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.
So much business education, training, workshops, seminars and keynotes is based on old school (literally!) ways of educating. Back in the day, students sat in neat rows, stayed quiet and respectfully listened to one person speak (or rather, drone on and on). BOOORRRING!
Meanwhile, we know that human beings learn far better and retain far more of what they learn by participating actively in the process and “discovering” rather than passively “being taught.” Not only are the results better, but people actually enjoy learning much more when it mimics our natural approach – the approach that’s been evolutionarily programmed into us for millions of years – instead of following the didactic, pedagogic approach most of us suffer through in school.
If you’re still in doubt, just watch how a 2- or 3-year old child learns – they LOVE it. They’re curious and eager and want to know everything about everything. And they’re like sponges too, learning huge volumes of information so quickly and adeptly it’s astonishing when you pause to truly consider it. Part of that is because their brains are still forming, but part of that is also because they haven’t associated “learning” with “boring” yet.
How many of us still felt excited about learning by the time we hit the 10th grade? Not I, that’s for sure (though I was still kind of a nerd… but that’s a story for another day). So many teachers, educators and trainers will nod and agree while reading this, but then they’ll go back and create still more boring, yawn-inducing lectures, speeches and seminars.
I can only assume it’s because they’re lazy, and it takes a lot more preparation to do a seemingly improvised, spontaneous and active program than a scripted, static, prepared one.
So how do you create a great workshop that gets everyone engaged, excited and prepped for learning? Here are five great ways to turn any learning experience into a fun, interactive, educational workshop for adults or teens:
Show, don’t tell. It seems obvious, but make sure you’re really putting it into practice. Instead of describing a case study or a story or a situation, show it. Some ideas: use images, video, cartoons… anything that will engage your audience more than just you, talking, and talking, and talking (“Bueller. Beuller. Beuller…”)
No bulleted powerpoint presentations. If you MUST use a slideshow (even I do sometimes – though I prefer Keynote by Apple) at the very least use it to illustrate points, not to enumerate them. You can always follow up with a handout afterward if you want to make sure they remember all the main points (or if you’re going “green,” upload your handouts to Slideshare, so your attendees can view online or download the files, all for free). I keep all my presentations on my website at www.MichelleVillalobos.com so anyone can see my entire repertoire too. And having that much quality content housed on my site certainly doesn’t hurt in terms of Google rankings either.
As Dr. House of “House, MD” so aptly stated: “Without Socrates, we wouldn’t have the Socratic Method, the greatest way of teaching things known to man (apart from juggling chain saws.)” The Socratic Method is a way of teaching people using leading questions in a logical sequence. These days, with our increasing ADD, using the Socratic Method is a great way to keep people active in the learning process, so they don’t get bored or lose concentration. Study it, learn how to do it, it really works. I once read a transcript in which Rick Garlikov used the Socratic method to teach a classroom-full of 2nd graders how to do binary arithmatic, true story!
Encourage dialogue, particularly with an engaged, interested and active audience. People tend to walk away from workshops and seminars a lot happier when permitted to share their own experience or opinion. Just be careful, there’s nearly always at least one “attention hog.” You’ll need to have limits in place to ensure even distribution of the limelight. For example, let people know they will have 30-seconds to posit a question, or share an experience. This is a great way to get people to “get to the point.” But you’ll need to enforce it…
Speaking of activities, you should always have at least one. For every 1 hour workshop, I try to have at least 2 or 3. They can be short and sweet, just as long as you’ve tested them and they’re sure to illustrate what you’re trying to teach. To give you an example, rather than tell people about body language I’ll bring up two volunteers to act out a scenario based on my direction. The attendees crack up watching their colleagues and the process dispels a lot of resistance to what we’re discussing. Not to mention it’s a great way to put the aforementioned attention hog to good use.
Well, there you have it. Some of my best advice on how to put together a wow! seminar, workshop, keynote or other learning experience for adults.
Good luck and let me know if this article helps you by visiting www.MichelleVillalobos.com and dropping me a line!
Michelle Villalobos is the founder of Mivista Success Skills Training, based in Miami, FL. She helps people develop their business skills – particularly networking, marketing, personal branding, sales, communications and presentation skills. – in never boring or yawn-inducing workshops, seminars and keynotes.