Roscoe Tanner famously said, « The human brain is a wonderful thing. It starts working even before the moment that we are born and only stops functioning the moment we get up to speak in public ».
Speaking in public, or giving presentations is both a stressful and difficult thing to do and is one of the most prized of all soft skills – after all there is no point being the most gifted engineer in the company if you are unable to present what you are doing !
I train people to be able to present themselves, their companies, their products and their srvices. I’m not a theoretical trainer, so I don’t go for complex models and hard rules that must not be broken – I prefer context-based, pragmatic solutions that answer the needs of my clients.
I am often, myself in situations where I need to present myself, my company and our services, so my standpoint is a very hands-on practical one that is fuelled by my real-life experiences and not just theory.
Most people are absolutely terrified at the idea of standing up in public and giving a presentation, here are some of my top tips are for presenters, in order to feel more comfortable:
1. Research your audience – find out as much as possible about them and ask yourself the following questions :
- Are they male or female ? How old are they ? Why are they there ?
- Do they have in-depth knwoledge or limited knowledge of my subject ?
- What culture are they from ? What is their company culture ?
- And any other questions that give a good audience analysis.
2. Structure your presentation in respect of the objectives you have with your audience.
3. Prepare and practice your presentation but don’t overdo it. Many presenters know their presentation off by heart so well that an unexpected question or interruption can effectively make them lose the thread of their presentation and they clam-up. However, the planning and preparation phase makes up about 95% of the time spent on presentations – If you fail to plan, you plan to fail – don’t do that …
4. Don’t read a script – a presentation is made heads-up, with the eye-contact on the audience and not on your pieces of paper. Prepare flashcards or post-its with keywords or themes, avoiding full sentences, that you will be tempted to read.
5. Start with a bang ! The purpose of the start is twofold, to get the attention of the audience and to start engaging with the audience. They need to be focused 100% on you and not your slides. Ask questions that get people thinking (but DO NOT wait for a response), tell a story, give a personal analogy – get connected.
6. Manage energy levels. A presentation is a cocktail of give and take, beware of talking WITH the audience as opposed to talking AT them – they will listen to one but not the other. Awaiting answers to questions you pose to the audience will kill off the energy level and thus the rythmn of your presentation – if answers are not forthcoming, have one ready yourself and move on. « Who here is stressed at the idea of giving a presentation ? » – « Ok, quite a few of us, now let’s look at how you can overcome that ».
7. Manage interactions, If you want people to put their hands up when you ask a question to the audience, do it yourself first – people will copy, the same is true if no hands go up ! If you want to turn the focus away from you to a slide, move your body and eyes to the slide as if opening a door, people will want to look through that door.
8. Never start a presentation without telling the audience how long you will be speaking for and when they can ask questions. If you don’t do this at 11am, what do you think the majority will be thinking about ? If you don’t clearly tell people when they can ask questions, they may feel frustrated or alternatively constantly interrupt you with questions during the presentation.
9. Push emotional buttons and show the benefits for THEM. Get buy-in by talking about things with examples that the audience can concretely understand, show them what is in it for them.
10. Practice breathing and stress management techniques before the presentation to ensure that you feel comfortable and in control, but also so that your voice projection is working. The aim is not to completely eliminate stress – we need a managed level of stress, this is called energy !
11. KISS – Keep it simple stupid. Don’t go for an all-singing-all-dancing Powerpoint show that is technically fascinating – so much so that the audience is concentrated on the sexy animated slides and not listening to a word you are saying.
12. Never finish with questions ! Ok, you may have said at the beginning that you will be more than happy to answer questions at the end of your presentation, but we all know that it will not be the end. Why is this ? Well if you have a difficult time with the questions & answers this would leave a bitter taste in the mouth and you don’t want the audience going away like this. You will leave the bang for the very end, after the Q & A session to lift the energy of the presentation and to leave a positive impression in the mind of the audience – after all they will remember a lot about the last five minutes of the presentation.
13. Finish with a bang and not a whimper. This is your opportunity to underpin the important messages that you made at the opening and during the presentation, wind the energy back up and finish with a bang that leaves a positive impression in the mind of the audience.
« Thank you » is not a bang, although it may be appreciated and almost expected – but it is just a form of politeness.
You also have the opportunity to restate what you want the audience to do after hearing your presentation – action, thought or awareness.
14. As I don’t like to leave this at the unlucky n°13 : Things to avoid saying :
At the start – « I am here to present … » Don’t state the obvious, it is clear in the mind of the audience that you are here to present – don’t patronise as you will make them switch off.
At the end « That’s the end, thank you » – sounds as lame as the start – don’t do it !
End with a thought-provoking statement –« If you go away from here and do nothing … »
This list represents just a few of the tips that can help make you into an effective, confident and talanted public speaker.