We are all so judgmental aren’t we! We form opinions about people within seconds of seeing them, often even before we hear them speak. We are slow to unwind our first impression as well, so those first seconds of any interaction are critical. We are all critics too, when it comes to presentations. We shamelessly hold others to a level of accountability, we never wish imposed upon us!
The cold, hard reality is that Presentation Effectiveness can be a make or break skill in the workplace. At some point in your career you will be asked to present information to a group. It doesn't have to be a formal occasion. It might just mean answering a question or being invited to express a view or opinion. It is your job to ensure that you are ready to step up to the call. An individual who can present confidently and effectively immediately differentiates themselves from the rest of the group. Whether you are a pro or a beginner with presenting or public speaking, this issue of Engaging Ideas will provide practical tips for improving your presentation and communications skills.
Getting Rid of the Stress of Public Speaking
Many people are terrified of speaking in front of a group. Everyone is staring at you, you palms are sweating, strangely your throat is now dry and parched, your energy levels have dropped to precipitous levels, your knees might even be knocking as the fight or flight adrenalin kicks in.
Many of us can accomplish it, but feel a certain amount of fear and stress. Speaking in front of groups does not have to be stressful or nerve racking; instead, the experience can help you stand out and get noticed.
Here are some tips that will help you fight through your anxiety and deliver an effective presentation:
Prepare, Prepare, Prepare.
If you have a complete understanding of your material, you will definitely give you an advantage during your presentation. Do not memorize your material; you just need to be familiar with it. You can read key points as mental prompts to help you keep the flow going in the best order, but don’t read it if you can avoid it. Many people are wedded to their text. They spend the entire time making eye contact with their own words on the sheet in front of them, rather than with their audience and then wonder why nobody was impressed with their presentation. Look at your audience – talk to them as if it was fireside chat, be relaxed and engage with everyone.
Open with Confidence.
Here is a big secret - only you know you are terrified. Unless you tell us, we will imagine you are competent, after all that is what we are expecting. Japan of course, loves to start a presentation with an apology, often mentioning what a hopeless speaker the individual is. No, no, no! If you are sick don’t tell us. If you are nervous don’t tell us. Don’t say anything about how you feel, because then the focus is on yourself then and not where it should be - on your audience. Work the room instead – focus outward not inward.
Your opening gives your audience a first impression of your presentation. Make sure not to leave anything to chance. Your opening sets the tone for your entire presentation. No ums and ahs please!
Select the first word of each sentence and hit it. Purse your lips once that sentence is completed and then hit the next sentence’s first word. Keep doing this and hesitancy and timidity will disappear from your image as a speaker. Also lift your speaking volume up to about 30%-50% higher than in normal conversation. This is not a normal conversation, so it needs a different approach. Stronger volume communicates greater confidence (even if you don’t have any!).
Focus on a Few Key Points.
Know the major points you want to make. This will help ease your worry and increase your confidence. You should also use electronic visuals, note cards, or memory techniques to outline your key concepts. A famous professor at Harvard Business School would write 10 words on a blackboard at the back of the auditorium and those were his mental prompts for his three hour lecture. If you need some prompts then prepare them. If you are using a teleprompter make sure you can carry on without it.
Famous Hollywood Director Michael Bay just got started on his Samsung sponsored public presentation in Las Vegas, when the teleprompter failed and in short order so did he. Remember, the powerpoint, the flip chart, the teleprompter is all secondary to you – you are the message. Importantly, only Michael Bay knew what he was going to say but by abruptly walking off stage in shamed, burning silence he said to the entire audience that he had forgotten his message. He could have carried on with his thoughts and we would never have known it wasn’t the intended content.
Support Ideas with Evidence.
It is always important to provide evidence to support your main points. Supporting evidence will help your audience understand your points and will give you a chance to explain your points more fully. Just because you say it doesn't mean we believe it is true. Prove it!
Close with a Call to Action.
This will be the last impression your audience has of you and your presentation. It is important to ensure the closing reflects the purpose of the presentation. Your closing should summarize your content and give your audience a clear direction. Don’t forget that you must repeat your close again, after the end of Q&A. Don’t allow someone’s question content to define your final impression or final message for the audience. You must stay in command of the messaging and so the show ain’t over until you sing the last line of the wrap up after Q&A. This is the mark of the pro!