Improve Your Public Speaking Skills (Everyone Needs This!) - Work In Sports Podcast

Hey everybody, I’m Brian Clapp, VP of Content and Engaged Learning at and this is the Work In Sports Podcast…

We’ve had a pretty crazy month, doubling up our podcast guest and really trying to crush January - but we’re going to start getting back into our regular routine this week. Monday’s will be a fan question, a shorter episode in the 1-15 minute range and Wednesday’s will be our longer-form interview with an industry expert. 

This week is going to be Philadelphia Eagles Director of Production Stacy Kelleher -- Stacy worked for a long time at Ohio State, and just came to the Eagles a year ago -- really great interview, make sure to check that out Wednesday -- Stacy has some really great insight into cover letters and what she likes to see in them.

Before we get into our Monday fan question  --   

Real Talk for a second. 

Kobe Bryant, his 13-year old daughter and 7 others died in a helicopter crash in Calabasas, California yesterday. And if you are listening to this episode 6 months from now, you’ll likely remember where you were when you heard this news. 

We all know it’s tragic. We all hope the family can find peace in this awful time, and we all have memories of Kobe from afar. 

But I would ask all of you, to listen more than you speak in times like these. Listen to those who knew him, competed against him, knew his family, spent time with his daughter. That is how you can respect his legacy, by listening to those who knew the real man off-screen.  

This is not the time for your hot take.  Or to go live and discuss the hashtag mamba mentality. Or to share the 7 tips you learned from watching Kobe play ball. 

The thousands of people that are doing this right now will tell you it’s a tribute, a way to honor those who have passed, but it’s not. It’s people leveraging a tragedy to help build their brand… and to me, that is gross. 

I did this once, so I’m speaking not from a view of perfection, but rather one of reflection. I wrote a story after ESPN anchor Stuart Scott passed from cancer, giving a behind the scenes on how the sports media handles death. It was a really good article, lots of insight, a viewpoint not many see...and I kind of hated myself after I published it. 

Just listen. This sort of thing doesn’t have to be about you.

Alright, let’s transition have a different conversation, one that will help you advance in your sports career. Because that is the point of all this. 

Johnathan from California -- 

“Hi Brian -- you recently spoke in my college classroom and I have to tell you when we have guest speakers, most of the time everyone tunes out. But, after the class, we were all talking about the info you shared. My question is a simple one -- as part of our college curriculum we have to do a lot of presentations in front of the class - I was wondering if you may be able to give some tips to those of us who are in this situation and public speaking isn’t our norm.”

Hey Johnathan -- I picked your question for many reasons -- one, it is a topic we haven’t talked about before, and two, you said such nice things about me!

In all seriousness, public speaking and presenting, is a huge part of the sports industry, not just in your college classroom. If you work in sales, you’ll present concepts and ideas to businesses and groups. If you work in marketing you’ll present to athletes, executive staff and other shareholders. Even if you work in scouting, you’ll present to the director of scouting advocating for a player. 

No matter your role you will present in front of the group during your career - and the more confident and charismatic you can be in these environments the better.

#1 Tip -- Identify your audience. 

What is their reason for being here? When I am speaking to a college class, I know that they are forced to be here. I know that they would probably rather be looking at their phone, or flirting with the guy or girl the next row over. 

In this instance, I know I have to be entertaining, not just informative. 

In the first 5 minutes, I have to give the audience something that makes them think, OK, this is interesting...or else I’ve lost them. I know I need to change the tone of my voice, we’ve all had a professor who had a monotone voice, and lulled you to sleep. I know I have to get excited, get serious, make a strong point… and kind of over-act a bit. 

In a presentation where the audience needs convincing of your value -- tone and excitement and being bold become very important. You must capture them early. 

But let’s look at an entirely different set of circumstances -- if I was presenting to a group of executives who wants to be there, and expect me to deliver the information they need to succeed in their job -- my style is completely different. I’m serious, informative, confident and rarely feel the need to act. 

In this instance, the most important part of the presentation is my confidence. If I believe it, they will too. 

So start by identifying your audience and their motivation for being there. It will help you define your role in this experience. 

2: Know your main stakeholder. 

