Whether your goal is to improve your leadership communication abilities, develop your thought leadership in a certain area or become a professional public speaker there are always obstacles to overcome before achieving greatness.

Getting up and speaking in front of an audience regardless of its size can be quite daunting. It requires regularity and practice to become totally comfortable. When I left the SEAL Teams and attended graduate school, we often had group projects that required a final presentation. During one of these presentations my heart was pounding and my hands were shaking. I’m a Navy SEAL combat veteran for crying out loud! It doesn’t matter. This was a totally new fear to overcome.

Later, as Co-founder and CMO of our digital marketing agency, I began doing more speaking at industry conferences and trade shows. And over the past few years I have expanded into doing motivational speaking on leadership and building high performance teams to organizations all over the world.

Speaking at this level is a different ballgame, especially if you want to do it well. Whether you want to inspire, motivate, educate or all of the above, here are six tips I have found to be useful in building a brand as a public speaker.

Know your material. And know it well. Confidence is key and that can only come with a great deal of preparation. If you are, or want to become, a great public speaker I also recommend doing a lot of reading and writing as well. It will help you develop and test your content with whatever audience you may be trying to target as well as research new and interesting material.

Decide to go scripted or unscripted. Or a combination. I do both depending on the purpose of the event or speech. For longer traditional keynotes or short TED-style talks, I prefer to be scripted. I know what you’re thinking. How can I sound sincere if I appear to be reciting a speech word-for-word. If you prefer to be scripted, you must rehearse, rehearse, rehearse. Your delivery, tone and body language must be natural. You should know the content so well that you can, and should, occasionally make an unplanned joke or go off on a short tangent without getting thrown off. Again, preparation is key to giving a great presentation as well as managing your fear while on stage. Prior proper planning, right?

Timing is key. And I mean this in a few ways. Know exactly how long your speech will take. More likely than not you will have a set amount of time. Never run long. Ever. As much as you want to wow the audience with every story and tidbit of knowledge you have stuffed in your brain, you won’t have time. Choose the best content that will impact what you want the audience to take away. Oh, and then rehearse, time yourself and make adjustments as needed!

Start off with a bang. I’ve seem even great public speakers start off poorly. Have a plan to get their attention immediately. The first few minutes are critical to setting the tone and retaining the audience’s interest during the whole presentation. Don’t start off with your BIO or some long agenda about what you are going to be talking about. Tell a great story. Tell a joke. Provide some facts that are relevant to your material and that will get their ears perked up. Get their attention and keep it.

Have a rhythm. Getting the audience’s attention is one thing. Keeping it is another. Make sure your presentation has a good rhythm of facts, stories, anecdotes, humor and emotion. All of this does of course depend on what the goal is for the presentation. But how the audience feels when you’re done is just as important as the words you speak. If not more.

Have a powerful closing. It’s alright to be a bit theatrical. Change your tone and eye contact. Choose your words carefully to ensure your closing remarks summarize what you want the audience to remember. I have seen good highly paid speakers end with, “Well, that’s all I’ve got for you today…now we can open it up for some questions.” No! End with something powerful. It’s the best way to lock down your standing ovation!

There is no better feeling than getting a great reaction from the audience and knowing that your hard work paid off!

IMAGE: Getty