person day to day or know much about him or her, we can be mightily impressed with their ideas, knowledge or passion. Most readily, this can be done by listening to a person speak in public. We can come to understand a point of view and be motivated to follow a call to action. Executives with the ability get up and hold the attention of others through the power of the spoken word find themselves rewarded and their abilities acknowledged.

Yet for all its power, many executives dread the thought of speaking in public, even to a room with friendly colleagues. Often, it’s because they fear they aren’t good at it or will be judged lacking. Executives who don’t embrace the challenge to speak in public, however, are missing out on the single greatest opportunity of their professional careers. What other skill can enhance reputations, prove leadership abilities, and cast you in the spotlight, all in the matter of minutes?

Here then are some brief tips to help those reluctant executives get started on embracing the challenge:

1. Start Small.
Look for public speaking opportunities that are lower risk for you; small groups of your peers, for instance. Volunteer whenever possible to deliver findings or present data. Simply volunteering for the job will set you apart from most and help get you accustomed to the process.

2. Assume Good Intentions.
Assume those you’re speaking or presenting to want to hear what you have to say. Remember to structure your presentation from the audience’s point of view and you will keep their attention and good will.

3. Preparation is the key to confidence.
Don’t ever “wing it.” Respect your audience enough to prepare well. Knowing your material is vital to a successful speech or presentation.

4. Prepare by mimicking the real thing as closely as possible.
You’re going to deliver a speech orally, so why wouldn’t you practice that way? That means you can’t simply read your material to yourself-you have to say it, as you would. Try on different phrasing, different words or intonations. If you’re going to be standing behind a podium, find one to practice with. If you’re going to be using a microphone, gets some practice using one. Speaking in a conference room? Try and find a similar one to practice in. Take some of the fear out of public speaking by getting to know the physical surroundings you’ll be speaking in.

5. Get some honest feedback.
If you can’t get professional help, ask someone to watch your practice delivery. Videotape your performance and play it back for someone whose opinion you respect. Ask specific questions and listen to the answers. Are you maintaining enough eye contact? Does your voice sound natural? Do you sound and look like you believe what you’re saying?

6. Show no fear.
Your audience more than likely has absolutely no idea you’re nervous. Be aware of signaling your nervousness through distractions such as fidgeting or lack of eye contact. Be comfortable with the silence by deliberately building in pauses after you’ve talked about key points and by avoiding “fillers” such as “ums” and “ahs.”

7. Remember to breathe.
When we are fearful, our bodies react accordingly. To consciously counteract that physical fear impulse, take several long, deep breaths, letting the air out slowly. Don’t be upset if you realize you are nervous. You want to channel that nervous energy, not get rid of it.

Remember, this is an opportunity to share your expertise. Seize that opportunity and let your confidence in your information carry you through. Soon enough, your performance itself will mirror the confidence you feel in your subject and you’ll find yourself reaping the rewards of being a powerfully effective public speaker.

Aileen Pincus is a communications consultant and President of the Pincus Group, Executive Communications Training. She can be reached at


Public Speaking For Female Executives

Public Speaking and Communicating With Power Getting Past The “Venus” Myth For Female Executives

Family therapist John Gray was hardly the first to insist communication problems are gender-based. While it reinforced old stereotypes, Gray’s pop-psychology tome of the early 90’s did give female executives something new to ponder. If “Men are from Mars and Women are from Venus” as his runaway bestseller claimed, what did that mean specifically for the Venetian executive? After all, her professional success on any planet still was likely to rest firmly in the hands of Martians.

For many women trying to climb the corporate ladder, the meaning was clear: when it comes to corporate success, communicating like a man is essential. In the decade since attention focused on gender communication differences, a whole marketplace of communication training sprang up focused on helping women fix their communication skills. Seminars were quickly added to business and professional rosters, to help women find their “executive voice.” Female specific executive communications coaching established itself alongside “assertiveness training” and “negotiating for women.”

I find only one thing wrong with the concept. It’s bunk.

As an executive trainer, and as a professional woman, the continued demand for women’s communications coaching means more focus on firms like mine. So why do I instead find the fixation on women’s communication skills frustrating? To quote Groucho, “Who are you going to believe? Me, or your own eyes?”

Despite the cacophony about gender-based communication differences, I’ve found a very different and much healthier reality in my own practice. In the professional sphere at least, there isn’t a dime’s worth of difference between the communication problems of the sexes.

I find nothing gender-specific about confidence or clarity—two of the essentials for powerful public communication. Nor do I find any correlation between gender and the ability to maintain good eye contact or to speak thoughtfully using simple language to evoke complex ideas. Certainly it would be difficult to correlate gender to the ability to speak with conviction and passion—all hallmarks of powerful and persuasive communication.

