Does the thought of speaking in front of others send you running in the opposite direction? Youâre not alone. Many people avoid public speaking at all costs â" and there is a cost. Public speaking is one of the quickest, most efficient ways to market yourself, your message, business, or cause. Those who are willing to make presentations immediately stand out from the majority who are not. Whether itâs an audience of five people or 500, itâs worth it to invest in your skills.
After coaching hundreds of clients in presentation skills, Iâm convinced that anyone can improve and gain confidence by following a few simple techniques:
Know Your Audience. Most presentations fail because the speaker never took the time to find out anything about his audience. Knowing your audience means finding out as much information as possible in advance so that you can successfully match your message to their interests and needs. Helpful information includes: gender breakdown, average age, and their current or past experience with your topic. If itâs not possible to learn your audience in advance, then at the very least, arrive early and spend a few minutes meeting people. Or, begin your presentation by asking some general questions like, âWho has experience withâ¦?â This also helps to calms nerves as you are taking the focus off you, and putting it on your audience where it belongs.
Forget Memorizing. One of the biggest fears Iâve heard from my clients is that theyâll freeze up and forget what comes next. That can happen if you try to memorize your entire speech. All it takes is forgetting one word to trip you up. Instead, only memorize the opening and closing. Looking directly at your audience when you start and finish makes a strong, positive impression. For the middle section, itâs fine to glance at note cards with bullet points, or refer to your PowerPoint presentation to jog your memory. Do not, however, write out your whole speech word for word! Youâll be tempted to read it instead of connecting with your audience.
Open with a Bang. Itâs important to grab attention immediately. A good opening sparks interests, sets expectations, previews whatâs to come, and offers benefits. There are several ways to start: ask a question, tell a story, humor (careful with this one unless youâre naturally funny), quotes, dramatic statistics, or music/video. Give your audience a reason to listen, and build your credibility as the best person to be speaking on this topic.
Make it Memorable. Signposting is a way to help your audience follow and remember what youâre saying. Phrases that focus listening are: âThe point is this,â and âThe most important thing to remember is.â Another strategy is to number your points as in, âIâll be offering three ideas, the first one isâ¦â
In Closing. Audiences are most likely to remember the last thing they hear. A strong closing should be memorized and review your main points. Motivate the audience to do something â" take an action, ask a question, have an emotional response, or think differently. Make it clear what it is youâre asking them to do (and if you donât know, re-think the purpose of your speech).
Calming Nervousness. Most nerves are caused when the speaker focuses on himself instead of the audience. A speaker might think to himself, âWhat if I say something stupid?â or âI hope I donât trip.â That kind of self-absorption puts up a wall between you and the audience. By shifting your focus to the audience, youâll forget about yourself and start connecting with them. Second, some nervousness is a good thing! Itâs an indication that you care what your audience thinks and can serve as a strong motivator to do well. The goal is not to eliminate nerves, but to use that energy in a positive way.
Susan Fee is a licensed counselor, communications expert, and author of Positive First Impressions: 83 Ways to Establish Confidence, Competence, and Trust (available through her Web site at http://www.susanfee.com). She specializes in coaching individuals in making successful presentations.