I read that thirty-nine percent of people cite public speaking as their biggest fear. That’s number one; ahead of a terrorist attack, cancer, death…
Yet there are still brave, odds-defying folk (myself included) who engage in this deadly practice for a living. Perhaps they (and I) possess incredible secrets of the trade known only to a chosen few. Perhaps those not in possession of such secrets will be doomed to a life of tranquility sitting in the audience. Perhaps it’s easier than we (you) think. Armed with a few, surefire rules, almost anyone can stand on the podium with pride and joy!
Rule 1. Seek your inner child. As children most of us loved the center of attention. We liked all eyes on us and displayed bravery beyond anything imaginable today as adults. Tap that child a bit, crave a little spotlight and go out there without a care or worry.
Rule 2. Prepare. First and foremost prepare for the event. Whether it’s the Rotary lunch or a huge convention, there are some things you must know ahead of time. Let’s start with the obvious: when and where? When should be a date and a time. Where is about two things: location and venue. I not only want to know where I am speaking I want to be fully informed as to the equipment available (sound, projector, size of screen). Lately I request pictures of the venue to aid in my preparation. Knowing my audience is a great way to be properly prepared. I like to know the expected size of the crowd and the unspoken or spoken dress code (if any). And most importantly, knowing what my audience is wanting and/or needing to hear helps me design my offering. It is, by the way, for them and about them.
Rule 3. Prepare: Part Two. While being adequately prepared for the logistics of the event is a definite plus, being properly prepared to actually deliver my presentation/speech is the biggest key to success. To be effective, no matter the goal of the presentation, it is essential that you know your stuff. Having expertise in the subject matter can overcome a myriad of other flaws. Plenty of great presenters are content masters, as opposed to entertainers. Equally important is planning and knowing your actual presentation. You should know your speech or presentation literally like the back of your hand. Have a certain number of takeaways in your content. A takeaway is a point or lesson that you absolutely want taken by every audience member. I usually have up to a half a dozen in a typical one to two hour presentation. Finally, do what you would tell someone else who was in your situation: practice, practice, practice.
Rule 4. Visual Rules. Let’s begin with something simple here, if you have no slides, pictures, videos or other media, the only visual is you! If that is the case, dress professionally and sharp (but not like one of the wild and crazy guys). Without other visuals, you will need to connect to the audience by keeping their attention solely on you. Feel free to break that chain you believe is attaching you to the podium and move around. When you move around a bit, you’ll find it’s easier to create a connection with individual audience members. Moderation is the key. Don’t be a stage pacer or nomadic.
If you have visuals, follow some simple guidelines:
a. Keep visuals simple and to the point
b. One picture is worth a whole lot of words
c. Use eye-catching, interesting graphics
d. Keep words and/or bullet points to a minimum (if they’re reading your visual, they’re not listening)
e. Your graphics should both cue you to your subject matter as well as make a point about it
f. Anything visual needs to be large enough to be seen by anyone, anywhere in the audience.
Rule 5. Tell A Story. Nothing helps an audience remember you quite as well as a good story. Use metaphors, parables, analogies… anything that will help the audience understand your message on their terms. The best teachers, instructors and speakers are the best story tellers. Be sure your stories are relevant and. of course, in good taste (by the way, we’re talking relevant stories here, not jokes).
Rule 6. Leave Them Wanting a Little More. A good presentation or speech is like a gourmet meal. You know you’ve had something tasty and wonderful. You’re full but you can’t wait to come back for more. Close on an upbeat note. Make the audience glad you were there. If you’re selling something, do it during your presentation (and keep it short). Leaving the sales pitch until the end generally angers people who otherwise may have departed happy.
Build in a little time to stick around once finished. Some audience members are too shy to ask a question during and find it easier to approach you afterwards. It’s also a great time to collect the kudos and compliments from a job well done.
Rule 7. Be in the Moment. The best way to bring out your best; be your best, is to be in the moment. When I say be in the moment, I guess what I mean is SAVOR the moment. Be right there, right then, loving every minute of it. Do that, you’ll never go wrong!
Public speaking and presenting is not rocket science nor is it the death-defying experience built up in our heads. Hopefully these few tips have you ready to book your first gig.