Some people seem able to effortlessly deliver compelling presentations to an audience. Perhaps they are completely at ease talking to a crowd, but the best speeches involve preparation and practice.
If your career or training course involves you having to present convincing content, it is in your best interests to practice, practice, practice. Whether your weak spots are choosing relevant content, or tackling crippling anxiety, the more you do something, the easier it becomes.
Nerves are not the end of the world. It’s good to be a little nervous and, providing you do not have crippling anxiety, the elevated adrenalin will help you perform better. Most people get nervous speaking in public and your audience understands that. It’s okay to acknowledge your nervousness. Also, take comfort in the fact they assume that simply by being the speaker, you have authority on your subject. They are not there to catch you out, they are there to learn and gain from the experience, so take comfort in that.
Speak from the heart, rather than from a sheet of paper or teleprompter. Written speeches lack a certain spark. If you are fearful of forgetting what you want to say, or are easily distracted, brief notes are fine, but don’t recite verbatim. You need to be able to make eye contact with your audience in order to maintain their interest.
You may wish to use PowerPoint slides; everyone likes something interesting to look at. They will help keep you on track, but limit them to 10 – 15 slides per presentation. You don’t want your audience to be more interested in what’s on the screen than what you are saying.
Slow down. Nerves have a tendency to make us rush our words, then we notice we’re not breathing properly. Oh my goodness, sweaty palms! And thinking about these things hampers us thinking about our topic. What was I saying? Everyone is looking at me! Then it’s all over.
Do some breathing exercises at home or with your voice coach in advance of your presentation. If you feel your throat drying up, take a pause, have some water, refocus. Your coach will help you learn where to leave spaces in your speech. If you constantly talk, your audience has no room to process the information. Leave gaps for the data to sink in.
Practice your speech with your coach, in front of a mirror, or record yourself on your smartphone. Do you move about too much? What other body language is distracting? Nerves can make us sway or wave our hands too much for emphasis, so work on other ways to relax or you will lose the listeners. Do you have any annoying tics or click your tongue, or say ‘Um’ while thinking. The ‘um’ comes from not preparing the thought before it comes out of your mouth. So pause, think, and then speak.
Do you mumble? You might think your speaking voice is fine until you see yourself on camera. Learn to project your voice without shouting. If your audience can’t hear you properly, either in terms of volume or because you are rushing your words, they will grow fractious, and seeing them move about and mutter will further distract you.
Learn some power postures. One of my favourites is Superman Pose. It really works! Do it before you go out to your audience, or they might think you a trifle odd. Spend two minutes in your favourite power posture, and it will make a huge difference to your state of mind.
It was noted in an article on Wired.com that two minutes in a power pose—arms and legs stretched out—spikes a person’s testosterone and dropped their cortisol. (Wired)
When out of the home, this is my preferred Superman Pose, as illustrated in the Grey’s Anatomy video below. Hands on hips, feet apart, chest forward, chin raised. It’s easy to do and does make me feel like the Marvel superhero I was born to be. If you practice yoga, you might wish to engage in this alternative version, but it is probably inappropriate for most presentation environments!
When you do it, give yourself some words of encouragement. One of my favourites is ‘Good things are always happening to me’ (Esther Hicks/Abraham). Another is ‘I am a Champion!‘ Find somewhere private to prepare, and psyche yourself up for victory.
There is nothing worse than being nervous already and then, as you take the stage, having to wait around while someone fiddles with the equipment. If you arrive early, you can check there are no technical problems, and relax and focus on preparing your speech.
Will you be using a microphone? If so, please hold it properly! Sometimes, speakers can forget about mic placement through the talk and hold it further and further away from their mouths, until it is rendered useless. Learn the best position for your microphone and do not cover the metal grille with your hand as you will limit its capacity to pick up sound and increase risk of feedback.
Perhaps you will be using a lapel mic, in which case, make sure you have new batteries and test it out for feedback before the presentation. Also, wear appropriate clothing and ensure you have no jewellery banging against it while you deliver your talk.
ENGAGE YOUR AUDIENCE
The foundation for a great experience is rapport. When you begin, pull your audience into the experience, rather than reciting a long list of facts at them. The more involved they feel, the more actively they will listen and you will have a mutual exchange of energy which will help you relax.
You don’t have to ask anything that requires direct answers from them, as they may not yet feel confident replying, but giving a few rhetorical questions at the beginning of your talk will get them thinking. Introduce your topic, explain why you feel so passionately about it and why they should, too. They don’t want to hear a list of your achievements, they want to be drawn into a collective experience.
MAKE EYE CONTACT
This may feel uncomfortable at first, but with practice you will get used to it. If you have someone or several attendees there that you know, even better. Pick several kind-looking people in the audience and speak directly to them. Make sure they’re spaced out, and don’t forget to speak to the back of the room. If this is very difficult for you, pick some imaginary ones! It is fine to look down at your notes as long as you make sure to look at the audience regularly. And smile! (Unless it is inappropriate to do so.)
PROBLEM- REACTION – SOLUTION
Follow this formula to create a satisfying experience for the audience. After your introduction and overview of the topic, present your listeners with a problem. Through the middle section of your talk, give them the reaction, what transpired as a result of the problem. And then, offer them a solution.
Let’s examine the sections of your talk.
Consider what your audience already know about the subject and reinforce this without stating the obvious or losing them in technical jargon. Boredom is your enemy and you only want to make friends. Perhaps you may want to include anecdotes or a tell an engaging tale. Humans love stories. Leave the PowerPoint slides for now; you can introduce them later.
Personalise your lecture. Most topics have been talked about already, but there is only one You. By taking your listeners on your personal journey, you can give them a unique experience. Make sure this journey follows one direction. No matter how much great material you have, if you aimlessly dart from point to point, you won’t get your message across adequately and your audience will leave unsatisfied.
MINUTAE – LEAVE THE KITCHEN SINK AT HOME
Next come the finer details. This is where you can include data, but don’t overload your listeners with too much information. You cannot sum up a lifetime of knowledge in one speech. Stick to the specifics, you can always schedule further lectures on related topics. This is the section of your presentation that may benefit from your slides or a short video
Finally, tie up the components of your presentation with a satisfying closing section. Remind the audience of the main points of your lecture, reinforce the message you transmitted to your audience, i.e. the Why of your shared journey, and then resolve the talk with a target thought for them to ponder long after they leave.
Excellent preparation will make for excellent delivery, and who knows, you might enjoy it. I wish you many great speaking engagements in the year ahead and beyond.
If you would like to book an in-studio or online session with me, you can do so at my website, www.voicecoachworld.com
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