I’ve been lucky enough (or unlucky enough, to some) to have had the opportunity to give public presentations for over twenty five years—ranging from lectures for college students, to speaking to over 500 resellers at an IT conference, to most recently facilitating a panel for the SEMPO Philadelphia event for just under 100 attendees. In addition, in my everyday life, I frequently give more intimate presentations to prospective customers who are considering working with my marketing firm.
First, let me admit that I enjoy this. I like to see the faces of people who are reacting to my words and many times ‘getting it’ (meaning the information or insights I’m sharing) for the first time. And I think I’m pretty good at it. Some would say I’m ‘a natural’; however, I was not born a public speaker. In fact, I too, struggled with my public speaking way back in a course at Lafayette College.
I recently attended a conference where a ‘professional’ public speaker gave tips on this topic. I didn’t exactly agree with those tips for public speaking, so I thought to offer you my top ones, beginning with:
- Embrace the Nausea: It’s normal to feel nervous. In fact, I’ve come to feel very comfortable with that rumbling in my stomach and light headache. It means I’m ready. If I weren’t slightly nervous, I’d worry. It would mean that I didn’t care about my topic or audience. It’s the passion for the topic and yes, the fear that I won’t be understood, that causes this. So, 25+ years of nausea…it’s the best.
- Focus on the Audience: In cases where you cannot see the audience (such as being on a stage in front of 500 or more people in an auditorium), it’s more difficult. Thankfully, most of you won’t encounter that situation. When you can see the audience, don’t just focus on one person or a person you know. Change your focus, as well as your body direction, to take in various individuals during a presentation. That’s why I like panels, because you, as the moderator, can focus on your panelists, and then see the reaction of audience participants when someone else is speaking. That way you can sense the pulse of the room and direct questions accordingly. Panels are really the ideal speaking situation.
- Face the Elephant in the Room: In a smaller setting, there’s usually at least one naysayer or an individual with folded arms (insisting they don’t want to be ‘sold’). What to do? These are two entirely different situations, but both require some skill. For the naysayer or person trying to control the conversation, first let them speak and then immediately direct the conversation to someone else in the room, asking them what they think. So basically, address the topic or concern but have others weigh in. Then move on. For the folded arm individual, you’ll have to do some guessing regarding why they have this physical barrier, especially if that person is important. Here’s where you should take a risk. Float the topic that you think is on their mind to the group. If you’ve hit their concern, you’ll immediately get a reaction from this person…in less than 3 seconds. Really!
I hope that my various experiences, and physical discomfort, will help you prepare for and give your next presentation. I’d love to know how it goes. For feedback on this article and other topics, please email me. I’d love to hear your tips for public speaking, as well.