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5 Ways to Improve Your Public Speaking Skills

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5 Ways to Improve Your Public Speaking Skills


I remember my freshman year of college like it was yesterday (narrator: it was not). I very quickly learned journalism was not the right major, I wasn’t built for 8 a.m. classes, and paying to wash my own laundry was a ridiculous concept.

However, while I was learning all of the things I didn’t like, I was also learning about the things I did. Case in point: public speaking.

All freshman were required to take a public speaking seminar. Even though I was pumped to get up there and regale everyone with tales of my life, my friends were freaking out.

What was the big deal? What was so hard about standing in front of the class and telling a story?

It turns out, a lot.

There are a number of statistics out there around the fear of public speaking but a study done in 2017 put the number around 65 percent. Think about that – for every 10 people you know, at least 6 of them are afraid to speak in public.

The problem is, that fear can lead to issues in our careers. Fear of public speaking can lead to 10 percent lower wages and decrease your chance of being promoted to management.

For anyone in marketing, and particularly search, the ability to communicate is a big deal. From internal presentations to calls with clients or prospects, the ability to communicate is imperative to our success.

So how do we overcome this fear?

How do we improve our public speaking skills?

There is no one answer but there are certainly proven tactics out there we can use. Let’s jump in.

1. Don’t Be Afraid to Fail

5 Ways to Improve Your Public Speaking Skills

In Scott Berkun’s book, “Confessions of a Public Speaker“, he talks about letting go of perfection:

“If a disaster happens, something explodes or I trip and fall, I’ll have more attention from the audience than I probably had 30 seconds before. And if I don’t care that much about my disaster, I can use the attention I’ve earned to do something good with it – whatever I say next, they are sure to remember… If you’d like to be good at something, the first thing to go out the window is the notion of perfection.”

You are probably going to mess up. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve said the wrong thing, misspelled something on a report, or in one case, set incorrect timings on my SearchLove presentation. Whoops!

Don’t expect perfection. Know that those around you don’t expect perfection either.

One of the things we teach our team when it comes to communication is it’s OK to say you don’t know.

If we are on a client call and someone doesn’t know the answer to a question, that’s OK. Perhaps someone else can help – but if not, we simply say we’ll get back to them ASAP.

The fear of public speaking is often tied to the fear of failure. As Berkun noted, the key is to keep going and don’t let that fear of failure get in the way of being good.

2. Practice. Practice. Practice.

I was walking the hallways of MozCon this past July and I came across Wil Reynolds, headphones in, pacing the hallway, as animated as ever. His session was coming up and he was rehearsing his presentation.

Now, if you’ve ever seen him speak, you know he is one of the best out there. What does that tell us? If Reynolds has to practice, then so do we.

Whether you are giving a presentation in a conference room or a conference center, take the time to get it right. Outline what it is you want to say, read your slides out loud, and go over it.

Now, there are people out there who will tell you there’s such a thing as too much practice, and I don’t disagree (this is actually a pretty good article). That being said, knowing your material is never a bad thing.

Want to take practice to the next level?

Here are a few other ways to make the most of your practice sessions:

Record Yourself on Video

Yes, I realize that none of us like the sound of our voice or the way we look on camera but too bad. That’s what you sound like and that’s what you look like.

Instead, focus on the presentation itself.

Is what’s being said clear? Were there any stumbles? What should you change?

Practice with a Friend or Colleague

Before a recent presentation, I sat down with a fellow speaker and we each went through our decks.

He caught a few things I hadn’t and I was able to adjust my messaging ahead of my talk.

Know Your Environment

If you are going to be giving a presentation in a large conference room with 25 people and an echoing phone, then practice as if you are in a large conference room with 25 people and an echoing phone.

Heck, run a practice session in the room if possible. The same thing applies to speaking on a stage.

While you may not be able to practice on an actual stage, you should practice standing up. It’ll give you a better feel for your body language and any hand motions you may use.

