It’s your turn soon. There’s no turning back now.
You’ve been putting it off and putting it off, but you can’t put it off any longer.
You’ve got good news to share. News that’s going to make everyone happy.
But you can’t bear the thought of standing on stage and delivering that news to 100 pairs of expectant eyes and ears.
You’ve never liked public speaking and, even with a positive message, your body is already shaking.
You keep picturing what it will be like: Standing there with a red, hot face; your legs and hands shaking; your voice trembling; as the audience rolls their eyes and wishes they were somewhere else.
You too wished you were somewhere else.
As Boring Barry, the payroll manager, takes the stage you start to sweat, knowing you’re up next.
As Boring Barry starts to talk you wonder what nickname the audience has for you.
And with that, Barry’s done. No questions (the audience clearly doesn’t want to prolong the agony).
You feel out of control. Things seem to be happening on autopilot without your consent. All the while the panicky feeling is getting stronger and stronger.
You hear your name called and find yourself standing in front of a bright light. All you can focus on is the rapid beat of your heart and your shallow breaths.
On the other side of town, Jack Swann confidently stands in front of 30 people.
His audience consists of business people who look decidedly nonplussed to be there.
Jack introduces himself, talks about his qualifications and turns to face his slides. He reads the points from the screen, glancing back around at the audience as he does it.
“This is piece of cake and we’ll be out of here in 10 minutes.” he thinks to himself.
Jack doesn’t notice the folded arms and bored expressions as he reads from his slides.
Ever experienced these situations? As the presenter? As the audience?
Here are the top 9 electrifying public speaking tips to turn even the most nervous speaker into an audience-engagement master.
1. Be close to your subject
There’s nothing worse than listening to someone talk when they don’t know what they’re talking about — and this happens in conference rooms across the globe everyday!
Every day, worldwide, competent business people make themselves look incompetent by projecting bullet points against the wall and reading them to an audience. An audience who’s irritated they have to listen to someone read lines of text they pre-read a second in advance.
As the audience listens to the presenter echo what they’ve already read for themselves, they think about what to eat for lunch or whether to catch up with friends for dinner.
And it doesn’t have to be like this. The problem is that the people delivering their presentations aren’t close enough to their subject that they can speak without prompts, hence the bullet points. And those bullet points have made the presenter redundant.
The most important thing you can do as a presenter is to get close to your subject. Understand your subject so well that you don’t need to write out your lines on your PowerPoint slides.
Once you know your subject well, there’s a simple process for remembering, and delivering, a confident speech:
- Decide on your desired outcome
- Plan the 3 main points you need to talk about to reach that desired outcome
- Practice delivery without prompts (you’ll be surprised how confident and natural you sound)
2. Forget the slides (at least for now)
The mistake that 99% of presenters make is creating their slides first.
Slides can be a useful addition to your overall presentation, and can help reinforce the messages you share. They shouldn’t, however, be the main event.
Slides should be an aid to the presenter.
When you build your slide deck as the first step in your preparation it doesn’t function as an aid, it functions as the center-piece of your delivery. The slides become the center-piece and you become the prop.
To avoid being the prop to your slides, design the slide deck as the last step. When you do this you retain control. You can design your deck to follow what you will say and to emphasize the important parts of your speech.
You can read more about the methodology behind this in my book, Master Public Speaking.
3. Focus on your outcome and everything else will fall into place
It’s a lot easier to be confident, to focus, and to remember what to say when you keep one thing in mind at all times:
What outcome do you need?
Focus on the outcome that you want. Focus on the action you want the audience to take and everything else will fall in to place.
4. Your visual communication has the highest impact potential
Long before you utter a word, your visual communication has already told a story.
Maybe you’re hovering around the podium in the final minutes before your speech.
Maybe you’re standing in front of the audience with your hands behind your back.
Maybe you’re looking at the ground as you shuffle to the stage.
Whatever you are doing with your body language, it is telling a story. And that split-second story could inform the audience to switch off before you even say “Good morning…”
It is important that you control your body before and during your presentation. By maintaining an open and relaxed body position you subconsciously tell the audience that you are confident and they should trust you.
Key points to remember: Keep your body open. No crossed arms. No hands clasped in front. No hands behind back.
5. Open your speech by pushing to the audience
The first 1 to 5 seconds of your presentation are the most nerve-wracking.
This is the time where you are trying to look confident (or just trying to keep it together), and where the audience is doing their most harsh judgement of you.
The problem with these first few seconds is that all of the focus is on you. This naturally makes you feel uncomfortable.
To be more confident and comfortable in those few seconds you can push to the audience — effectively taking the focus off yourself and placing it on the audience.
You do this by asking the audience a question.
Let’s imagine you are doing a presentation about a new computer system which everyone in the office must use. You know that everyone hates the current system because it is so slow and cumbersome to use. You could open your presentation with: “What makes you most frustrated with the current computer system?”
6. Turn the screen off
When you project your slides the audience is naturally going to be focused in that direction. Their engrossment level with the slides is in direct proportion to the amount of text displayed.
Whether you have a lot of text or not, if you’re using slides it is good to periodically refresh the audience. You do this by blanking the slides (on the remote or by pressing “B” on the keyboard) and moving to the center of the room to talk to the audience.
Periodic refreshes are useful for displaying your confidence, gaining more of the audience’s trust, and impressing your key message on the audience.
7. The audience doesn’t care about you
Shocking but true.
And this is the reason so many presentations fail.
Most presenters take to the stage thinking only about themselves: “I hope I don’t feel too nervous”, “I hope the audience don’t judge me.”, “I just want to get this over with.”
Thing is, the audience doesn’t care about you. The audience wants to know how you can help them. And you’re never going to be able to help them if you only think about yourself.
You will do a lot to improve your confidence, delivery, and audience engagement by focusing 100% on how you can help the audience.
If at any stage of your preparation or delivery you feel nervous or embarrassed, or find yourself thinking about how bad you feel, just stop! Refocus on how you can help the audience and the negative feelings will drift away.
8. Don’t highlight your mistakes
If you forget something or make a mistake the audience probably has no idea. So don’t make it obvious by saying sorry.
Don’t apologize. Just move on.
If you make a mistake, correct yourself quickly and move on.
If you forget something, move on and come back later when you remember.
9. Encourage questions, but answer quickly
Q&A is a scary proposition for most presenters.
You’ve just been through a scary 15 minute presentation and now you have to stand there and be grilled by the audience.
Actually, questions are a good thing. It shows the audience is interested in what you have said. So encourage them to ask questions.
Importantly, though: answer questions quickly and succinctly. By doing so you keep the audience’s attention, you’re less likely to get duplicate questions, and you maintain the trust you’ve built with the audience.
What do you think? Let’s chat in the comments below.