Photo credit (above): www.audio-luci-store.it | Flickr
It takes time and practice
The butterflies in my stomach fluttered as I saw how my co-workers from other teams presented their part effortlessly and with confidence.
It almost looked as if public speaking came naturally to them. I was totally awed by their skills.
It was my first-ever business simulation presentation in front of my colleagues and the esteemed panelists.
Before long, I found myself standing in front of everyone with dizzy head, dry mouth, racing heartbeat and shaky voice.
If you have experienced similar public speaking fear indicators like me, well, you are not alone.
Here are seven principles for impactful presentations, taken from a session conducted by Eric Lau. (Unfortunately, I only attended the training a week after the “ordeal” was over.)
1. Plan and prepare
Do your research and prepare well. Understand and familiarise yourself with the topic so that you won’t be caught off guard during your question-and-answer session.
Determine how much time you are given and break it into smaller segments on what you want to speak about.
Remember to arm your presentation with a strong opening to get your audience excited and finish with an equally impactful ending to leave them with something to act upon.
Find out who your target audience is. Are you presenting in front of a group of youths or corporate executives? With a group of youths, for example, extra effort might be needed to retain their attention.
To help you get to know your audience, arrive early to informally “meet and greet” them at the door to find out the reason they attended the talk and what they expect to take away from it.
Also, what is the objective of your presentation? Are you there to impart, inspire, explain, motivate, challenge, teach or inform?
3. Avoid memorising
Bear in mind that when you present, you should be interacting with your audience and not dictating your presentation notes.
When you start reading from your notes or presentation slides, you lose the connection with your audience.
Your audience is likely to know that you’ve been memorising because you seem to be thinking hard to recall what is in your mind. In the process, it makes you look mechanical.
The danger of memorising is that once a point slips from your mind, the chance of you fumbling the rest of your points is greater.
Practice makes perfect. Even when there are no pending presentations, you could seize opportunities to speak in front of others, whether you are at work or at play.
Likewise, take some time to practise your piece in front of the mirror. By looking at yourself in the mirror, you will train yourself to be more aware of your body language and gestures.
If it is a team effort, spend some time rehearsing in front of your team members so that they can give their feedback instantaneously.
You may also want them to help record your mock presentation so you can evaluate it and see where you can improve accordingly.
5. Be yourself
To envision yourself as a good orator like Abraham Lincoln is commendable, but keep in mind that being yourself when presenting is the key to allow your audience see you for who you are.
People are usually able to connect better with you if they see the “real” you, rather than as someone trying too hard to fill in someone else’s shoes.
This does not mean that you remain status quo with your level of presentation skills. In fact, you should project yourself getting better as you present more, but with that unique touch of your personality.
6. Engage your audience
When you speak in front of your audience, treat it as if you are engaging them in a “dialogue”. This makes you less isolated as a speaker while you keep your listeners attentive to your presentation.
As with a conversation with a friend, try your best to communicate clearly, coherently and respectfully.
7. Practise good public speaking techniques
In my opinion, I see public speaking techniques that were shared during the training as something similar to the techniques used in choral speaking.
The main difference is, of course, choral speaking involves a bigger group of people and is less intimidating.
The techniques include the following:
- Eye contact
Maintain eye contact with your audience.
Mentally divide your audience into three or four segments from the left to the right, and consciously make that connection and build rapport with each segment so none is left out.
- Voice projection
Project your voice audibly to ensure your audience can hear you clearly.
Keep your movements to the minimal to avoid distracting your audience.
Instead, leverage on arm movements that are congruent with your message. You wouldn’t want to be caught showing three fingers when you mentioned you have four points to share, would you?
You may speed up or slow down certain parts of your speech to make it more dynamic and lively.
If you think certain terms may be quite new to your listeners, you may opt to slow down so they won’t look lost.
- Word emphasis
If pace is the “tempo” of our speech, then word emphasis is our “crescendo”.
You may want to emphasise certain words because of its significance to the message you are bringing to your audience.
At the initial stages, pauses give you time to adjust to being the centre of attention in the room.
After you’ve started, incorporate pauses between sentences to help you relax and gather your thoughts before continuing.
How did my presentation go, you wonder?
Well, one of the panelists had to interrupt my presentation and assure me that I was doing well in an effort to “cheer” me on. That was how nerve-wracked I was in front of my audience.
However, it was a great learning experience. Perhaps all I need to do is to put into practice what I know now, and not give up.
As they always say, the more you push yourself to speak in front of others, the better and the more confident you will become.