3. Ask for Feedback 

5 Ways to Improve Your Public Speaking Skills

I’ll be the first to admit that feedback can hurt. After all, no one wants to be told what they aren’t good at.

The thing is, we aren’t going to get better living in a world where everyone tells us how amazing we are. I love when conferences send feedback after shows. It tells me where I can improve and what I should change for the next time.

But how do we get feedback in our daily lives, when we aren’t on a stage or at an event?

One of the things we do in our organization is to take notes during presentations. For example, when an account manager is reviewing a presentation, I note what they are doing well and what they can improve. When the meeting is over, we then go through the specific points.

Improving communication in real-time is difficult but the opportunity is there if you ask for it.

4. Turn to the Pros

A few days ago, my colleagues alerted me to the At&T “Just OK is Not OK” campaign. First off, the commercials are pretty funny and second, the broader point being, we don’t want just OK – we want the best.

If you want to be a great public speaker, spend time learning from the best.

Here are a few places to check out:

TED Talks

Everyone looks at TED Talks as the example for public speaking. While the speakers truly are some of the best out there, what makes it so valuable to me is the way they communicate a story in such a short amount of time.

Getting your point across and keeping an audience engaged is key to being a successful public speaker. Spend a lunch hour or two seeing how it’s done.

Toastmasters

Toastmasters is an international organization focused on building communication and public speaking skills. They have been around a really long time and have local chapters in most cities.

I have several friends who swear by the meetings and we are actually using it to help grow our team’s skillset. Costs are minimal and it’s a great way to throw yourself into the fire.

Improv

Improv might be the scariest thing on this list but the great thing about it is you can take one or two classes and get a feel for the skills you need to be a good speaker.

Most require no commitment and it can be a fun way to learn. Hey, if it’s good enough for Michael Scott, it’s good enough for me.

5. Do it Again. And Again. 

5 Ways to Improve Your Public Speaking Skills

At this point, I think we are all familiar with Gladwell’s 10,000 hours concept. Whether you believe it’s right or wrong, the idea that we can only become better at something by doing it over and over isn’t exactly shocking.

The same thing applies to public speaking. I have watched team members go from sounding like nervous nellies on phone calls to leading presentations with CEOs. I have watched in awe as fellow search colleagues grew from panelists to international keynote speakers. All of this was achieved by repetition.

If you have a bad presentation, focus on being better the next time. If you received less than stellar feedback, focus on taking that feedback and integrating it into your next presentation.

Perfection Is Impossible & That’s OK!

Despite what I may have thought my freshman year of college, I’ve come to realize that public speaking isn’t easy and certainly isn’t something most of us are born being good at. It takes practice and even the pros are likely backstage rehearsing.

Public speaking requires us to overcome our fears and be confident in what we know. Something that’s certainly easier said than done.

If you are looking to get into public speaking or improve your communication, I highly recommend relying on those around you.

Ask your boss or colleague to give you notes. Ask a friend or roommate to watch you practice. Remember, their feedback is only going to help you get better.

Most importantly, remember that perfection is impossible and if you mess up, it might just make you more interesting.

More Resources:


Image Credits

In-Post Image #1: Unsplash
In-Post Image #2: Unsplash
In-Post Image #3: Unsplash

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Leaning into SEO as Google shifts from search engine to portal

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Leaning into SEO as Google shifts from search engine to portal


Google’s SERP is almost unrecognizable compared to what it looked like just a few years ago. The changes aren’t just on the surface, either: Google is becoming less search engine, more portal, said Jessica Bowman, CEO of SEO In-house  and Search Engine Land editor at large, during her keynote at SMX Advanced this month.

This evolution is fundamentally altering the customer journey from search, with Google owning the process by enabling users to bypass clicks to websites to get information, take action and even transact. This will have repercussions for just about every company. Bowman offered several plans of action for SEOs preparing for these changes and said investments in SEO will be more important than ever.

Build and train your SEO army

“When I evaluate an organization, I find that every role has activities they do that affect SEO, and SEO needs to be integrated into those activities,” Bowman told Search Engine Land, “The SEO team has to figure out what those are and then train people to do that.”

