How to Grok Public Speaking
Slow and steady, I am beginning to find my groove in the realm of public speaking and I am fortunate enough to be talking at a couple of exciting events this year.
I am by no means an expert or a professional speaker, but I find that I am strangely looking forward to my next couple of gigs and challenging myself by leaving my comfort zone and taking on new topics to discuss.
If I was asked to explain the obstacles one must overcome to allow themselves to get over these irrational social phobias of the death sentence of public speaking, I would break it down into these three phases:
Sweaty palms, extremely nervous, rarely speaks and wonders how they could be convinced to speak in front of so many people in the first place? Usually opens a presentation stating, “I am so nervous”. The Novice is either extremely unprepared or neurotically over-prepared. Always happy once finished but thinks they could have done better.
Taking the odd deep breath, a few butterflies in the stomach. Often volunteers to speak on a subject or doesn’t think twice about accepting an invitation to speak at a conference or industry event. The Intermediate can be witnessed having the odd flustered moment but these can only be seen by the trained eye. Prepares ahead of time and puts a good deal of effort into their slides. Always happy once finished but thinks they could have done better.
Chatty, excited and can hold a conversation with you seconds before getting on stage. Has many speaking engagements lined up and creates new reasons to talk in front of a crowd from time to time. Can’t always prepare as much as they would like to but have a good base and library of slides that they can afford a bit less preparation. The Expert is looks as if they are having more fun on stage than in real life. Always happy once finished but thinks they could have done better.
Now I am no Expert… I have only recently entered the domain of the Intermediate and am lucky enough to have a few gigs lined up over the next couple of months that may move me a bit closer to the latter one day.
One thing I have found invaluable when preparing to present is advice from those that you trust. This can come from a public speaking coach, your favourite bloggers, a hypnotist (oh yes, I have…) or even from someone who has just watched you present and has the courage to give you some positive feedback and/or some constructive criticism.
Even some of the worst articles have at least one piece advice that you can probably walk away with, whether it be something that might be unique to your own personality or possibly just re-affirming some common advice you have heard many times.
Here is my own list of things that get me through the entire phase of a single presentation - preparation, delivery and the finale. This is from an Intermediate speaker, so hopefully it may add insights that some Experts have long forgotten about :-)
- Be prepared… prepare, research and rehearse. I have always assumed the most engaging speakers I have seen speak were so talented that they were just presenting on the fly… they weren’t. The best speakers I know prepare, research and rehearse.
- Rehearse your presentation as if you were actually presenting it, in front of other people if you can. You will be surprised how much you may get stuck on the first couple of times if nerves kick in or you find you haven’t memorised something enough. Better this happens at home than on the actual day.
- If you can, try to watch yourself on video or listen to yourself on tape. It will give you a great insight into little subconscious things you do that you never would notice otherwise and allow you to correct them (I noticed watching one video of myself presenting that I drank two bottles of water in a half hour due to nerves, it looked very distracting and I don’t even remember it).
- Figure out your style. Do you like lots of slides that you can move through quickly, or would you rather stick to 5 topical slides and talk your way through them instead? You need to find your comfort zone here. I like to use a lot of slides with minimal text, and I can use these slides as visual cues for what I am talking about next.
- Respect your audience. Know your material and give them a presentation worth seeing. Chances are that there may be other presenters on in other rooms and they have chosen to come to see you speak.
- Backup your presentation. Have one copy online, one copy on a memory stick and even print one out just in case something horrible happens and you don’t have a laptop. Sometimes you will still have to present and you can’t always rely on technology
- Setup before you begin. There is nothing worse than watching a presenter fumbling with cables and laptop accessories while mumbling apologies to the audience. You can’t control everything, but make sure you have done what you can to allow things to run smoothly from the start.
- Being nervous is normal and you can use this to your advantage. Turn that ‘bad’ feeling into a good one by thinking positively and not sabotaging yourself with doubt.
- Remember to breath and if you are feeling anxious take a few deep breaths. Breathing shallow is what causes symptoms of stress including sweaty palms, feeling light-headed and a heart that wants to beat out of your chest.
- Have water with you on stage and make sure you bring some if you are not sure they will provide it for you. Use this as a way of taking little ‘time-outs’ between slides, collecting your thoughts and thinking about where you are heading next.
- Never tell anyone that you are nervous. Chances are nobody will even notice you are nervous and if you start your presentation smoothly it will just get better from there.
- Nerves do tend to die down after a few minutes and your survival instincts begin to kick in. Perhaps you may even begin to enjoy it?
- If you stuff up or get flustered just have a pause , take a quick ‘time-out’ and then move on. Three seconds may seem like an eternity to you when you are standing in front of a crowd but it’s still just three seconds to them.
- Do not use a lot of text on your slides. The audience will not listen to a word you are saying while they are reading your slides and this will distract them. Keep your slide text concise, and use them more as cues for you to explain the concepts out loud. They have come to hear you speak after all.
- If you must use lots of text, introduce it in multiple slides. Don’t let the readers read too much at once or they will not listen to you.
- Use some slides. I know some presenters that don’t use slides at all and just deliver a presentation running a screen saver in the background. Some people are visual and need certain visual cues to let them know your general theme or when you are changing topics in the presentation. These do not have to be elaborate, simple text or pictures would do the trick.
- You control the room. This is one time that people will sit there and wait for you to say something and you can do anything you want for an hour. Enjoy it.
- Or do you? Keep on topic but allow for the audience to sometimes dictate the direction of your presentation. Perhaps you have missed some essential information that the audience really wants to know about, and this may come up through spontaneous discussions in the middle of your presentation. Mentally note this and learn from it for future presentations.
- Make sure you leave enough time for questions at the end of your presentation. Some of the most engaging discussions and ideas come out of the questions from the audience afterwards.
- Never pretend you know the answer to a question. Chances are, someone in the audience will know the answer to the question you are bluffing on and will gladly let you know about it. It’s never cool to get called out in front of an audience.
- Repeat the question. If you are in any crowd where people possibly won’t hear the question, then chances are they didn’t hear the question. Podcasts are also extremely irritating when you can’t hear the question.
- Hang out when you are done. Talk with the audience and see what you can get back out of them. Praise or constructive criticism will help your future presentations (most likely you will hear praise as most will not be brave enough to critique you)
- Watch other speakers. If you speak a few times or have had some public speaking training you will start to become aware of the nuances of other speakers styles and you can learn from them.
Perhaps this list will shorten one day if I ever graduate to the Expert realm, but this is the stuff I think about every time I do a presentation today. Other great articles on public speaking I have found useful include:
- MezzoBlue - Speaking?Tips.
- Wait till I Come! - My Public Speaking Survival Kit
- Molly.com (she had a great article on public speaking which I cannot find at all on her site… if anyone finds it I will update it here.
- Guy Kawasaki - How to Get a Standing Ovation
- Jeff Veen - Seven Steps to Better Presentations
- D. Keith Robinson - How to Give a Great Presentation
- Kathy Sierra - Better Beginnings: how to start a presentation, book, article…
- Doc Searls - It’s the Story, Stupid
- Meri Williams - speakers wiki - Make Me a Speaker
- Joe Clark - Advice for presentations - It happens!
- PublicSpeakingExpert.co.uk - Lots of articles and general tips on public speaking
Has anything else helped you when speaking in front of a crowd? Add it below if I haven’t mentioned it in this article.