Public speaking ranks right up there with death in terms of the things we are terribly afraid to do. Whether it’s the fear of being watched closely by others, or the insecurity and self-conscious feeling of slipping up during the presentation, these 12 tips should help you get over your fears and deliver a powerful presentation that will connect with your audience. I should note that there are plenty of other tips, tricks, hacks, tools and other means in which to support your own growth and development in this area. This is simply a compilation of what I have found to work best for myself and my clients.
1. Don’t talk right away.
Don’t stand silent either. A lot of people start talking right away, and it’s out of nerves. Their rapid pace throws both the energy of the room and the overall cadence of the message into a tail spin. That can give your audience the wrong impression and the perception of being scared or insecure. Take a moment, breathe, pause and scan the room. This shouldn’t take more than 2-3 seconds. Practice and time yourself to see what it feels like.
2. Give versus take.
Many times people are speaking to either sell a product, idea, concept, business solution or themselves. Although there is a time and place for this type of pitch, I would caution you to tread lightly. Your audience is there to learn something new and create value for themselves. If what you are offering is about you and for you, then you will most likely lose their attention pretty quickly.
3. Make eye contact.
Making eye contact cannot be overlooked as an important and powerful way to connect with your audience especially if you are in small quarters. If you can, give each person that you look at an entire sentence or thought, without breaking your gaze – you will create a deeper connection with both those individuals as well as the entire crowd.
4. Make sure you breathe.
When you get nervous, it’s not just your heart beat that quickens. Your words also tend to speed up. In truth, your audience is there to support you not heckle you. Pausing to take a breath can reframe your position both literally and figuratively. It can also add a dimension of depth to your thought and performance.
5. Focus on the right people.
It’s easy to spot the people in the room or your audience who are crossing their arms or possibly (and openly) dismissing your message or thought. Ignore these people if and when possible as they could disrupt your flow and the overall rhythm you are creating with your audience. Focus only on the people who are visibly engaged, enjoying your presentation and nodding “yes.” If you find the audience members who are positively interacting with you, you’ll be much more confident and relaxed than if you try to convince the naysayers.
6. Say thank you.
When you are done thank your audience. Sounds simple but you would be surprised at how many speakers and presenters forget to do this as their focus is on sitting down or getting off the stage. Applause is a gift, and when you receive a gift, it’s only right to express how grateful you are for it.
7. Know your material.
Practice makes perfect. Well maybe not perfect but definitely closer to perfection than merely winging it. I have spoken to every size of audience throughout my career and the one commonality with each engagement and audience is that I was prepared and knew my material. No matter how long, short or small or large your audience is – you must know your material. A good rule of thumb (which I learned the hard way) is to make sure that if you lose your material – you could still get up, get on stage and deliver a powerful presentation.
8. Create relatedness.
Different then making eye contact is building some true relatedness with your audience. This could look like a variety of things depending on your audience size but what I am pointing to specifically is finding commonalities between your background (or interests) and your audiences. If they like “x” then express how “x” has played a role in your life. This will show them that you share similar interests. Know your audience and do your homework before you take the stage. The last thing you want to deliver is a subpar version of a previous presentation.
9. Be charismatic.
Charismatic speakers are self-confident but they are also happy and appear to actually be enjoying themselves when presenting. Bring some energy and enthusiasm to your delivery. Figure out what makes you unique and learn to leverage that both in your presentation as well as your audience. Some people are naturally funny or have a unique outward appearance. If you are not sure what it is that makes you unique, ask someone whom your trust and get their opinion.
10. Avoid Powerpoint.
It’s called “death by Powerpoint” for a reason. Your job is to enroll and engage your audience, not lose them rapidly. Lets face it, it’s just not a sexy tool and is quite limited in its ability to create dynamic presentations. There are more than 8 other alternatives out there if you do some research. My personal favorites are Prezi and Keynote. In the end, if you have to use slides (which is most likely) then make them impactful and use them sparingly both in the visual content as well as the number of slides you present. Remember, all eyes should be on you – not the screen.
11. Become a storyteller.
Storytelling can put an audience at ease, humanizes you as a speaker, and makes your messages more memorable. It’s the most authentic way in which you can show up and deliver a powerful message. Storytelling when done correct and naturally has the resounding ability to create both connections and an easier delivery because these are your stories. You were there when they happened so you should be able to remember them. Passionate storytelling always shines through and can be wildly contagious.
12. The mirror is your friend.
Few tools are as instructive as watching yourself in the mirror or have someone you know tape yourself to watch at a later time. As human beings, we are predisposed to a variety of random gestures, facial expressions and repetitive speech patterns that are unknown to ourself. Remember that 90+% of communication is nonverbal.
Remember to ask yourself what’s your end goal before you begin. Are you clear on your purpose? What do you want your audience to do as a result of your speech? What’s really at the heart of your presentation? By concentrating on the “end goal” you greatly increase your chances to deliver a successful presentation which you audience will value.
Above all, make sure your presentation ends in a way that reiterates the beginning and that purpose. Too often, speakers get carried away with the details and leave their audiences scratching their heads asking, “What was the point of all that?” People naturally digest information in “chunks”, so focus on the big picture rather than all the pieces. You can always follow up at a later date with more information, handouts or who knows…maybe another presentation.