Most people would rather have a root canal than stand up in front of a crowd and make a speech, even among their own peers. Yet, one of the most efficient and effective venues for getting yourself noticed is speaking to a group of people with a message that supports your knowledge, intelligence, and strengths. People will not only listen, but take note of your presentation skills. I often hear the remark, "You are so lucky, you don't have to worry about making a fool of yourself!" On the contrary, every speech is a prime opportunity to do something or say something that may come across as foolish. A joke may tank, a remark may be delivered incorrectly or you may fall on your face (and I have!). Over the years, I've learned how to minimize these risks by utilizing a few simple tools.
- Speak hands-free. Glancing down, relying on note cards is distracting. Put down your papers and speak directly to your audience, connecting with eye contact and engaging with a smile and strong knowledge. Don't worry about getting off course. No one will know you have skipped ahead of your presentation. Complete your thoughts and incorporate the material you missed into another segment of your speech.
- Avoid sputtering off too many statistics. One or two relevant statistics to support a comment is acceptable, but most participants would rather you speak their language than come across as a statistician. Share your own thoughts, experiences and insights on the topic.
- Get some rest. When your energy level is compromised, you may struggle to deliver a concise message. Make time to get enough sleep and steer clear of caffeine or alcohol the night before an early morning presentation.
- Inject humor. People enjoy seeing the presenter as a relatable human. Tell a story or a joke that you feel comfortable relaying. A good story captures the audience's attention. A joke can easily work against you if it appears as if you are trying too hard.
- Encourage Q and A's. If someone has a question, mention they are welcome to ask during the presentation. It's a great icebreaker and sets the stage for two way dialogue rather than a talking head in the front of the room. Let the audience know they are free to give their opinion or share a thought.
- Stay mindful of the sound of your own voice. Record yourself and listen carefully to how you sound under pressure. Taping yourself will indicate if you need to practice slowing down, speaking up, or articulating your words more clearly. Look out for "up speak," ending each sentence with a question mark rather than a period.
- Make sure your words mirror your facial expressions. If you are telling a serious story, or delivering bad news, a wide smile will not correspond with your message. On the other hand, if you are attempting to come across as light and breezy, a pensive furrow and a tight lipped smile sends a conflicting message. Practice your speech in the mirror to work out the body language kinks.
- Understand the power in a pause. A brief lapse of words can express thoughtful contemplation, or emphasize a particular point. It can also be used to let others know you are uncertain and thinking the answer through. If you are caught off guard, don't be afraid to say "I don't know, but I will find out and get back to you."
- Hire a professional to coach you. When I first started out, I hired a speech trainer that worked with me on my personal idiosyncrasies and nuances. She methodically taped me, critiqued me, and gave me honest feedback. I sharpened my presentation skills with each session and eventually found my natural voice. Years later I went on to do the same for others, and took over her clients when she retired. Study with the best and the results will be well worth the cost of training.
- Relax and have fun. Once you have mastered your speech, and practiced until you are pitch perfect, trust your own ability to deliver a message that is foolproof and inspirational.
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