As a professional speaker I get to see a variety of speakers. A very few are extraordinary. Some are truly horrible to sit through. Most could do a few simple things that would help get their message across. I learn from every one of them.
I attended a conference this week and was thinking about you and your presentations. Realizing that speaking tips are all over the internet I wanted to give you my take with a few tips you may not hear everywhere else.
Even with experience in front of audiences of over a thousand people it’s important to know that I get nervous every single time. I actually hope for a small disaster where no one gets hurt but the event has to be cancelled. Getting nervous gives you the juice to do well. It’s nice now though that my audiences can’t tell I’m nervous in a negative way.
Bite your tongue. One symptom of nervousness that isn’t frequently discussed is cotton mouth. Quick tip – bite your tongue (not enough for blood of course) and your body will naturally take care of you.
Breathe. Lack of breath control is a sure sign of nervousness. In preparation, practice pace and breathing to setup your points. Transitions especially need practice so you can handle it on autopilot, especially when the adrenaline is flowing.
Pause. Silence is golden. Up on stage though it feels like you must fill every moment of silence. Just not true. Use the pause for people to digest and catch up.
Move. A lectern is simply a tool to hold your papers rather than a shield in a sword battle. Move around. Just be sure to stand in place when you’re making your main points.
You need the microphone. The only reason to not use the mic is if there is no mic. If you ask the audience if you can get by without it they will stare at you. That does not mean yes. You need it. It doesn’t matter how uncomfortable it is to use, it’s about us not you. What we are really hearing when you don’t want to use the mic is you are not confident enough in your message and would rather not be heard. If that’s true just sit down and don’t waste our time.
Open and Close. Have an opening and also know your close cold. Be decisive about what you want us to get from the presentation. Control the ending. See Don’t end on a Q/A below.
Words on slides should be on the top. Often we can’t see the bottom of the screen. The few words that should ever be on your slides (we don’t need to talk about that right?) should be large and at the top so we can see them.
Don’t put slide numbers on your slides. With a lot of images you can have a large number of slides. That cynical audience member doesn’t need the ammunition that you’re on slide 89 when complaining to his buddies. Who cares what slide number it is? If you need a handout make a handout. That’s not what slides are.
Stories. Teach a lesson via story. Bullet points not so much.
Why are you telling me this? You have more than you can possibly cover in the time allotted, even if it doesn’t feel that way. Edit like a fiend. Always think about the audience and think about why they need to know what you are sharing.
Don’t end on a Q/A. You must control the room and the learning environment. If you end on a question, you’ve given up control to the question. Think about taking questions at each segment. Less press conference and more conversation.
“So…” When starting to make a point or answer a question, don’t start with “So,” this nasty habit has crept into our lexicon. Try to be different. Just make your point. Rather than starting with verbal filler just to make a noise, just make your point.
Great Question. Saying great question usually means, you’ve stumped me. Credibility lost. It’s okay to stall before answering a question. Silent thinking is allowed.
Prepare. I’ll end with preparation. You simply can’t wing it. If you’re interested I’d be happy to help you customize your preparation.
These are some useful rules. However, all rules are made to be broken. The key is to be conscious about what you’re doing.
To do this week: Which of these guidelines apply to you? Will you change any habits?
Break a leg.
Let me know how it’s goes. Click the “comments” box below to participate in an on-going discussion via LinkedIn.