It is widely reported that only being up on serious charges in court, facing death, or going through a divorce create the same stress levels as speaking before a live audience.
For over three decades I have given presentations and observed others give presentations (more if you include my formative years as a student). As an introvert, I found joy in public speaking only when the presentation was over and the last question was asked of me.
In my early years of public speaking, I always tried to memorize my comments with uneven results. I would write out the presentation on cards and despite my best efforts, I would soon default to reading them as opposed to connecting with my audience.
Rather than taking control of the room, have you ever had self-doubt and a surge of discomfort envelope you as you are being introduced? Has your mouth suddenly gone dry and does the microphone always seem to act up? Do you ever lose concentration and draw a blank? These and other personal nervous habits often rear their heads when we are standing before an audience.
Here are seven tips based on years of vanquishing personal speech demons that have finally helped me establish myself as a confident, professional speaker and media commentator who really has fun up there. (Yes, you are allowed to enjoy yourself.)
#1: Commit to the fact that, unless you are in a debate, everyone in the room wants you to do well. They want to hear your thoughts because they value your topic. They may have paid a hefty registration fee to hear you speak at a conference and want to learn and/or be entertained by your insights. Much of your anxiety about giving a presentation comes from the fear that you will be criticized or lose credibility if you don't perform well. This anxiety can overshadow your preparation and presentation.
#2: Effective and sincere audience engagement is more important than imparting information in a methodical and impersonal way. The power of a well-told, relevant story is incalculable when making a point you want the audience to remember. To communicate information, you must first win your audience's attention, which must occur in the first 10 seconds of your presentation.
#3: Know your material. This involves being passionate about your content and coming rehearsed with a customized presentation that reflects the needs of your audience. Avoid recycling large amounts of a previous presentation and be prepared to think on your feet if your approach, content, or tone just isn't working as you would like. Staying within your time limit is another sign of preparedness, which your audience will appreciate.
#4: Be very clear about the makeup of your audience and what they are expecting from you - even before you agree to speak. Also ask yourself:
- What do you want to happen as a result of the speaking engagement?
- Why this event is important to you?
- What do you want to accomplish when you face your audience and what do you want the audience to do following your presentation or speech? You need a call to action, regardless of how much credibility you have earned during your presentation.
#5: Physical preparation is just as vital to your success as mental preparation.
- Arrive rested, nourished, and alert.
- If possible, exercise on the day of the event to get your oxygen flowing and energy up.
- Do some breathing exercises immediately before you start (backstage) to get grounded and focused.
#6: If you are tackling a topic that requires visual support (PowerPoint) make sure you use minimal amounts of copy on each slide. Avoid dense charts and tables that will detract from your comments and confuse the audience. Wherever possible, imagine your PowerPoint presentation is like an outdoor advertising campaign with bold, memorable visuals and easily read and understood content.
#7: Rehearse your material. You may think you know your material, but unless you present it in its entirety to one or two people in a full rehearsal, you may be unpleasantly surprised. Thinking about it is no substitute for doing it.
A couple of practice runs let you get comfortable with your pace, and know exactly where you want to emphasize key points. Rehearsing also lets you time your speech properly so you aren't rushed or worse, you run out of material 20 minutes early.
While there are no hard and fast strategies when it comes to mental and physical preparation that results in an effective presentation, if you consider the above tips, you will find what works for you.
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