Public speaking is a scary thing for a lot of people. However, let’s face it, it is something we all have to do and the ability to present is expected from most employers.
Treat public speaking like a conversation
The issue for many people is that when they have to speak to a room full of people they go into ‘public speaking mode’ where everything comes across as rehearsed, awkward and unengaging. When in ‘public speaking mode’ you feel the whole pressure of the room is on you and that everyone is sitting there waiting for you to mess up. The secret to a confident presentation is treating it like a conversation between you and your audience. In a conversation you wouldn’t speak for 15 minutes straight before allowing someone to ask a question so why do it in a presentation. By actively engaging with the audience throughout the presentation it soon becomes a conversation. You will come across as natural and confident as you share the spotlight with your audience.
Don’t read your notes
There is nothing that tells the audience ‘I have no idea what I am talking about’ more than holding a piece of A4 paper in front of you and reading to your audience word for word. If you want to take your presentation to the next level, you will have to put that piece of paper down. A full page of notes act as a barrier between you and your audience and prevents you from engaging them – if you need a reminder of what to say next, stick to brief prompts only.
Make eye contact
Rather than scanning the room or staring at the back wall while presenting make eye contact with different members of the audience. Take the time to engage them by making direct eye contact when you want to emphasise a point or stimulate thought. This allows you to establish a better connection with the audience and prevents them from switching off.
Don’t highlight your errors
You made a mistake? So what. Your audience probably didn’t even notice. Remember your audience has never seen your presentation before so how would they know that you forgot a point back on slide 5. The same goes for if you are nervous or fatigued. Why would you start your presentation with an excuse or negative? Maintain a positive attitude throughout the presentation.
Pictures not words
Have you ever seen a presentation where the presenter puts a slide up with a dense paragraph, but then just doesn’t refer to it and carries on talking? Text should be used to a minimum and pictures to a maximum. Some of the best presentations I have seen have only used pictures and no text! This is because the audience doesn’t have to make the decision to listen to the presenter or read the slide. The audience can give the presenter their whole attention and this improves engagement and the memorability of the presentation.
When you are nervous adrenaline kicks in and it is not only your heart rate that beats faster but you also tend to talk faster… a lot faster than you think you are talking. Therefore, you have to make a conscious effort to speak more slowly. Not too slowly, but rather effectively using pauses to emphasise the key take away points in your presentation. Doing this effectively can take your presentation from a rambling mess to a masterclass in public speaking.
So now you have some top tips on how to improve your public speaking skills, practise, practise, practise! There is one way to get better at something and that is by doing it as much as you can, so whenever you get the chance to speak in public take it! Take the time to film yourself, the more you are aware of your weaknesses the better equipped you are to tackle them.
Joe Danter, Researcher at Futureboard.