Public speaking is always listed as one of the most feared challenges people face at work. When implementing change, there is a good chance that those leading the effort will have to get in front of an audience from time to time and deliver presentations, so it’s a good idea to get good at this necessary skill.
In today’s article, I will share a few tips about how speakers can deliver great presentations, even if they normally get butterflies when asked to take the stage.
Seven Tips for Delivering Great Presentations
1. Know Your Material. Speakers speak. Readers read. Avoid over-scripting your presentation. Build enough of an outline into your slides so you can walk through your material without notes. Practice delivering the content from memory in a conversational way.
People tend to zone out when presenters read to them, so look for ways to avoid it. It’s OK to script some things like legal disclaimers, long quotes, etc., but if you need to read a script of the entire presentation, chances are you don’t know it well enough yet or you are trying to say too much. In either case, simplify your message and get to work on practicing it so you can deliver the heart of the material using only the cues found within your slides.
2. Know Your Audience. What did they come to your presentation to hear? Do they have a pre-disposition in favor of your topic or against it? You can use this knowledge to “meet them where they are” and challenge their thinking or whip up support.
Consider their cultural background as well. Most groups and individuals will tune in to stories they can identify with, so know what jobs, industries and age groups your audience comes from. Warning: people may shut down if you offend them, so consider what limits might be appropriate as you choose your words, tell your stories and build examples into your narrative.
You might want to tailor your material to be palatable to this target audience – or you may want to directly challenge them. In either case, you can avoid surprise shut-downs if you do your homework. This is not to say that you need to be completely politically correct… But it is to say that jumping into a presentation without considering the background of your audience is an unnecessary risk.
3. Be Interesting. Most of us think we are interesting as people – and we think our stories are interesting as well. But our opinions are not the ones that matter in this case, so get your message out in front of a few friendly (and not so friendly) reviewers prior to your presentation. Allow them to give you candid feedback on whether the topic is relevant and makes sense or there are any gaps in your flow.
Ask for feedback on the content itself; Is this something people care about? What questions does it raise? It’s always good to get a few “second opinions” before you present a topic. Focus your material on the minimum needed to get your point across and demonstrate your expertise. When the time comes to deliver the presentation, speak with conviction about the stuff you actually know and it will sound interesting.
4. Pace yourself and vary your tone. I have noticed that the average speaker talks much faster when they’re under public speaking stress than when they are having a casual conversation with a co-worker in the break room. This is mostly caused by adrenaline and it is actually quite easy to overcome.
- First, pick a person, or a few friendly faces and imagine that you are having a casual conversation with them as you present. Co-workers can be great candidates for this role.
- A second tip: Breathe. Consciously allow yourself to pause after delivering each line and catch your breath – much as you would pause after taking a bite of food. If it helps, try watching another speaker who seems to do this well and count in your head how long their pauses are. Then when you practice your presentation, count in your mind again to develop a sense of what a good pace feels like. Hint: The pauses may feel like an eternity at first!
5. Go Gadgetless: Avoid playing with gadgets like microphones, pointer sticks or the dreaded laser pen while you speak. Speak without a mike if the room is small. Use a clip-on mike if you have it. Only use a pointer stick if you intend to balance spinning plates as part of your routine. Finally, I apologize in advance for offending those who use them, but most people I ask tell me that those little red laser dots look annoying, unprofessional and distracting.
I once had a client say this about her boss after he used a red laser dot to point at each slide as he read to the team: “It reminded me of a bad Mitch Miller sing-along. If the material was interesting, I wouldn’t need him to point.”
Ditch the pointer. Focus your energy on making the graphics, text and other messages on your slides clear enough and useful enough that you don’t need to point at things to help your audience navigate through your thought process.
6. Move Around. One of the best ways to maintain your breathing and to stay loose is to move around. Don’t go for a morning jog while presenting, but don’t stand stiffly in one place either. Sometimes just a few steps to the left or right will be enough to keep people’s eyes on you and keep them interested in the material you are presenting.
7. Engage People. Look at your audience – but don’t stare them down. One communication professor teaches the “3-second rule” where he suggests a speaker should give sincere eye contact to an individual just long enough for them to give non-verbal feedback. In my experience, almost all audience members respond well to this technique and very, very rarely have I received negative non-verbal feedback using this method.
A side benefit of making eye contact with audience members is that it keeps them awake to know that you may look directly at them! Beware: It can be a bit disturbing to have a speaker lock eyes for a longer period with an audience member – especially one that they don’t know personally, so keep that 3-second rule in mind.
Summary: For many change leaders, it can be hard to get in front of an audience and deliver a public presentation. But following a few best practices can ease these concerns and help you get your message across.
- Remember to know your stuff and know who you are talking to.
- Keep it conversational and stay away from over-scripting.
- Relax, breathe and avoid gadgets.
With a little practice, even those who don’t look forward to public speaking can be effective change leaders.
Questions for Chatter:
- What can you do if audience members are distracted while you are speaking?
- What other tips have you found useful when doing public presentations?
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