The number one fear of most adults (even above death) is speaking in public. Yet the ability to communicate to groups of people is a skill which can make a critical difference in our careers and in our ability to share information, ideas, experience, and enthusiasms with others. A study conducted by AT&T and Stanford University revealed that the top predictor of success and upward mobility, professionally, is how much you enjoy public speaking and how effective you are at it.
Most of us have experienced more than our share of boring presentations. After what seems like hours, we still don’t know what message we were supposed to get.
Maybe the speaker put us to sleep with his monotone presentation or we couldn’t read the small writing on the transparencies, which didn’t seem to match up at all with what the speaker was trying to say.
To avoid being the source of a “sleeper” presentation, you need to build your presentation skills. Here are some simple guidelines to overcoming stage fright and preparing for a successful presentation.
Developing the Attitude of a Successful Public Speaker
Remember that stage fright is normal and be open about it. Remember that you are the expert. Your primary duty is to understand what your audience needs to know and prepare the message and supporting materials in a way that delivers your message clearly and powerfully. Make a strong, whole-hearted commitment to your audience. Concentrating on them and their needs will help you forget about your own self-consciousness.
- Practice your presentation. Do a pilot test, and if possible, videotape yourself.
- Establish rapport by using names and eye contact.
- Research your audience. Get acquainted with at least one person in the audience.
- Relax. Breathe deeply. Visualize yourself successfully presenting your message to the audience.
- Use your own style. Don’t imitate someone else.
Preparing for Success — Planning
A good presentation requires careful planning and lack of planning is always apparent. Sure clues are speeches that are too long, too detailed, confusing, vague, boring or off-track. Here are three questions you can ask yourself to clarify the objective of your presentation:
- Why am I giving this presentation?
- What do I want the audience to know or do at the end of the presentation?
- How do I want the audience to feel?
Focus on the Big Idea
The first step is to find your focus. This is the Big Idea of your material, the power punch, the one thing you want your audience to walk away with. One way to make sure you are clear on your focus is to develop a basic outline of your presentation. Begin by listing no more than five independent ideas that the audience must understand for the objectives to be accomplished. Then outline your plan for presenting the necessary detail and persuasive material needed to allow your audience to understand those points. This gives you a rough outline of the content of your message.
Getting Their Attention
Your first step is to get the audience’s attention and convince them to listen to you. Grab them with something vitally interesting to them. Give them an interesting story or example that ties into your focus. Use a strong, meaningful quotation or a startling statistic. Be succinct, use simple graphic language Make your audience think they’re going to be informed, entertained or enlightened.
The Main Message
Once you’ve gotten the audience’s attention, you need to deliver what you promised in the shortest, most interesting way possible. Hold people’s attention during the main body of your message by creating a lot of mini-cycles with beginnings, middles, and ends instead of having one big cycle that lasts through the entire presentation. You can do this by including appropriate humor, and stories.
Remember that the purpose of your presentation is not to present all you know about a subject — it’s to present what your audience needs to know in a way that meets your personal objectives as well as theirs.
Many speakers have a dynamite opening and a powerful, interesting message only to drop the ball at the end. Your conclusion should repeat your main ideas: don’t expect the audience to remember a point which they have heard only once. You can signal a wind-up of the presentation with a phrase such as: “Let’s review the main points we’ve covered.” Your conclusion should be strong, succinct and persuasive.
Your ability to speak in front of groups is one of the most important professional skills you can develop. To truly develop the skill, however, you have to practice it in front of a real, live audience. Force yourself to find opportunities to speak. Volunteer at your professional organizations, civic clubs, or church. You might even consider joining Toastmasters — it offers you a weekly speaking experience in a supportive, educational environment. Good Luck!