By Rebecca Donatelli
I’ll never forget the first time I had to get up in front of an audience and give a speech. I did it in order to meet a core requirement in college, not because I wanted to. It was my sophomore year, and I remember thinking I would rather try to solve the infamous Fermat’s Last Theorem (this may not be a fair comparison considering my love of math) than get up in front of 15 of my classmates and give a speech on planning a successful party. I attempted the notorious “picture everyone naked” strategy, which was a complete fail. I tried deep breathing, crossing my feet, uncrossing my feet, even covering my face with my speech to avoid making eye contact with any of my audience members. Nothing worked. I was absolutely petrified, not to mention I knew zilch about actually planning a successful party. I could barely wrap a present, which I’m still trying to figure out to this day (gift bags serve as a great alternative).
Fast forward to my real estate career: The first time I was asked to speak before a large crowd about utilizing Instagram for your real estate business, I was actually torn about accepting the opportunity because I was completely terrified. My mind instantly went back to that day in college, cringing in front of those 15 classmates. However, I had been asked to travel to New York to speak, which not only was an opportunity I felt I couldn’t turn down, but it was also a topic I’m passionate about and genuinely good at. It was a paid opportunity as well. I had to accept.
Now it’s been 12 years since I fumbled through that speech in college, and today I own my own speaking and consulting company, traveling around the country speaking to countless real estate pros about building a successful business. You may be wondering how I went from barely being able to speak to 15 classmates about planning a party, to now owning a speaking company. I get it. I felt the same way when I first started. But I’ve learned a few things along that way that might help others.
Here are some tips to keep in mind if you are considering public speaking in any capacity:
1. You Should Be Passionate About Your Topic
No offense to any party planners out there, but I’d much rather attend the party than actually plan it. The reality was, I wasn’t excited about the topic of the speech I gave in college. I had never planned a successful party and didn’t care to try. It wasn’t until I started speaking about topics that not only excited me, but I knew I was successful at doing, that made public speaking incredibly appealing to me. Your topic should be something you are excited about and well-versed in, not something you have to Spark Note at the last minute for the sake of getting pen to paper. Trust me, if you have passion for what you are speaking about, the rest will follow.
2. Know Your Audience
Before you even begin crafting your speech, understand who your audience will be and write accordingly. Are they well-versed in this topic? Why are they attending your speech? Make sure to do your homework ahead of time to be able to fully prepared because the structure and direction of your speech will depend on your audience.
3. Outline, Then Write
Whether you are giving a presentation with slides, or just giving a speech to a crowd, write out your main points and build from there. These should include both points about the specific topic, as well as personal stories to tie yourself in and connect with your audience.
4. Let Your Personality Shine Through
I’m going to be blunt here—no one wants to listen to a talking head. If you’re just reading words from a paper or slideshow, you will lose your audience. When you allow your audience to connect with you as a person, the content will follow. If you like to crack a joke like I do, include some humor in your speech. Another secret to connecting with your audience is making direct eye contact with each person in the room. When you complete each sentence, move on to the next person. This builds connection and lets them know you’re not speaking at them, but rather with them.
5. Slow Down
Whether you are speaking for the first time or the fiftieth time, it’s easy to let your nerves get the best of you when you step in front of a large crowd. Not only does your heart rate speed up, but so do your words. The key to calming those nerves is to slow down. Take deep breaths in between thoughts, which will not only also help calm those nerves, but keeps your audience intrigued about what’s coming next.
6. Practice, Practice, Practice
Don’t let your nerves fool you—you got this. Nerves do not mean you will give a bad performance when you get on stage. In fact, the nerves are very normal, even after speaking many times. The best way to perfect your craft, just like anything else, is to practice. Practice in front of your spouse, dog, even a mirror. You can also have someone record you while you’re speaking to watch later and make adjustments to improve your craft.
Lastly, keep an open mind. I can say from experience that you will be surprised by what you are capable of, and what untapped talents you possess.
Rebecca Donatelli, ABR, SRS, C2EX, serves on the National Association of REALTORS® YPN Advisory Board and is the founder of The Rebecca Donatelli Team with McDowell Homes Real Estate Services in Cleveland, Ohio. Her team is in the top 5% of real estate professionals in Northeast Ohio. She was honored in REALTOR® Magazine’s 30 Under 30 class of 2019. She was also honored by the Lake & Geauga Area Association of REALTORS® as the 2020 REALTOR® of the Year. Follow her on Instagram: @rebeccadonatelli.REALTOR.