I’ve trained countless executives of both genders. What I see is an array of common communication problems. Highly successful executives of both sexes often have trouble knowing how to deliver a speech: how to move, where to stand, how strongly to project their voices, how to communicate powerfully, yet succinctly, and how to stay in control. I’d go so far as to call public speaking the single most hated job requirement of senior executives of either sex, ranking in dreaded competition alongside speaking to reporters, presenting to the board, and testifying to Congress. Inevitably when coaching executives in media training or public speaking, clients of both sexes will routinely complain they have no “natural” talent for any of it. My response is always the same. Nature and talent aren’t what’s called for I tell them—this is about hard work and preparation.

For both men and women, effective communication is first and foremost about confidence. It’s about the clarity of the vision; not the sex of the visionary. It’s about the power of the message, not the gender of the messenger.

The notion of a communication disadvantage for women probably stems from widely heralded academic works analyzing interpersonal communication, such as Deborah Tannen’s “You Just Don’t Understand.” As several studies, including a 2004 study at Purdue have suggested, gender differences even in interpersonal communication tend to be small, but have become wildly exaggerated in popular culture. Thus the rush to “fix what’s wrong” with women’s executive communications, with no real evidence that communication failures in the executive suite are gender based.

Many executives buy into the notion that corporate communication skills are intuitive. That’s what makes it easy, especially for women, to believe others (men) do it better. In reality, the kind of communication skills that allow executives to successfully interact with reporters, deliver powerful presentations and riveting speeches are learned skills that many executives of both sexes struggle to master

The truth is women aren’t a special class of disabled communicators. The good news is that anyone can learn to be a powerful and effective public communicator. The better news is the same planet we all inhabit is one on which good communication skills are yours for the taking.

Aileen Pincus is a communications consultant and President of the Pincus Group, Executive Communications Training. She can be reached at


Public Speaking Myths

The Five Worst Pieces of Advice for Public Speakers and How to Ignore Them

It’s not as though the job isn’t hard enough. Getting up in front of a roomful of people gathered to hear you speak can stymie even the most accomplished professional.

Making matters worse is the well-meaning but misguided advice on improving your public speaking performance. That bad advice is everywhere and it’s deadly, especially for those speakers on shaky ground to begin with.

Here then are the top five pieces of advice you’ll want to skip when you’re preparing for your next public speaking opportunity–followed by some alternatives.

1. Practice your speech in front of a mirror.
Come on now. Have you ever tried it? Anyone who has knows it’s nearly impossible to focus on your performance and avoid being distracted by your own image.

Instead, try practicing in front of a colleague, friend or coach who can give honest feedback. A videotaped performance can also help (provided you play it enough times to be able to begin to “see” your performance the way others might).

2. Start with a joke.
You may as well start with a dance number. What? Not good at dancing? Well, if you’re not someone who is extraordinarily good at telling jokes, better leave this one alone as well. A joke that falls flat is difficult to recover from, especially if you’re trying to establish credibility.

Instead, try a story, a true anecdote, or an attention-grabbing question or statement to your audience. If you want to start it off on a lighter note, try some self-effacing humor…but leave the canned jokes to the professional comics.

3. At all costs; move.
Sure we in the audience like to see some signs of life up there, but movement without purpose is called PACING. Walk endlessly from one point to another or move with repetitive motions and your audience will begin WISHING for a podium to put you behind.

Instead, try looking for opportunities within the context of what you’re saying to add movement. Got an important point to make? Take a step toward the audience, but vary your physical performance the way you vary the content and practice it the same way: purposefully.

4. Wear bright, eye-catching clothes and accessories.
Your audience is sure to notice that huge broach or bright tie, but after they do, are they listening to anything you have to say?

Instead, make sure your clothes ENHANCE what you say by speaking subtly of your credibility and authority. Don’t let them speak louder than you do, lest they drown out your message.

5. Memorize your speech.
This is as sure-fire a way to give a flat and uninteresting performance as reading your speech to your audience is. That’s because, in truth, most of us aren’t going to memorize an entire speech or presentation well enough to actually ACT IT OUT with dramatic conviction, as if it had flowed naturally from our thoughts. And if you lose your train of thought, finding it again in a memorized speech gets difficult.

Instead, commit your speech or presentation to memory. There’s a difference. Committing your information to memory means you will have practiced it enough times to know it thoroughly, in its essence. It means you know what’s coming so well you can ad-lib or change it, summarize it or reword it on the spot, without losing your train of thought. It will keep you engaged and that means your audience will stay engaged as well.

Aileen Pincus is President of The Pincus Group, an executive communications training firm providing coaching in presentation and speech skills, media training and crisis communications for clients in the public and private sector. She can be reached


Public Speaking: Tips, Tools and Techniques for Honing Your Skills

It’s a stubborn myth that public speakers are born, not made.

While we assume climbing the corporate ladder or being in the public eye takes hard work ,we cling to the notion that communication abilities come without effort, springing from the lucky few naturally.

