A recent feature in The Guardian offered advice on the secrets of successful public speaking. Standing up and presenting to a large auditorium full of people who are all there to listen to what we have to say can be one of the most nerve-wracking experiences of our professional lives.
There is something particularly intimidating about facing a huge sea of faces but it can be just as important that we get it right when presenting to smaller audiences. You may need to present your strategy to your senior management team, pitch for new business with a client or give a talk to new graduate trainees as part of their induction programme but these are all situations where you have a short amount of time to create impact. So what can you do to speak with more credibility and conviction?
Confidence – Becoming a confident speaker can be easier said than done but remember that you are the expert and your audience have chosen to be there. They are normal people, just like you. If you suffer badly with nerves you can use breathing or relaxation techniques to prepare you for your big moment.
Know your audience – If you don’t already know your audience make sure you are in the room early to give you the opportunity to share a few words with some of them as they arrive. When you are preparing, try to think about your listeners’ expectations; consider what they need to know about the subject and how best to engage them.
Know your subject – Research your subject in as much depth as you can and make sure you have all your facts and examples at your fingertips. This will make you feel more confident and prepare you for unexpected questions.
Non-verbal communication – Being a good public speaker is not just about the words you use but also the non-verbal signals you convey. Pay attention to your posture, use of gestures and above all make eye contact with your audience
Slow down – While you may want to get it over as quickly as possible, take time to deliver your messages slowly and clearly and use pausing for emphasis, particularly after key points
Use humour – There is no better way of engaging your audience that making them smile. Particularly at the start of a presentation or speech, a funny story or anecdote can break the ice and win your listeners over. Do bear in mind humour doesn’t always translate so be conscious of the cultural make up of your audience.
Avoid ‘Death by PowerPoint’ – This doesn’t mean don’t use it but don’t let your slides become the main point of focus instead of you. A PowerPoint presentation should enhance and add value to your message rather than act as a crutch or script.
Be yourself – Above all communicate naturally as you would with people you know well and speak from your own experience. Speak from the heart and don’t use language that you wouldn’t normally use. Most people will engage with a speaker who seems human!
Public speaking courses can be a great way of developing and practising these techniques. A good starting point when preparing for public speaking is to consider your existing strengths so that you can build on them during your talk and to identify one or two things you will focus on doing better. And remember that being nervous is natural and many of your audience will have probably felt how you are feeling at some point in their lives.