As I attend more and more networking events, chamber events, board meetings and chapter meetings, it’s clear not everyone loves to speak in public. In fact, lots of people dread it, hate it, or are just plain bad at it.
The urban myth is that people fear public speaking more than they fear death. While it turns out that isn’t quite true,* most of us probably agree that getting in front of an audience and delivering a message effectively is daunting.
And while you could try to avoid it altogether, the fact is that effective public speaking an essential business skill that provides a competitive advantage to you – whatever your business.
It’s not only about being at a podium in front of a huge audience, either. Every day there are opportunities to use effective presentation skills to run better meetings, give better chamber “commercials,” or to motivate and inspire others.
Fear be damned. Let’s go!
Rule #1. Don’t read your presentation aloud. Ever.
When people read to me, I lose interest… and I’m not the only one.
People want to interact with you, not just listen to you. So instead of reading off slides or notes, give yourself some key bullet points that will jog your memory and put them on note cards, then tell your story.
By the way, note cards are my best friend. I start with the entire presentation on them (sometimes 40 or 50 cards!) and just keep whittling down and whittling down until all the major points are summarized on one or two cards. This ensures I’m not tempted to read them, and helps me learn the material inside and out. I also keep my note cards for future reference, which comes in handy.
Here’s an example of an awful speech ABOUT speeches (oh the irony) in which the speaker reads all his slides.
And this was from Toastmasters!
Rule #2. Practice.
This is the most obvious advice. It’s also the most ignored advice.
I myself have ignored it because I hate practicing. But you know what? It makes more of a difference than ALL the other tips combined. No joke.
If you really truly can’t bring yourself to practice by yourself in front (I can’t either), then call or meet with someone – an honest someone – and do at least one quick run-through. I ALWAYS find problems with my presentations when I do this. And I ALWAYS regret when I don’t.
And yes that was a plug for my services because I can coach you through your practice runs 😉
Rule #3. A picture’s worth 1,000 words.
Stop using slides full of bullets and text!! I admit, I was guilty of this once upon a time. NO MORE!! It’s FAR better to simply illustrate a principle using an image, chart or story. This guy (below) really gets it, so I’ll let him explain it better than I can. (Click the image to watch)
Rule #4. Speak from the heart.
No matter WHAT your topic, you must be passionate about it or invested in it. Especially if it’s the most boring topic in the world!
Even when we aren’t perfect (who is?) the authenticity of speaking from the heart will compensate. Here is an example of a passionate speaker who perhaps isn’t perfect, but is nevertheless effective at inspiring her audience. Notice how she gets the crowd riled up and the mood crescendos from beginning to end. Very powerful.
Rule #5. Speak up!
(Corollary to Rule #5: Whenever you can, use a mike.)
There’s nothing worse than a speaker you can’t hear! Not only will you lose people, but they will likely start talking to people next to them, and then you’ve REALLY lost them.
So if you’re offered a microphone… take it. Embrace it! Microphones are awesome because they allow you to speak in your normal tone of voice, rather than pushing you beyond your comfort zone – this is helpful because it frees you up to focus on content.
I also highly highly highly recommend that if you’re giving a big talk, ask for a lavalier mike (“lapel mike”) because holding a mike is awkward. Freeing up your hands also allows you to use them for emphasis.
That’s it for now – though that’s nowhere NEAR an exhaustive list of what you can do to improve your skills. Some other ideas:
- Eliminate “verbal filler” like “um” and “ah” and “you know” and “like”) altogether. Try pausing instead. Pauses are great for effect.
- Know your audience. I like to use Constant Contact to take polls/surveys of my audience before speaking, this also allows me to prepare by incorporating answers to audience questions into my presentation.
- Interact! Take polls, ask questions, try some role play. Adults learn better when they “discover” rather than are “taught.”
- Tell stories – good, short stories that illustrate a point
- If you’re projecting a slide show, use a remote slide advancer (they’re only $40) and never, ever rely on someone else to advance your slides for you, it’s a recipe for disaster.
- Get feedback. Afterward, see if you can get honest feedback, with a feedback form (don’t look over people’s shoulder while they’re filling it out!)
- Test out your equipment ahead of time. ‘Nuff said.
If you really want to step up your game and take your presenting to the next level, give me a call. By popular demand, I’m now offering public speaking coaching.
(vee – ya – LOW – bos)
* It’s an urban myth because fear of public speaking was listed in The Book Of Lists (from the ’70s) as the #1 most reported fear, and death came in as the #6 most reported fear. However, that’s very different from “Which of the following things do you fear most? Public speaking or death?” Even if you are terrified of public speaking, if someone puts a gun to your head and says “I’ll kill you unless you get up on stage and speak in front of 500 people” – what would you do? Exactly.