Both Presidents Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton, widely regarded as ‘natural’ born communicators, worked continually to hone their ‘natural’ skills. Clinton worked with speech coaches throughout his presidency. Ronald Reagan famously said he couldn’t imagine being president without having been an actor.

It’s not just the communication skills of politicians that people notice. An executive who assumes a strong track record of accomplishment and the right connections will “speak for themselves” assumes wrongly. More often, the lack of communication ability will erode confidence in leadership abilities, and at the very least, become a stumbling block in accomplishing goals.

Leaders must have a clear vision and be able to articulate that vision well enough to inspire others. Leaders are expected to display confidence, most readily by the way they communicate with confidence to others. Like so many other attributes, the communication skills so necessary for today’s leaders are not automatically acquired. They are learned and honed purposefully and with effort.

So what to do if your communication skills are not on par with the position of authority you’ve achieved? Here are five tips to get you started on the road to communicating with power:

Take every opportunity to practice.
It sounds obvious, but we generally avoid the things we don’t like to do and we generally don’t like doing the things we feel we’re not good at. If you’ve been delegating the public speaking to others, stop. If you’ve been avoiding those opportunities, stop.

Start small.
Many people’s fear of public speaking is directly proportionate to the number of people listening. If large audiences intimidate you, seek out opportunities to address smaller numbers of “friendly” audiences. You can work up to larger numbers and to audiences who don’t know you as you grow your confidence.

Never read a speech you haven’t rewritten.
Even if you have someone writing remarks or a speech for you, make sure you rewrite the final draft or at least key phrases in your own words. You know your own “voice” best. Unless you are a professional actor, or have an exceptional speechwriter, speaking someone else’s words will never sound as passionate and persuasive as your own.

Never give a speech you don’t believe in.
If you’re not a professional actor, now is not the time to try and become one. A lack of passion and conviction will show. Concentrate on what you do believe and what you can say with confidence and you’ll be much more likely to connect with your audience.

Learn to use your voice.
Our voices are as individual and as unique to us as our fingerprints. They provide an enormous amount of information to those listening about how we really feel about what we’re saying. Make sure your voice matches your message and says what you really want it to about you.

Aileen Pincus is founder of The Pincus Group, a training firm providing counsel to corporate, government and non-profit clients in the art of public communications.




Power Presentations: IT really is about YOU! Tips for Enhancing Your Presentation Skills

“There are two types of speakers; those that are nervous and those that are liars.”
— Mark Twain

Most of us put public speaking at the top of our list of things to avoid.

Then along comes that promotion or new opportunity, and with it, new responsibilities. Among them: communicating, powerfully and effectively in public. Before you rush to get out of that responsibility, or avoid it, consider what it can do for you.

It never ceases to amaze me how much this one ability, the ability to communicate powerfully and effectively, can impact our professional success. Become an effective communicator, and you will cement your reputation as an effective leader.

Yet many otherwise accomplished executives never learn to do it well and take pains to avoid having to speak in public at all.

That’s a lot of wasted opportunity. As someone once said, “You don’t plough a field by turning it over in your mind.” You can’t expect your ideas to be considered or followed, much less admired, if they’re not communicated well.

Ok. Speaking to a group, even to a small group you know well, can be intimidating. It’s not lethal. We can all get past the fear factor with practice. And what a reward awaits us when we do!

The important thing is to understand the power you have, that we all have, to communicate effectively. Don’t hide behind charts, graphs and power point slides. Don’t stand off to the far corner and let your materials speak for themselves. Materials can only support your communication, not substitute for it.

Once you’ve accepted that presentations really are about you and your ability to connect with your audience, organize your materials to allow you to speak with confidence.

Rather than adding more slides to fill more time, use fewer and leave plenty of time for interaction and questions and answers from your audience. Try getting your conclusions down first. What is it you really want your audience to remember from your presentation?

Keep an eye on those bottom line conclusions and never stray too far from them. Support them as best you can with data, facts, examples and stories, but remember that less is more when speaking in public. Your mission is to offer the big picture, the context, for your ideas. More details can be supplied in handouts and collaterals later.

Remember that you are the best promoter of your ideas. If you don’t sound as though you believe them and are enthusiastic about them, you can hardly expect your audience to supply the excitement for you.

Stay organized. If you get off track when answering questions, simply return to your two or three main messages. A certain amount of repetition of those messages will add power to your presentation, not detract from it. Your goal is to have anyone listening understand and be able to remember your two or three key points.

And remember, your audience came to hear you. Reward them with powerful ideas, clearly stated, and they’ll be back, willingly. Before long, you’ll be wondering how you ever considered communicating powerful ideas any other way!

Aileen Pincus is a former local and national television reporter and senior Senate Staff, now a leading executive communication coach, training corporate, government and non-profit executives in the art of communication.