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How Public Speaking Can Help You Emerge as a Leader

I’d give anything to travel back in time and tell my eight-year-old self that I’d eventually build a business from public speaking. In third grade, opening my mouth and speaking my mind to a group of people was a recipe for public humiliation: voice habitually quavering, thoughts lost between my brain and my headgear, and shaking so intense that my classmates sparked a rumor that I suffered from Tourette’s syndrome.

Fortunately, between being thrust onto the speaking circuit as Miss Junior America and dedicating years to sexual assault prevention and young women’s empowerment — along with a LOT of training and self-development work — I successfully let go of my nearly paralyzing fear of public speaking. However, too many young entrepreneurs have had similar negative experiences early on, letting their memories and fears get in the way of strategically building their businesses.

Here’s how to shift your mindset and realize that as an emerging leader with a powerful message, public speaking is actually the easiest way to effectively reach an audience:

It’s not all about you.

Remind yourself that public speaking is truly an opportunity to share an important message that your audience should hear. When viewing it as an act of service rather than of self-promotion, you keep your focus on those you’re speaking to and seeking to help.

Fear is 100 percent normal.

It’s your body’s signal that you are alive, stretching outside your comfort zone and can make a great impact. Create a 30-second pre-speaking ritual that slows your breathing and strengthens positive mental messaging.

I take deep breaths and mentally recite, “I am strong, I am brave. I show up at 100 percent, I perform at 100 percent.” After a dozen times through these phrases, you’ll quiet the panic and magnify the peace. And most importantly, you can be truly present to connect with your audience.

Work toward a goal. 

When developing a presentation, begin with the end in mind. Ask yourself, what do I want my audience to do as a result of listening to me?

Whether your answer is to make an immediate purchase, schedule a meeting, join your cause or invest startup funding, working backwards will help ensure that everything you say moves the audience to where you need them to be by the time you’re done. Weed out insignificant information and keep what you share in service of your audience’s learning and growth.

Mention the evidence. 

Fill your speech with stories that show how your business has addressed problems and provided solutions for other clients. People yearn for evidence of how others, just like them, have benefited.

When you share stories to show rather than tell what is that you do, you simultaneously entertain, inform and build an authentic trust within your audience. The more you demonstrate a keen understanding of a need, the more believable it is that you and what you offer can be the catalyst for their advantage.

Create urgency. 

Close with a reason to make a decision now. Create offers specific to this audience and that day.

If they go home without making a move, they’ll probably forget most of what you shared — information, evidence, and all the excitement and interest you evoked! You want people to trust their impulses while firmly grasping 90 to 100 percent of the case you make, not when they’re replaying just a fraction of it.

Alexia Vernon is a career and workplace author, speaker, coach and trainer who develops the next generation of heart-centered, high impact communicators and ethical leaders. She has shared her advice with CNN, NBC, the Wall Street Journal,, CBS MoneyWatch, FOX Business News, and Alexia is the author of Awaken Your CAREERpreneur and in 2012 will release 90 Days, 90 Ways: Onboard Young Professionals to Peak Performance.

The Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC) is an invite-only nonprofit organization comprised of the world’s most promising young entrepreneurs. The YEC leads #FixYoungAmerica, a solutions-based movement that aims to end youth unemployment and put young Americans back to work.