Now if this were a list of the human race's greatest fears, public speaking would be right at the top.
Whether it's forgetting your lines or thinking you have a tail of toilet paper hanging out of your trousers, fear of public speaking really boils down to the fear of being ridiculed, rejected, and publicly humiliated.
Yet whether it's presenting keynotes, running workshops or speaking up in meetings, public speaking is key to career development and business growth...So we called in the Presentation Doctor, Gavin Meikle, to help...
Having braved Storm Ciara and happily ensconced in the Old Customs House in Gunwharf, we started by telling Gavin all of the things we find difficult about public speaking: How do you avoid the feeling of being judged, what do you do with your hands? how do you engage the audience? how do you avoid waffling on? What do you do if you make a mistake? How do you balance being practised with being passionate? He took all of our questions in his stride and drew a little mind map on the flip chart to help facilitate the session...PSK means Public Speaking Skills.
Firstly it's about being true to you. Just look at the great tech leaders of our time and their different communication styles - compare Steve Ballmer to Steve Jobs.
They have very different ways of presenting but both are authentic to them.
Steve Ballmer is the classic salesman - energetic, dynamic and loud! Direct and boisterous, he differs significantly from his predecessors at Microsoft.
Steve Jobs led through both intimidation and inspiration, sharing his vision not only for the way people interact with computers and technology but also for how they lead their lives. It really worked for him.
Things don’t always go well. Mistakes happen and if you give enough presentations or speeches, the odds are that you will stumble at some point. Don’t let the stumbles get you down. They are part of the process of all public speakers and very few of them are fatal. Learn from them and move on.
Perfection isn't connection! Being open and honest is much easier. If you make a mistake, be honest about it and say "hold on, I made a mistake there." If you want to make it a bit funny, take a side step and point to an invisible man and say "Did he really say XYZ?! I think what he meant was..." and continue.
People often think the more information they give in a presentation the better but we're simple creatures and we start to suffer from information overload. Don't firehose people with facts. Think of your presentation like a loaf of bread. If you were feeding someone a loaf of bread would you try to stick the whole thing in their mouth? No. You'd cut it up into slices, you'd make sandwiches with it and you should do the same with your presentations. Less is more.
Giving a good presentation—
a truly good presentation—
takes time and effort. You must understand the material, how it relates to your audience and what is most important and why. And then you have to design the presentation—
with or without slides—
so that it hangs together and conveys the message with impact. Most people look at presentations as a form of survival - how do I fill this slot of time without look like an idiot? But it's better to think about what you want people to do/think/feel as a result of your presentation. It's about them not you.
Too many presentations become bogged down when speakers try to do too much. You have a limited amount of time and your audience has a limited amount of attention. Choose your key points carefully and ruthlessly cut out everything else. If the subject matter is vast and there is more for your audience to know, prepare a handout or direct people to where they can go for more information. War and Peace
makes for a good read but it makes for a lousy presentation.
As a presenter, you must cut through the details and complexity and distil your message to its essence. Taking the time to think carefully about your subject and your audience beforehand will help you design a simple, effective presentation. Learn a 7-minute presentation, then think about what you'd say if you only had half that time (3.5 minutes) then think about what you'd say if you only had 90 seconds, or even just 30 seconds! Practice it so you can be flexible to your audience's needs and the time restraints of the event/meeting you're speaking at.
Arouse curiosity. If you waste those precious opening seconds with an apology, housekeeping details, a string of thank-yous, or a rambling pointless paragraph littered with “ums” and “uhs,” your audience’s minds are likely to drift, and you may not get them back. You, your message, and your audience deserve more than that. Use questions to pique curiosity - these can be to encourage audience participation or just rhetorical ones.
Feel free to use props (there was a story about a guy bringing a rusty bike and garden shears to a presentation. He didn't talk about them for an hour but everyone was hanging on his every word to figure out why they were relevant! Spoiler alert, they weren't! Your local president once used a box metaphor whilst actually holding a real live box. Novel idea right? and it worked because...
- Immediately the audience want to know what's inside the box.
- It visually stimulates and reinforces the metaphorical message
- It brings the audience repeatedly back to the ideas held inside the box.
Don't be afraid to tell stories. As humans, we’re hard-wired to enjoy and learn from stories. From bedtime stories and campfires; to Broadway shows and boardrooms — heroes, villains, conflict, plots, dialogue, and lessons learned draw us in, remind us of our own lives, and hold our attention. Just make sure the story encapsulates the key point of your message and isn't just you going off on a weird tangent.
Use mindmaps or lists to keep you on track. Mindmaps are a great tool for creating speeches because you essentially get to brainstorm all your ideas down on to a single sheet of paper. This allows you to see the connections between ideas and lets you literally connect them by using arrows around the outside of your branches. Lists can help you stay on track throughout a presentation.
Understand and utilise the power of the pause. “The pause” signals something critical to an audience when you’re giving a speech or engaged in public speaking.
5 Benefits of Pausing:
- It says you’re in control. It’s proof that you’re both confident enough and comfortable enough in what you’re presenting, that silence itself underscores the points you make.
- It can act as powerful punctuation in a presentation: It can serve as an exclamation mark … an underline to a critical point… Used in the right way, and at the right time, there will be no doubt in your audience’s mind about what the silence is saying.
- Most people don’t pause enough. Their minds are consumed with the content they are to deliver. You know the feeling. You’re up under the spotlight, everyone’s looking at you, you just want to get through it as quickly as possible and return to the safety of your seat. Pausing can calm your mind. We’ve all sat through rushed presentations that are just a jumble of words with no spaces in between. How do those speeches make you feel? It’s not comfortable. It wears you out. A speech without a break is like an out of control train. You feel the need to catch your breath – and you’re just listening!
