f you’re like me and have interview anxiety, it can be difficult to concentrate when sitting down for that chat. You have all the skills, qualifications, and the intellect: but you can’t get the words out to save your life. This is a relatively common experience, and easily remedied. Many people who have to talk with strangers or for public speaking need to speak confidently and with impact. 

First impressions are important, and other people can form fast opinions on what you say and how you present yourself professionally. Communicating with clarity, poise, confidence, and paying attention to your speaking style and mannerisms are crucial to a professional appearance. Listening and waiting to see what is appropriate when needed can be helpful for setting the tone of any conversation. Context clues are your best friend, and by looking to others, you can gain insight. 

Networking is the key to learning how to navigate the business world. About 85% of jobs are filled through networking. LinkedIn is a good way to start building connections with others, whether it be by sharing your accomplishments or searching the platform for people in your field. Photo courtesy of Unsplash.

Learn Directly from Professionals 

By learning from others you can accumulate skills and tips for any situation. Many business professionals have written books, created YouTube videos, crafted blog posts, and even have TED Talks on the subject. By doing your own research independently, and by looking up to people that you listen to you can mirror some of their qualities and create them into your own. In the book Steal Like an Artist, the author argues that there isn't raw originality anymore but individual stories and perspectives that make something unique. By learning from other people's mistakes in their professional or personal worlds, you can curate your own personal style by adding your own flair. 

You can sign up for a free class about public speaking. Or you can sit down with a voice coach that can help you train yourself for speaking professionally. Whenever you're speaking to an audience it's good to know who they are and what they're looking for. A speech about how cars are assembled won't sit well at a poetry slam for instance. By trying to prepare ahead of time you can curate what you need to say based on the context of the situation. Voice coaches and other professionals will be able to help you navigate that. Singers, actors, and actresses have to train themselves in speech and their presentation. You can even envision yourself as an actor if that helps you get through practicing.

Julian Treasure compares the human voice to an instrument that is the most powerful in the world in his TED Talk. He emphasizes that you should train your voice, because then that will train your confidence. By preparing yourself through practice you can perfect and understand the best way of communicating your message. Caroline Goyder’s talk is also about how the power of practice can make a huge difference. She urges her listeners to go within instead of thinking about outside influences constantly when public speaking. By giving more expression and personality through your voice your confidence will also increase.

A good way to practice is by speaking in front of a mirror or by singing your favorite song in the shower everyday as a start. It sounds cliche, but the more comfortable you get with hearing your own voice and how it can sound in different ways makes you more comfortable with public speaking. Singing gives you a command and practice with your breath. When you walk into a room and don't know anybody, you can tell who is confident by how they hold themselves and how relaxed their breath is. When you control your breathing, it signals your body to relax itself even if on the inside you're completely freaking out. By relaxing your breath, you relax your thoughts and emotions, and eventually your command of speech.

Glossophobia, or the fear of speaking publicly to the point of being physically debilitated, affects about 10% of people. Photo courtesy of Unsplash

On Networking and Speaking Precisely 

Have you ever been to a conference where you're surrounded by all these people you've never met before, but you have to speak with someone. Well, most  professionals will suggest that you get comfortable with feeling uncomfortable. By familiarizing yourself with this feeling, you can build your confidence. Networking is an essential skill for most professions. It's all about who you know, who you might meet, and who you can impress. If you're able to properly communicate who you are and what you have to offer it'll bring you far. 

An important way that you can prepare yourself is by doing breathing exercises, Sharpay Evans style. If you can physically get yourself to do those exercises before talking to anyone important, you most likely will have a successful conversation. The breathing exercises will calm you down enough so that you can focus. Eye contact, attentiveness, and knowing when to be silent during conversations have a huge impact. Not only do other people like talking about themselves, but by being attentive and responding to somebody's story, you’ll get them to trust you. When you in return tell a story or talk about yourself, it's best not to speak too quickly, and to carefully construct what you're saying. If you talk too quickly, you come off as nervous or sometimes even too excited and it can confuse people. Be mindful and pay attention to how other people are reacting to your words. 

If you feel left out during a conference or while in a huge group, try to butt yourself into the conversation in the most professional way possible. Don't be a know-it-all, but if you're knowledgeable about something they're talking about, try to weave yourself into the discussion.  Maybe somebody said something relatable and you can offer a response to that. Or you can simply approach a group of people, introduce yourself, and ask them what they're talking about. Most of the time they will be receptive to that if you can muster up the courage. Again, speaking publicly or in professional settings is all about confidence. If you're able to give off that you know what you're doing, people will assume that you actually do. 

Many Black people and minorities have to code switch, or modify their behavior during work, especially in White dominated spaces, which can take a psychological toll. Photo courtesy of Unsplash.

What Not to Say at Work or in Professional Settings 

Being professional may require you to switch up how you speak. By paying attention to your surroundings, you can generally discern what to say based on the people, place, and event you are attending. The general rule of thumb in any professional setting is not to gossip about your co-workers, to stray from any judging or negativity, complaining, or making excuses for your mistakes. Don't bring up money or lack of pay unless you're discussing a labor union or something similar. Sometimes, even bringing up religion and trying to force that on somebody can be offensive and unnecessary. Use your discernment based on the context and you should be fine. 

Certain topics of conversation aren’t appropriate for work. This includes divulging anything sexually inappropriate, including jokes. Eight in ten women experience harassment at the workplace in their lifetimes. There are several sexual harassment laws set in place for professional settings for a reason. Also, if an employee makes an outlandish and racist comment to or about a coworker, they should and will most likely be fired. One in four Black and Hispanic workers report discrimination at work. No one should feel like their workspace isn't a safe place. 

Navigating being an adult can sometimes feel insurmountable. After graduating college, it can feel like whiplash to be dropped into an office if you've never experienced it before. By improving your public speaking skills, your general etiquette, and knowing how to behave professionally, you'll be able to navigate anything. Make sure to also be yourself when you can -- don't allow the workspace to make you so cut and dry. A balance of these skills and your personality is what makes you stand out.

Oct 15, 2021