5 Secrets to Public Speaking for PR Professionals

Most people in public relations recall where they were, and what DEFCON phase of mental anguish they were in, when called upon for their first new business pitch.

You’re exposed in front of the client. You’re vulnerable in front of the team. And you don’t have your Linus security blanket to conceal you from darts, in case you experience short-term memory loss.

It can be completely nerve racking. So why does that happen? That biological breakdown comes back to the ubiquitous fear of public speaking. Regretfully, there wasn’t a class for that in college. And in PR, it’s baptism by fire, so good luck with that.

Let’s review a few easy secrets to help you manage that skittish angst and wow the client (and your team) during your next pitch:

1. Speak slowly.
When you are pitching, you’re on your way to experience neurasthenia. It’s okay. I had to look it up too. You’re going to speak quickly because you don’t want to miss the details, forget your lines, and quite possibly, get it over with as soon as possible. The problem with that is your allotted 15-20 minutes are usually complete in 4.35 minutes leaving you with a cacophony of discomfort, throat cracking and deafening silence. Believe it or not, audiences are usually more forgiving than you think if you stammer over a word. Also, it shows that you do not moonlight as a used car salesman. Don’t miss the big stuff—just get there a little later than expected.

2. Look carefully.
Never underestimate the power of good eye-to-eye contact during a pitch. It actually calms the jitters a little because you are establishing rapport with people around the table. Ever heard someone who left a motivational speaking opportunity clamoring, “Man, it was like she was speaking directly to me!” Most of that has to do with seeing someone in the fifth row and having an intimate five-second moment. The next pitch you are in, remember that there are not 15 people in the room. There are 15 individuals sitting there waiting to talk to you.

3. Lighten up.
One of the easiest ways to overcome your episode with the public speaking yips is to give it some energy. Be demonstrative. Gesticulate a little. Speak a little louder than usual. Try laughing. Whatever it takes, fill up your part of the limelight. You may have seen that famous cartoon frog who jumps out of the lunch pail to bellow show tunes? That could be you. Maybe not the karaoke moment, but definitely the opportunity to stand out in the crowd and own your moment during the pitch. Be yourself, just turn that volume knob up from three to about a seven.

4. Emote happiness.
Did you know two of the most contagious emotions are passion and nervousness? When you walk in to a room, how do you want people to feel? When you begin speaking, what do you want others to see in you? Literally, be that feeling. Your voice, body language, and even nonverbal actions all convey that emotion. People neurologically want to experience what others are experiencing. Ever been in a large group, someone tells a joke that sailed right over your head, but there you are—giggling like a schoolchild anyway? That’s why. You can do the same thing during a pitch, only don’t snort when you laugh.

5. Story telling.
We are in the world of public relations. We relate to the media. We work with our clients. And everyone loves a good story. That’s our bailiwick. It should be what we are best at doing, so be sure to cut up your perfected presentation with a moment of tangibility. The story may connect your agency to the client, your experience to the brand, or yourself to the team. Cut through the clutter of the pitch and make your agency real.

Overall, remember that nerves show you care. This is your moment, so embrace that passion and be seen—be heard—be great.

Shawn Paul Wood is a managing supervisor for Ketchum’s Digital practice, responsible for integrating strategy for digital capital and social media.

Prior to Ketchum, he represented the full gamut of verticals from Hollywood A-list talent to Fortune 500 companies to dynamic start-ups looking to make a difference in its field. In a former life, Shawn was an award-winning on-air talent, producer, voice-over artist, and news director.

In his spare time, Shawn is a national blogger, published author, and speaker.