Improve Your Public Speaking and Presentations
Proven and practical steps to ease the anxiety
It’s your chance to show everyone what you’ve got. Sitting in front of you is a new client, a new boss, or an entire auditorium filled with strangers. According to the Washington Post, 25.3% of Americans are afraid of public speaking. Here are a couple adjustments to make to get over your fear, or boost your speaking skills from good to great.
What’s your goal?
Have you ever come out of a workshop, presentation, or meeting and had to ask yourself, “How did that go? Was it successful?” One way to help with this is to set an intention ahead of time. When it comes to public speaking, you’re the cause and your audience is the effect. Before you walk in the room, or perhaps before you even prepare your presentation you need to ask yourself, “What do I want my audience to get out of this?” Or, even better would be, “What do I want my audience to DO with this information?”
Where are you positioned?
For some reason, being in the front of the room often means our feet are cemented to the floor, our arms are broken, and we have a new-found urge to rest on a wall, podium, or desk. Just because you’re in the front of the room doesn’t mean you throw out the norms of conversation. The next time you’re practicing, try these tricks:
- Split the room into 3 or more sections and pick a point to focus on. Go beyond just looking at these points. Actually make the effort to move your feet and your body to face these points. Turn your chest and invite people to listen to you.
- If there isn’t already a video of awkward hand movements during public speaking…let’s get one. Ricky Bobby put it best in Talladega Nights, when he’s stuck in front of a camera and says “uh– I’m not sure what to do with my hands.” To put it simply, when you’re in the front of the room remember that you have hands (and arms and legs).
- One way to use them appropriately is to make a mental image of what you’re trying to describe. If you’re trying to talk about big business goals and you image something large, if you allow it, your body will naturally replicate the image.
- Where you put your hands is especially noticeable when you’re behind a podium or desk. Try not to grasp onto it (you’ll look like you’re trying not to fall), and be wary of keeping your arms crossed.
What’s the first thing you’re going to say?
From Toastmasters to classical rhetoricians, the experts have tried and true methods for making a memorable impact.
What to say
One of those is to start with an irrefutable statement. The goal of the statement is to get heads nodding and people saying “Yes” as soon as possible. Some examples of irrefutable statements are:
This is probably the most recognized and widely used method. A historical statement indicates that you and your audience have the same historical background or common history which you can agree upon. It’s the common denominator that ties you all to the topic you’ll be speaking on.
- “Four score and seven years ago, our fathers brought forth on this content a new nation…”
- “We were all there when this company launched.”
- “Three years ago we all met Sandy.”
Another successful way to quickly engage your audience is to express a point of concern or worry. It may be something they hadn’t considered before, but if you put it in the context of concern they’ll listen. And, all you need is to grab their attention long enough to agree to listen to your reasoning. You’re presenting an issue that you’ll be able to provide a solution for.
- “The way we talk about ourselves is changing the way we work.”
- “The current state of the financial industry is a threat to our children.”
- Truth as we know it
This statement creates immediate agreement because, as it’s titled, it’s the truth we all believe. Therefore, this may be the fastest way to get people on your side of the table. Be careful to confirm that the truth is obvious, easy to agree with, and hard to reject.
- “The cost of living in America has skyrocketed.”
- “To bake a cake, you’re going to need some basic ingredients.”
- “There is a dramatic average temperature difference between Florida and Maine.”
Using a quote, specifically giving credit to the originator, means you’re irrefutably confirming that this is what someone said. Whether someone agrees with idea or not, they can’t disagree that it was said. Ideally, you should be selecting something that they could agree upon AND say yes to.
- “Albert Einstein once said, ‘Strive not to be a success, but rather to be of value.'”
What to avoid
The ways to mess up the beginning of your presentation may feel endless. But, focusing on these few will keep you looking poised, credible, and authoritative to your audience. Of course, there are always exceptions to every scenario. But, the ones listed below will only occasionally work with the most experienced presenters. If you’re uncomfortable getting up on stage, be wary of the following.
- A Joke
You just can never guarantee if everyone in the room will think you’re funny. If your goal is to sell more to a customer, a joke probably won’t get you there.
- A Question
A question works in intimate settings. In a larger audience, there’s a chance not everyone will agree on the answer. Thus, it’s always stronger to go with the ideas above – an irrefutable ‘Yes.’
- An Apology
Sheryl Sandberg mentioned this in her book, Lean In, as a notable female characteristic. It’s a habit, though, of many people and it faults each gender the same. Are you really sorry you have a cough? Why start with “Sorry I have to follow that…” Sorry comes off as an excuse that you’re going to do badly. Have the confidence to think differently.
- A Shock
This is on here because it can quickly go wrong or be misused. While it will get everyone’s attention, it may cause nervous laughter, or make people squirm in their seats. Try not to make people feel weird.
The more comfortable you are with public speaking, the more success you’ll find many scenarios: meeting the parents, hosting a party, attending a fundraiser, and more. Keep these simple ideas in mind and remember that nothing beats practice!
These public speaking tips have been revised from the versions in Jeanette and Roy Henderson’s book, “There’s No Such Thing as Public Speaking.”