Michael Wood | 16 April 2013
Public speaking is on a lot of people’s top five phobias. With a bit of homework and presentation skill, you can make the experience better for the audience, and you might even enjoy the experience!
Public speaking, most people are terrified at the prospect.
Standing up in front of a group of peers, or even worse, superiors,
and showing that you know what you are talking about brings many
people out in a cold sweat. As someone who (perhaps foolishly)
chose long ago to do this for a living, I enjoy the experience, but
here are some tips to make you a better presenter, and to try and
put you at your ease and perhaps even make the experience
- Do your homework - what is the purpose of the presentation? who is the audience? What do they want from the presentation? For example, knowing the information you present is going to be unpopular with some people, and why, will help you to pre-empt any questions they might raise.
- Get to the location in plenty of time, hanging around waiting to go in is much better than arriving breathless, sweaty and having to set up in front of the audience.
- Getting there early also gives you a chance to check the room. Is the lighting acceptable? The temperature? Try a few of the seats, write something on the board and sit at the back, can you read it? Are there any reflections on the whiteboard? Are there air-conditioning or machinery noises near a seat that you wouldn't notice at the front? Seeing the room from the delegate's point of view can really help you use the right presentation approach. If there are any problems, don't be afraid to raise them, you are going to have to present there, so make sure it is right.
- Know your subject, practice until you are thoroughly bored with it and can quote the material in your sleep. You will have enough to do up there without not knowing your lines.
- Think about your style of presentation, funny, anecdotal, straight and serious. Watch people who you think are good speakers (my models are people like Alan Rickman, I think he has an amazing delivery), try to pick out what it is about them you like and copy it.
Powerpoint - Some general tips about using powerpoint..it is a powerful tool in the right hands, a death by bullet point weapon in the wrong ones
- Pressing "b" makes the screen go black, "w" makes it go white. this is great if you are writing on a whiteboard or taking questions, having that light in your face when talking to people can really put you off
- If you need to come out of the slideshow, perhaps to demonstrate some functionality, shift-F5 takes you back to the slide you can see in powerpoint, or just F5 takes you to the start
- Don't be afraid to step away from the slides, you are there because you know your stuff, use other mediums, such as whiteboards or flipcharts, "death by powerpoint" is a real phenomenon, try to avoid it
- If creating the presentations, don't rely on the slides. They should be a prompt and a reminder. If they have lines of textual bullet points it is tempting to just read them out, which is pointless. Rather use pictures and explain around them, they are visually better for the audience, and they are listening to you, rather than reading the slides when you talk
- ..On the other hand, if you are not confident of your knowledge, the slides can have data or information on there to remind you just as much as to present to the audience. If you are not 100% sure of something, put it up there and quote from it.
- You can embed pictures, videos, weblinks and hyperlinks to documents in powerpoint, meaning you can jump to that information without stopping the slideshow.
Communication and body language - Whatever your views on body language itself, it does make a different. Consider someone with their hands in their pockets jangling their spare change while talking.... This does convey a message. Without making this sound like an episode of "lie to me", there are some basic things you can do to show confidence and control.
- Standing straight shows confidence , but it also opens up your chest and throat, making you sound more confident. Imagine you have a piece of string attached to the middle of the top of you head, lifting you up.
- There's an old saying in training; if you can't explain it in simple language, then you probably don't understand it. Use simple, everyday analogies "it's like building a house", "it's like when you go shopping..". People relate to these much better, and, surprisingly, they actually make you sound more intelligent. Audiences are often put off by jargon, especially if you can't elaborate on it. The temptation is to try and impress everyone and sound clever, remember these people are there to learn something, not judge you, well normally anyway.
- ...This may be different in an interview situation, where your knowledge is being tested, but here your simple style will still impress, as you will still show knowledge by explaining things in a down to earth way
- Symmetrical gestures show power, relaxed gestures less so. For example, if I am talking about something interesting but less important, I might move about, perhaps even with one hand in my pocket, showing that this is less important. When I am telling the class something vital I stop, turn square on and put both hands out; this grabs their attention and shows it is valuable information, perhaps a top exam tip, or the one thing you must do.
- You can also "cold read" your class, nodding tends to show understanding, looking out the window suggests they are not paying attention of course, but it can get more subtle. Folded arms are a defensive gesture, and might suggest they don't agree, if they cover their mouth and rest on their chin it may mean they are not listening to you. Sudden abrupt gestures, like leaning forward, or picking up a pencil, may mean they have something to say.
- Eye contact is important, a speaker who looks out the window all the time appears disinterested, it is also true that if an audience members thinks you might suddenly look at them they may pay more attention. The general rule of thumb is that you maintain eye contact for about 1/3 of a second; if you look too long it can make people uncomfortable, and they may think you are trying to tell THEM something, not the general class.
- You can get difficult people when presenting, this could range from undermining your presentation, not paying attention or even outright heckling. There are many courses about dealing with difficult delegates, but over the years I have learned one simple fact; if you are polite and helpful back, you are the good guy, and the rest of class will turn on them. You often find the other class mates or audience members giving them a stiff talking to at a coffee break or lunch. I would suggest therefore that you keep it simple, be polite, answer their questions.
- ...It is also worth bearing in mind that you may be misinterpreting them, in psychology they say "the map is not the territory", what this means is that what you think is going on, may not be. Someone who appears aggressive may actually just be really interested and pressing you so they can learn more, so this is a compliment actually. They may be nervous about the upcoming exam, or having a hard time at home, importantly, it may not be you they are actually directing this behaviour at.
- Don't take it personally, unless it is personal of course. If someone disagrees with what you are saying, they are disagreeing with the information, or the book, not you . So state your case, listen to their point of view and discuss it. It is generally not an attack on you personally.
- Your view of time is different to the audience, basically Einstein was right, it is relative. You are nervous, they are not, so time can go faster for you than them, or vice versa. A key point here is SLOW DOWN, you have a lot to say, and little time to say it in, you may think, but you nearly always have more time than you think, and people will struggle to take things in if you go too fast. A good general rule is leave 10 seconds after every key statement, or when asking a question; 3 seconds for them to understand the question or statement, 3 to think of an answer, 3 to build the courage to speak, and 1 for luck.
- Your view of yourself is different as well, you may feel nervous, people usually can't tell, you may feel you are unsure of something, people often don't realise. Just because you feel a bit unsure doesn't mean the whole class is staring and judging you, remember that you are giving them something they want, otherwise why are they sat there?
Presenting is not easy it is true, but with a bit of preparation, and the right mind set, you can make it not just less stressful, but actually enjoyable.