- It gives the audience time to digest information.
- Emphasizes a point.
- Reduces Nerves. These small blocks of silence give you an opportunity to breathe during your speech. You can check your notes and calm yourself which helps you stay in control.
- Allows time for questions.
- A great substitute for ums/ahs and other filler words.
Don't be afraid of the Q&A. Many people feel Q&A sessions can derail a presentation but just be honest "Great question that I don't know the answer to right now but I'll find out and get back to you." Or signal to someone else in the room to answer it for you. "I know Bill's done a lot of research in this area so Bill, what do you think?"
A difficult question for speakers is when to actually take questions. Many would prefer not to have any but an effective question can be the most powerful part of your presentation and give the audience strong reasons to remember you and your ideas. Reframe the question as a gift, not as a threat. It's an opportunity to clarify your message, give more information and it's feedback from the audience. More questions = more engagement! Woohoo!
If you don't want to take questions during your presentation, tell people to jot them down on paper as they think of them so they can ask at the end or have a post-it board so people can add their questions on there and then follow up with a useful round-robin email answering all the questions.
Pause before you answer a question. It makes people feel like you're valuing their question. If you don't know the answer, you can always say "That's too good a question to spoil with an answer right now, I'll come back to you on it."
The average speed at which native English speakers talk is about 180/200 words per minute. When you're speaking you should try to be slower - around 100 - 120 words per minute. Think of your audience - especially if it's an international audience where English isn't the first language, you could even drop the speed to 90 -100 words per minute and it would still be ok. Practice by reading the same paragraph in a book and timing yourself at the different speeds so you know how it feels to speak more slowly.
Use different speeds of speech to add variety to your presentation. If you're excited about something you could speak slightly faster for that part of the presentation for example
If you're worried about how many times you say "umm" and "uhh" ask someone to video you or count how many ums/uhh's you use during your speech when practising.
Brains don't generally like silence so try to replace umms with a pause. Count rather than speak so your brain still has something to do. One sheep...Two sheep...
Hands. Everyone uses their hands to communicate to some extent so allow them to move freely, be natural - you're not conducting music. Don't overuse emphasis gestures like pointing and making fists, and try not to point at actual people. Scaling gestures to show the size of something can be quite useful as can ticking off lists with your fingers to show where you are in your presentation.
If you're not sure what to do with your hands, touch your fingertips together. Avoid clasping your hands as that shows tension.
To boost your confidence, open your chest and arms and keep your back straight. Pretend you're wearing a chain of office or a beautiful necklace that you want everyone to see. It will help with your posture.
Walk it out. To bring movement to your speech or presentation, use the physical space you have available to you. If you had a speech about three points for example, Talk about point 1 when you're at your first position, move 2 or 3 steps and then talk about point 2, move 2 or 3 steps again and talk about point 3. It creates a sense of a timeline. You could also mark out two areas on the floor - one where you talk about pros and another where you talk about cons. Just make sure you're in the right area when you're talking about the relevant points otherwise people will get confused.
Stop the self-talk. We let ourselves get away with a surprising amount of negative self-talk. Sometimes it happens so often that it becomes background noise, but this kind of criticism can be seriously damaging to your self-confidence. Listen to your negative self-talk, this may seem counter-intuitive, but you can only silence your inner critic when you’re actually aware of it.
That doesn't mean feeding into it but trying to listen as objectively as possible to those negative voices. A lot of times those negative thoughts stem from insecurities that are unmerited. Sometimes they're not even your voice they're actually things you've heard parents, teachers or other authority figures say to you. Take the time to actually listen to what you’re telling yourself. Actively listening to your negative talk will reveal that most of your criticisms are undeserved and ridiculous. If you wouldn’t say it to a friend, why say it to yourself? Although some of our negative thoughts are unwarranted and overly judgmental, some of that criticism is toward real issues that need to be addressed. If there are certain parts of your life that you know need improving, do something about it. Don’t give yourself ammo for negative self-talk. There’s nothing worse than that nagging voice in your head that yet again you’re late on your deadline. And because you know it’s true, it can lead to a downward spiral of continually criticizing yourself. Being nasty to yourself is never okay and it’s certainly not productive. Instead, take tangible steps to improve. Set goals and track your progress. Even if it’s baby steps, gradually improving yourself will replace negative thoughts with positive ones and ultimately silence your inner critic. Woohoo!
If you have ever heard a speech that moved you before or if you have heard of someone else enjoying a particular speech, get the transcript. You can learn so much from studying the transcript of a speech. Look at the construction of the speech and the set-up. How does it open? How does it flow through the body? What is the closing like? What did the speaker do to engage their audience? If you need some inspiration, here is a list
of some of the greatest speeches of all time.
Gavin Meikle is The Presentation Doctor. He helps executives and entrepreneurs to script and deliver compelling presentations. He offers speech writing, speech content review and restructuring, visual aid design support and speech delivery coaching in one powerful package. His clients include ambitious individuals from a broad range of industries including; Food production, Pharmaceuticals; Aircraft and flight data analytics; The NHS, Insurance and Investments.
As International Vice President of JCI, Gavin was responsible for supporting the growth and development of JCI in seven African Countries including Cote D'Ivoire, Ghana, Nigeria, Tunisia, Kenya, Malawi and Mauritius. He is now a member of the JCI Senate - Senator 47906. (The JCI Senate was established to recognize the outstanding achievements and service of JCI members worldwide.)
If you loved this blog and want more practical tips and tricks for public speaking, Gavin has written a (bite-size) book about it called "The Presenter's Edge" You can buy it off Amazon