Presenting and public speaking is a phobia for a lot of people. I believe the biggest fear is the fear of getting off track and “freezing” up. My answer to this is to prepare, prepare, prepare and when you think you’ve prepared enough, prepare some more. When I used to deliver sales training, I would practice in front of the mirror, practice in front of my wife and even practice on a video camera. I would prepare to the point that even when I got interrupted, I would be able to pick back up my train of thought seamlessly.
You have probably heard the adage; “tell them what you are going to tell them, tell them and then tell them what you just told them”. You want to make your message simple with minimal points, so the potency of what you are trying to get across is not diminished. A very basic format (that you probably learned in elementary school) is to have the opening paragraph (tell them what you’re going to tell them ), make three points in three different paragraphs (tell three different points) and then a closing paragraph that summarizes everything (tell them what you just told them). The most important thing is to make transitions between each of the middle three paragraphs. Things like “my first point are” and “secondarily” and “to summarize”, etc. Make sure you are connecting each of the three points, or your presentation will come off disjointed.
Do you ever eat sushi? In this country, I see many Americans eat sushi in ways that were not necessarily intended. Most of the time I see people put soy sauce into the small serving cup and add the wasabi and some ginger. Then they use chopsticks to pick up the sushi rolls, dip them in the soy sauce/wasabi/ginger concoction and (usually very clumsily) attempt to get the roll (that they probably just squished) into their mouths. First off, sushi was designed to be eaten with your hands so chopsticks are not supposed to be needed. Secondarily, the ginger is not supposed to be utilized on the roll or in the soy sauce; it is supposed to be used to cleanse your palate before you try a different sushi roll. The reason I bring this up is that I think the mistake many presenters make is that they don’t deploy something at the beginning of the speech to “cleanse the palate” or break your audience out of their doldrums. People are immersed in their day doing things like thinking about an e-mail, needing to return a VM or maybe worried about an upcoming meeting with their boss. You want to shake them out of that and get them to focus in on your message. That’s why many begin their talks with a joke (which also gets your audience on your side), but I used to like to tell a story that was a little more sobering. In Steven Covey’s book “7 Habits of Highly Effective People” he tells a story of being on a train when a man comes aboard, and his kids are raising cain. Covey goes to scold the man as the kids are causing a real issue amongst the passengers when he realizes the guy had just lost his wife. Because I am passionate about Covey, this story and its meaning (perceptions can be dangerous), I have told it many times and feel I can tell it very well with a lot of drama. After I get done telling it (with lots of dramatic pauses thrown in for effect) I usually have everyone in the room eyes on me and dead (no pun intended) silence. This allows me to proceed to my message ensuring that I have everyone’s undivided attention. A little morbid I know, but hey, it works!
Some Other Quick-Hit Points For Success:
-Vary your pace, put in pauses after dramatic points and change your decibel level often to keep your audience off balance.
-Look around the room and look at different individuals for 2-3 seconds apiece. If you are nervous making eye contact, look at the tip of their noses.
-A lot of formal instruction on presenting says not to walk around the room. I like to do that to draw far-reaching parts of the audience into the message (maybe too much) and also wake up people who may be sleeping in the back!
-Ask questions periodically to ensure audience engagement. Also, ask questions to specific audience members; the advantage of this is it causes even greater engagement as the natural conclusion becomes “Uh-oh, I might be next!”. If I am in a particularly devious mood, sometimes I will call on someone who I know is not paying attention. That way, when they flub the answer and have to admit they were not paying attention, it causes embarrassment and gets everyone else to lock in. Mean I know but hey, you’ve got to find your fun where you can!
-Use anecdotes and examples to “prove” or underscore the points you are making in each of your three middle paragraphs. You have to add credibility to your points by saying things like “this is just like another situation…” or “as stated in last month’s Harvard Business Review”, etc.
-Free up your hands! Allow your hands to help you talk and make your points. This sounds normal, but I see people all the time have their hands in their pockets or with a death grip on a podium. One time, early in my career, I was giving a presentation with one of my hands in my pocket yet I was still making points with my hand in my pocket! It looked very strange and obviously gave the impression (correctly) that I was nervous.
-Use multimedia; people have different learning styles, and you don’t know the learning styles the individuals in your audience might have. The three broad learning styles are auditory, visual and experiential. Since you don’t know what their learning styles are, ensure each of your points has an element of each to assure the best chance of your message resonating.
-Before you have to give a presentation, go somewhere where you can be alone and do the following: start at your feet and flex them for a couple of seconds, then go to your calves to flex them for a couple of seconds, then go to your thighs and so on for your entire body. This will help you relax. Remember: do this privately! You will look like a psycho if people can see you while you are attempting to relax and then you will get more nervous!
In short, have fun! In long, practice, practice and practice some more.
Hope all of these tips help and would love to hear some stories about how you were able to utilize some of these techniques to help you present more effectively!