The next 15 minutes were going to be a horror show.
Lenny stood at the side of the stage waiting to be introduced. One hand filled with a stack of cue cards, the other hand covering a ginormous yawn.
He’d hadn’t slept the night before and was paying for it now. His hamburger lunch had only made the yawning worse.
He checked his watch. Almost 2pm.
Only 15 minutes until this nightmare was over.
Introductions were done. It was Lenny’s time now.
His hands were shaking. He stuffed one hand in his pocket and used the other to squeeze the cue cards tight.
He stepped behind the podium.
Lenny greeted the audience and noticed the shakiness in his voice and his rapidly beating heart.
Determined to get this over and done with he took a deep breath.
Guided by his cue cards Lenny started his presentation.
If Lenny’s situation sounds familiar you’re not alone.
Public speaking is tough for everyone.
The days leading up to a presentation, and the first few seconds on stage, can be especially difficult.
To calm your nerves and appear more confident, check out these 11 public speaking hacks:
1. Get up close and personal with your topic
The number one thing with the potential to derail a presentation is not what you would expect.
It’s not the slides, the equipment, or forgetting your lines…
It’s having an in-depth understanding of your topic.
Simple as that.
Imagine this situation:
You have been handed a presentation to deliver and you have to make it work. You don’t have much time so you get a basic understanding of the content and bang out some slides.
How do you think the presentation is going to go?
Exactly!… Save a miracle, your presentation will be a steaming pile of crap.
Because you don’t have much understanding of the topic. You don’t know it in-depth and your audience is almost certainly going to realize that!
If you have time for only one thing it should be this:
Get a deep understanding of your topic.
With a deep understanding of your topic you don’t need slides to guide you. You don’t need cue cards. You don’t need to memorize a script.
When you have a deep understanding of your topic you naturally become more confident on stage.
2. Create an outline
Structure is important.
It’s important for you and it’s important for your audience.
Without structure the audience will struggle to understand your delivery.
Even once you’ve got a deep understanding of your topic you might find that your thoughts are still a bit jumbled.
It’s time to add some structure. But not in a “scripty”, “memorizy” kind of way. More of a “keywordy” way.
Sit down with a blank sheet of paper and think about the outcome you want from the presentation. Once you know the outcome, the rest is easy.
Next, pick the top 3 points that the audience need to understand so you can drive them towards your outcome.
Memorize those 3 points as keywords.
Now all you need to do is talk about those 3 key points while keeping your outcome in mind.
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3. Practice more than you plan
Over-planning can kill your presentation.
It can kill your delivery because it can make you stiff and unnatural when you eventually stand in front of the audience.
More practice is better than more planning.
Create a basic outline of your presentation and spend the rest of the time practicing. The more you practice the closer you feel to the topic, the more natural your delivery will sound, and the more credible you will appear when you are on stage.
To improve your delivery even more, video-record your practice sessions and review after each delivery. Pick a couple of problem areas (just one or two) from each delivery and focus on improving those points.
4. One successful practice session doesn’t mean your practice is over
One successful practice session isn’t enough.
Your confidence and credibility come from being able to do your presentation without thinking and without uncomfortable pauses.
The fluidity of your delivery comes from practicing multiple times. Not just remembering what to say, but being able to say it smoothly.
If time permits, practice enough so that you are no longer worried about what’s coming next during your speech.
5. Ditch the fancy slides and think about “impact”
You’ve just spent $30 on a “business” PowerPoint template from some website?
Waste of cash!
There’s a couple of reasons you’ve just spent $30 on nothing:
– A nice PowerPoint template won’t improve your presentation
– You’re set to fit your speech into the template
A nice PowerPoint template won’t improve your presentation
The only thing that can improve your presentation is the way you deliver it.
If you can’t get that right there’s nothing the template can do for you.
Rather than wasting your time with a PowerPoint template, spend your time with hacks 1 through 4 above.
