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As you ascend higher into your career, public speaking skills become essential.

In a Huffington Post article entitled Why Public Speaking is Linked to Being Successful, Richard Bradley uncovers how successful people “use public speaking to amass, solidify and extend their power…”

Offering to speak at networking events, on panels, and in small gatherings can be an important part of your career management plan.

If you need to improve fast, but can’t afford a top-shelf speaking coach, what is one to do?

Whether you’re an entry-level nonprofiteer or a seasoned engineer, growing as a public speaker doesn’t have to cost thousands or take years. What’s important is that you start somewhere, and focus your efforts on the few changes that will have the biggest impact on your effectiveness.

Learn to Speak Slowly

It’s said that you can tell a professional’s age by how quickly they speak: younger people tend to speak quickly; more seasoned professionals pause strategically and communicate slowly.

To immediately convey more confidence and poise when speaking publicly, cut your speed in half. Say less and pause at the most important points for emphasis.

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Use the voice recording feature on your phone to record your speech.  Once you’re aware of how quickly you’re speaking in everyday conversations or when facilitating meetings you’ll be better able to adjust. Try slowing down and pausing more and see how it lands. Calibrate until you find a speed that works for you – and your audience.

Practice Rigorously to Overcome the ‘Um’

One of the consequences of speaking too quickly is using fillers to give our brains time to catch up. Words like “um”, “so”, “like,” “uh,” and others dilute our messages and make us seem young and nervous. Many of these fillers are unconscious parts of how we speak, so it can be both frustrating when our attempts at controlling them fail.

Unfortunately, focusing on your verbal fillers is a sure-fire way to continue to use them. Instead, address the root of these fillers: giving your brain time to construct the next sentence or idea before you say it:

///Prepare rigorously for the speeches you give, practicing them out loud before you give them. This makes it less likely that you will need fillers to bide your time as you create new content on the spot.

///Keep your hands out of your pocket. Studies have found that people who place their hands in their pockets tend to use fillers more.

///Speak slowly, in clear, short sentences whenever possible.

///Allow yourself a short pause when changing topics or introducing a new idea, to ensure you’ve fully formed your next sentence.

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Figure out what your typical fillers are and why they happen by video recording yourself while giving a real speech or making a presentation. If that’s not possible, use your phone to videotape yourself giving a speech at home. What’s important is that you notice how often you use fillers and what triggers them for you. Practice the same speech, then re-record yourself. Keep practicing until you complete the speech with virtually no fillers.

Use Body Language to Your Advantage

Since most communication is nonverbal, ensuring your posture and facial expression conveys confidence and competence matters as much or more than what you say.

For example, keeping an open, straight, stance conveys presence and commands a room.

Intentionally using broad gestures with your hands at key points can engage your audience and make your speech more memorable.

Fast pacing around a room can convey anxiety; eye contact, on the other hand, tends to connect speakers more effectively to their audience.

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Watch a handful of short TED talks, political debates, or speeches – focused on the speaker’s body language. Notice the things you see multiple speakers doing that you’d like to do. Practice adding in just one or two of these new “moves” the next time you give a speech and see the impact.

Master Breath Control

If you tend to run out of breath when you speak, it probably comes across as nervousness to your audience. By learning breath control and deep breathing strategies, you’ll convey more confidence and be more comfortable when speaking publicly.

It’s important to know that most people have to breathe differently for speeches than they do in day to day life. While in day-to-day life, chest or “shallow” breaths are appropriate, they don’t provide enough air for most speakers. Additionally, breath control also has to do with how you exhale – and whether you’re breathing out too quickly and running out of air.

If you notice your breathlessness coupled with a fast heartbeat, even if you don’t “feel” nervous, your breathing might be a fight-or-flight response. To improve this, practice relaxed breathing for 5-10 minutes before you speak.

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Practice deep breathing and controlled exhalation. Practice saying the whole alphabet (or as many letters as you can) on a single breath. Work at it until you can say at least half the alphabet.

Ask for Feedback Before You Need It

If you’re serious about improving as a speaker, ask for feedback on your next speech before you take the stage. People are flattered to be asked to provide this kind of feedback: it shows that you respect them and admire their speaking skills.

As a bonus, when you improve, you’ll have someone in your corner who can let you know.

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Decide who in your company you’d like to ask for feedback, and when. Ask them a few weeks before, then remind them a few days before with a simple “thanks for being willing to provide me feedback after [event]. I’m specifically looking for feedback on [speed, energy, how engaging I was] or other quick hits I could use to improve. Use what they say to improve for your next speaking engagement.

If you haven’t realized it by now, improving your public speaking is a critical step in advancing your career. People admire those of us who can clearly and confidently address others.

The skills you need to improve as a speaker also bleed over into other areas of your development – executive presence, building relationships, and building your personal brand. The tricks to improving as a public speaker aren’t rocket science, but they do take focus and attention over time.

What are some ways you’ve improved as a public speaker? What impact have your speaking skills had on your career? Let us know on Facebook.

Melanie Rivera-Duppins Avatar

Melanie Duppins manages the Human Capital team for, one of 2014's best nonprofits to work for (NonProfit Times).