In every room, there is one person that is the MOST important. While you need to know the motivation of the entire room if you hope to capture interest… you also need to know who the most important person is in the room and what they want. They supersede everything.  

So, now you are presenting to a local business why they should buy a premium suite, or you are presenting to a group trying to convince them to sponsor the new scoreboard on campus, or you are presenting your social media strategy to the executive staff.  

In all of these scenarios, there may be 10 people in the room, but there is one major decision-maker. You need to make sure that person knows, you know they are the big deal. 

Learn what you can about them, their style, their persona -- are they serious, fun, love the community, have they donated in the past, do they have a love of sports, are they shrewd business people who like a deal. Know who they are. 

And then… when you are speaking, make sure your eyes are in their direction more than everyone else. Oh, and don’t always think the most important person is the person at the head of the conference table. Do you research before you enter the room, know who they are before they sit down. 

3: Don’t memorize… know it. 

There is a subtle distinction there. You have to know your material so well you can just inherently speak about it. If you memorize a script, you will fail. Seriously. I’ve seen this happen so many times… someone memorizes, they get nervous, they miss a word, or stumble over a sentence...and then it’s a sweaty uncomfortable nightmare. 

When I speak, I have a rough outline of what I want to talk about….but I know my material so well that every time is NATURAL. When you know your material, you speak with authenticity. When you memorize, you seem robotic and less connected to the materials.   

I know my expertise so well, that when someone throws a question at me, I can handle it in the moment. If I memorized an exacting script, I wouldn’t provide myself the flexibility or agility to answer questions with authority. 

True story -- about two years ago I was set to speak at Arizona State University…and I thought to myself, maybe I should be more organized in my speeches...maybe I should write a more detailed outline, or a bit of a script and stay on task. 

In the first 5 minutes, I felt so robotic, and dependant on the script, that I crumpled it up and just started talking from the heart.  

When you are comfortable with your material, you can do this.

4: Notes 

Everyone is different here. I don’t use any notes. I like every classroom talk to be unique, and the way I do that is by having a rough mental outline, and then just watching and observing the audience (more on this later).

But if you are a note user, and you are more comfortable having something in your hands or something to refer to in times of panic or disarray, keep them simple. You have to make your notes in a format that you can look at them quickly and get back to talking. If you have to scan, read, and find your spot...that 5-10 seconds is a lifetime to your audience.

If I were writing notes I’d have 5-10 words total. 

  • Heat Check
  • Internship strategy and importance
  • Networking
  • Cover letter
  • Interviewing

That’s it. That’s enough for a 45-minute speech if you have enough knowledge of your subject. 

5: Observing the audience --

Watch the audience at large, but most importantly your key stakeholder. 

How are they looking? If their attention is piqued, drive deeper. Get excited. 

If they are drifting, change topics and change tone. If you are able to walk down an aisle, do it. If you are able to draw something on the board do it -- you need to change the energy.

6: Use your eyes effectively. 

When I speak, I try not to make direct eye contact. I look at everyone’s foreheads. Subtle shift here -- but trust me there is an awkwardness for both of you when you lock eyes with someone. I look just above the eyes at the foreheads… this prevents anything from throwing me off my cadence. 

Now, one exception -- I always make some eye contact with my key stakeholder. I know I’m going to do this in advance, so it doesn’t feel awkward, it feels like I’m in control. 

I want them to know I’m, not thrown off by them, and I know they are the most important and respected in the room. This is confidence, and this is what decision-makers want to see. 

If that is your professor, make eye contact with them..not for long, just 3 seconds or so, all within the rhythm of your speech. If you can make eye contact, and keep going effortlessly, that’s a pro move. 

7: And final tip… Close strong. 

You want your lasting impression to be of you in total control. Don’t speed up. Don’t try to overdo it… just finish with great confidence and poise. Even if you are a puddle inside, show yourself strong and in command in the final moments and you leave with a strong lasting impression.

That’s it -- that’s how it’s done. 

Now get out there and crush it, Johnathan!

You will present information throughout your career, whatever you choose to do. Everyone can improve...this is a good start.

Thanks for listening everyone -- remember to subscribe to the podcast, and I've us a great review wherever you listen.

Alright -- get back to work.

By Brian Clapp | January 27, 2020
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