You’re set to fit your speech into the template
When someone uses a purchased PowerPoint template that’s usually a sign that not much preparation and practice has happened.
If no practice has happened and we’re at the stage of using a PowerPoint template, guess who’s going to be driving your presentation?
PowerPoint. Not you.
Guess what that means for the audience?
Ditch the fancy slides and think about “impact”
Forget the PowerPoint templates and think about impact.
Here’s how to think about impact:
- You are the presenter, and therefore the focus of the presentation
- The slides are your support, your sidekick
- The slides should not take the focus off you
- The slides should emphasize the points in your speech which you would like to highlight
6. Cut, cut, cut your slides
As part of designing and reviewing your slides think about this:
When you are an audience member what do you hate about the presenter’s slides?
Is it the stupid bullet points that the presenter just reads to you?
Is it the headlines on each slide stating the obvious like “Chart” or “Next Year’s Plan” which the presenter is capable of enunciating themselves?
Is it the final slide doing the work of the presenter with the words, “Thank for your time, do you have any questions?”
All of these things, and many more, are unnecessary.
Consider this: If you have enough information in the slides that your audience can understand your presentation without you, email is a more efficient option that corralling a load of hostages into an auditorium to listen to you read to them.
Think about all this excess in your slides and cut, cut, cut.
A sure-fire way to help you relax in the lead-up to, and during, your presentation is to think of your delivery as a discussion with the audience.
A discussion is two-way.
A presentation, often lecture, tends to be one-way.
When the communication is one-way, it puts a lot of pressure on the presenter, a.k.a. you.
You are under-pressure to remember everything, keep the audience interested, not make mistakes, operate the equipment seamlessly, and on and on.
Turn your presentation into a discussion by talking “with” your audience.
Interact with them.
Ask them questions.
You’ll find the audience is more engaged and you are under less pressure.
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8. One line, one question
Don’t try to memorize a script.
Instead use the practice hacks mentioned above.
You only need to memorize two points about your presentation:
– Your first line
– Your first question
After asking your first question you give yourself a second or two to relax as the audience responds and then you can move on with your practiced (un-word-for-word-memorized) speech.
Here is an example of the first line and first question of a speech. We’ll use the example of introducing a new computer system into the office…
“My first experience with CrappySystem Version 2 was four hours of downtime while I was stressing about getting my monthly reports finished. Have you had a bad experience with CrappySystem 2?”
If you want your audience to listen to you empathy is the key.
The audience will be more likely to pay attention and engage with you if you can show them you understand them, if you share their pain.
Take for example the “CrappySystem” introduction I showed you in Hack #8.
After asking about bad experiences the audience might share some stories with you.
This is your opportunity to empathize with their struggles.
Give them feedback and tell them you understand how frustrating their experience must have been. Ask them followup questions to show them you are concerned.
When you empathize the audience feels more of a connection with you. Empathy also makes it easier to introduce a new idea or concept the audience might otherwise be somewhat resistant to.
10. End on action
A key frustration audiences have with business presentations is not knowing why they have to be there.
Many presentations are “information-only” which means no action is required by the audience.
To avoid frustrating your audience, let them know if their action will be required upfront and signpost it throughout.
If you do need the audience to take some kind of action (fill out a survey, test a new system, start using a new process) make sure you state explicitly what the action is you want them to take.
11. Quick questions
You’re at the end of your speech.
You just have to take questions and you’ll be done.
You got through the speech and now you just have to react so you can relax a bit.
After a few minutes it seems the audience is getting frustrated with you and starting to ask more and more questions.
You probably relaxed into rambling.
It’s a common problem at the end of a speech when you go from a structured approach (your speech) to an unstructured one (taking questions).
Rambling answers can kill your entire presentation!
When it comes to questions it is important to keep your answers short and simple.
When you ramble an answer you give the audience time to pick holes in your presentation, and more time to formulate new questions.
If you can answer in a few words, do it!
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