Afraid to Ask: Becoming a Public Speaking Pro

Guest post by Chantelle Mathany, YNPN Social Committee Co-chair and Development & Communications Specialist with the Alzheimer’s Association Greater Iowa Chapter

I’ll be the first one to admit I am not the greatest at public speaking, so I was eager to attend our quarterly Afraid to Ask series that focused on the subject. This installment featured Julie Mahlstedt, MS, Manager of Design and Development at Nationwide Insurance. Before her current role, Julie developed her public speaking “pro” status at Tero International, a company that provides training programs and coaching services to maximize effectiveness and a professional approach to skill development. She presented practical tips for face-to-face communication that can help effectively communicate your brand message.

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One of the key points Julie covered was the importance of eye contact. How many of you were told to look at the crowd or stare at the third eye on someone’s forehead? News flash: we can see you do that and we’re judging you. Sorry, it’s true – don’t do it! Look at one person at a time, then finish and look to the next – by this you’re also making the audience feel included and special. Another useful fact Julie shared is the person with the highest level of eye contact in a room is received as the most credible. Have a meeting where you’re all sitting down? Put a high flip chart on the wall so you can stand up and lead your message.

The success of your presentation will be judged not by the knowledge you send but by what the listener receives. -Lilly Walters

Some more tips Julie shared:

  1. Look for symmetry in your posture and gestures – stand up straight!
  2. Put nervous energy into your gestures and content or “walk it off” beforehand.
  3. If it’s brand new information, keep it short and leave time for questions and answers to lead the audience from passive to active. And always have a question loaded and ready to lead questions (no one wants to be the first to ask).
  4. Aggressive question? Affirm the questioner vs. the question with something like, “I appreciate you asking, thanks for bringing it up.” Don’t join their adrenaline zone.
  5. Remember primacy and recency. Wrap up with “in closing” or “in conclusion” and address your main objective. What’s your ask? What’s their last thought going to be? Make it impactful!


And don’t forget your elevator speech!! Who are you and what is your job title? How are you positively impacting your organization? What would you like to share about this organization? And finally, what makes you proud about working for _____? (mission/common purpose). Have this ready and you’ve set yourself miles ahead of those who haven’t crafted theirs.

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