Larger companies should incorporate SEO into their daily vernacular, said Bowman. This way, you can conscript dozens, if not hundreds, of staff members into your “SEO army,” get them advocating for it, quoting best practices, involving the dedicated SEO team and flagging missing requirements on a day-to-day basis.

Although non-SEOs aren’t expected to be authorities on the topic, their 20% of effort stands to make 80% of the impact on your brand’s overall optimization, Bowman said. It will be up to your main SEO team as well as upper management to empower them.

Expand writing competencies

Product information, news stories, how-to guides and various other types of content may receive higher visibility on SERPs if they appear as a knowledge panel, within a carousel or as a featured snippet. Your writers, be they bloggers, copywriters, social media managers or anything in between, need to be creating content that is comprehensive and authoritative enough to compete for organic visibility, said Bowman.

Writers across the company need to master concepts such as SEO-friendly JavaScript, schema, writing for the long tail, rich snippets and the “People also ask” section in the search results. As with any process, regularly reviewing copy and providing feedback can help assure quality and enable you to get the most from your efforts.

Master Schema and JavaScript for SEO

Understanding and correctly implementing schema on your site can help crawlers make sense of your content and, consequently, increase the odds that it gets displayed as a featured snippet. Featured snippets and other rich results, of course, illustrate the double-edged sword nature of Google’s portal-like interface: They increase your content’s visibility and yet users may not click through to your site because the information they need has already been presented to them.

Event, FAQ, speakable content and much more — Google now supports dozens of markups for various content types, making schema a valuable tool for modern SEO. If you’re using WordPress’ CMS, Yoast has revamped its schema implementation to streamline structured data entry, but it’s still important for your development team to be able to verify the quality of your code.

With Googlebot’s latest update, it can now see more of your content than ever. However, limitations still exist and brands should be cognizant of JavaScript issues that may hinder indexing. Before coding JavaScript, your teams need to be discussing what content search engines will and won’t be able to see. It’s also worth keeping in mind that other search engines may not be as equipped to render your content.

“Particularly for large, global companies, they need to think about these smaller search engines that are less sophisticated than Google but still drive a decent amount of traffic in international markets,” Bowman emphasized.

Monitor and study mobile SERPs

“The problem is, a lot of us work on our computers, and so we’re checking things out on the desktop interface,” Bowman pointed out. Beginning on July 1, all new sites will be indexed using Google’s mobile-first indexing, with older sites getting monitored and evaluated for mobile-first indexing readiness. Since the majority of searches now happen on mobile, brands need to closely examine the mobile SERP and account for updates and changes in order to create content that’s optimized for the devices their audiences are using.

“I think the reason that we, as an industry, have not been talking about this is because of that — we’re not really studying the search results on a mobile interface to truly see they’re [Google] taking it over, and as mobile takes over, they’re going to gobble up some of our traffic. I think once they’ve got it [the mobile SERP] mastered and they know it’s a strong user experience, it’s only a matter of time before they do that to desktop as well.”

Take advantage of big data

“Hiring a data scientist is better than hiring an SEO to study the data,” Bowman stated simply. Data scientists are better equipped to identify commonalities and trends that you can use to improve your optimization efforts, inform your content strategy and enhance user experience (UX).

During her keynote, Bowman also recommended that brands make use of the Google Chrome User Experience Report to compare site speed to the competition as well as reference UX metrics from popular destinations across the web. You can then be more proactive.

Google’s search results interface has changed dramatically, but brands and agencies that can shake the inertia, rally their staffs and reorient their processes will be the first to spot new opportunities and novel ways to reach their audiences.


About The Author

George Nguyen is an Associate Editor at Third Door Media. His background is in content marketing, journalism, and storytelling.

