Five Tips for Successful Public Speaking
Summer is a time of celebrations. Graduations, award ceremonies, and weddings abound. It is a time when toasts are made and speeches are given. If you are one of the lucky few to be asked to “come to the podium,” conventional wisdom (and some research) says that if given the choice of making that presentation or going to the dentist, ordying…making the presentation comes in dead last. No pun intended.
At work, we are called upon to make presentations all the time: reports to our bosses or theirbosses; sales presentations; marketing pitches; and project updates to name a few. Making a presentation is a great way to get visibility in your organization. So, how can you become more comfortable? How can you manage the butterflies causing havoc in your stomach at the thought of speaking in public, whether on the job or in your personal life?
First, notice I used the word “manage.” People often ask me how they can “get rid of the nerves.” You don’t want to! Energy (as I prefer to call nerves) brings passion to your voice and light to your eyes. You want to manage your energy, make it work for you, not dispense with it altogether.
Here are five techniques that can help you manage your energy, so you come across professional and competent when it is your turn to be up front.
Visualize success. Athletes do this all the time. As runners are getting into the starting blocks they’re not thinking, “Gee, I hope I don’t trip.” They are visualizing the best run of their lives. Visualization works. From the moment you know you are to make a presentation, picture yourself delivering your message in a clear, confident voice, and handling questions with ease.
Remember, most people in the audience are glad it’s you up there and not them.
Get there early. There are a couple of reasons behind this advice. By getting there before anyone else arrives, you can get the feel of the room (especially if it is new to you) and where (and how) everything is set up. If using a PowerPoint deck, you can set up the technology and make sure all is in readiness before your audience begins to filter in.
Another reason to get there early is so you can greet people as they arrive. If you are already there, it’s as if they are guests and you are welcoming them. Psychologically, there is a sense of ownership that occurs. Talking to people can also give you a feel for the mood of the audience and their concerns or anticipations about your topic. Shaking hands and chatting with people breaks the ice for everyone.
Know the first minute of your presentation dead on. If you’re concerned that your audience is going to judge you, understand this will happen during the first 90 seconds of your presentation. So start with a bang. Know what you want to say and how you are going to say it. Nothing says “I’m nervous” more than a speaker who begins with “Uh…I’m uh…Mary Jones from the Garden Club B-Board and uh…thanks for coming.” Start with a clear, strong voice, a balanced stance and an opening that makes your audience think “I’m glad I came.”
Make eye contact. What? Look at the people? Yes, eye contact. Eye contact is the single most telling aspect of looking confident. Direct your first sentence (or two) to one person—right into their eyes. Then find someone else and give that person your next sentence. Pick out people you are comfortable with, or if in a room of strangers, folks who look approachable. For your opening remarks, choose people who are a distance from you so the whole room feels included. Continue to speak “one on one” throughout your presentation. Making eye contact with individuals in the audience helps your audience feel connected to you and helps you read their reactions and respond accordingly. For example, if you see a bunch of furrowed brows, it might be time to stop and call for some questions.
Move with a purpose. Energy will make your body want to move and moving is OK. Twitching and pacing is not. If given the opportunity to sit at a distance from where you will eventually present, do it. Then, when you are introduced, you can shed energy by walking briskly to the front of the room. If you are in a confined space, like behind a podium, take that body energy and put it into your voice and gestures. Gesturing from the shoulders brings your arms up and people in the back can see your gestures clearly.
Finally, remember that your audience doesn’t usually know what you planned to say or do. So, if you vary from the script (written or in your head) they are not going to know unless you tell them. Telling them consists of actually telling them, i.e. “Oh…I’m sorry, I skipped a part” or telling them through body language, for example looking up at the ceiling, down at the floor, or rolling your eyes.
Your audience wants you to do a good job and they only know what they see and hear. So if you look confident and sound confident, they won’t know you’d rather be at the dentist.