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Yoast, Google devs propose XML Sitemaps for WordPress Core

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Yoast, Google devs propose XML Sitemaps for WordPress Core


The inclusion of XML Sitemaps as a WordPress Core feature has been proposed by a group of Yoast and Google team members as well as other contributors. In addition to a basic XML Sitemap, the proposal also introduces an XML Sitemaps API that would extend functionality for developers and webmasters.

The proposed XML Sitemaps structure. Image sourced from Make WordPress Core.

What it’ll include. The proposal states that XML Sitemaps will be enabled by default, allowing for indexing of the following content types:

  • Homepage
.
  • Posts page
.
  • Core post types (Pages and Posts)
.
  • Custom post types
.
  • Core taxonomies (Tags and Categories)
.
  • Custom taxonomies
.
  • Users (Authors)
.

It’s worth keeping in mind that your WordPress site’s automatically generated robots.txt file will also reference your sitemap index.

What it won’t include. Although the proposed feature will include the majority of WordPress content types and meet search engine minimum requirements, the initial integration will not cover image, video or news sitemaps, XML Sitemaps caching mechanisms or user-facing changes such as UI controls that exclude individual posts or pages from the sitemap.

The XML Sitemaps API. Here’s how the API will let you manipulate your XML Sitemaps:

  • Provide a custom XML Stylesheet
.
  • Add extra sitemaps and sitemap entries
.
  • Add extra attributes to sitemap entries
.
  • Exclude a specific post, post type, taxonomy or term from the sitemap
.
  • Exclude a specific author from the sitemap
.
  • Exclude specific authors with a specific role from the sitemap
.

Why we should care. Sitemaps facilitate indexing by providing web crawlers with your site’s URLs. If implemented, this might mean one less third-party plugin that brands and webmasters have to rely on for their SEO efforts. As a WordPress Core feature, we can expect wider compatibility and support than we might get from third-party solutions.

Poorly optimized plugins can also slow down your site, which can have a negative impact on your organic traffic. This default option from WordPress may not replace plugins like Yoast SEO because they often include other features in addition to XML Sitemaps, but its availability has the potential to provide us with more flexibility over which plugins we install.


About The Author

George Nguyen is an Associate Editor at Third Door Media. His background is in content marketing, journalism, and storytelling.

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Yoast SEO 11.4 adds FAQ structured data, UX improvements

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Yoast SEO 11.4 adds FAQ structured data, UX improvements


Yoast SEO’s latest update enhances its FAQ blocks by automatically generating structured data to accompany questions and answers. The update also introduces some UX improvements and addresses issues with AMP pages when viewed in Reader mode.

How to use it. Yoast’s FAQ structured data implementation is only compatible with the WordPress block editor (also known as Gutenberg; available on versions 5.0 and newer). Webmasters can get started by selecting the FAQ block, adding a question, inputting the answer and an image (if applicable) and repeating the process for all frequently asked questions.

The Yoast FAQ block.

The corresponding FAQpage structured data will be generated in the background and added to Yoast’s structured data graph, which may help search engines identify your FAQ page and figure out how it fits into the overall scheme of your site.

A new action and filter were also introduced to make this integration more flexible. The wpseo_pre-schema_block-type_<block-type> lets you adjust the graph output based the blocks on the page and the wpseo_schema_block_<block-type> filter enables you to filter graph output on a per-block basis.

Other improvements. Yoast has also linked the SEO and readability scores in the Classic Editor and relocated the Focus keyphrase field to the top of meta box and sidebar to make it easier to find. And, they’ve resolved issues with AMP pages when viewed in Reader mode.

Why we should care. At this year’s I/O conference, Google announced support for FAQ markup, which may mean that searchers will be presented with FAQs as rich results more frequently. Being able to easily and efficiently equip our FAQ sections with structured data can yield better odds of earning prominent placement on SERPs.

For more on Yoast’s structured data implementation, check out our coverage on their 11.0 (general schema implementation), 11.1 (image and video), 11.2 (custom schema) and 11.3 (image and avatar) updates.


About The Author

George Nguyen is an Associate Editor at Third Door Media. His background is in content marketing, journalism, and storytelling.

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