by Susan Shelby
For most people, speaking in front of a crowd — big or small — is uncomfortable at best and downright panic-inducing at worst. Whether it’s an interview in a prospective client’s conference room or a keynote presentation at a major industry trade show, speaking in public does not have to be a cause for anxiety or concern. No matter how much you practice, there is always a chance you will stumble over a word or lose your train of thought. It happens. You’re human. If you stumble, own it (with humor, if the moment is right) and move on.
If you are looking for helpful ways to lessen your anxiety and hone your public speaking skills, follow these seven tips:
Know your material. Be an expert on the subject matter you are presenting. Avoid reading directly from your notes. Follow an outline or presentation slides instead of writing out what you are planning to say word-for-word. You will sound more natural and look more confident if you can speak directly to your audience in a conversational tone.
Practice, practice, practice. You will never be a confident public speaker without practice, and even the most seasoned presenters practice before speaking. Practice in front of a mirror. Practice in front of friends, family, or trusted colleagues. When you think you’ve practiced enough, practice the presentation one more time. The more you practice, the more confident you will feel presenting the material. And the more speaking engagements you do, the more confident you will feel presenting in front of a crowd.
Be personable. It is important to grab your audience’s attention in the first 30 seconds with an engaging, humorous, or timely opening. A personal anecdote or story goes a long way in drawing the audience into your presentation. A surprising statistic can also help validate your story and give your audience a personal connection to it.
Try not to use filler words. There is nothing worse than listening to a presentation by someone who says, “Umm,” “Uh,” and “Like” every other word. While it’s understandable that filler words slip into everyday conversation, hearing them during a speech or presentation can make you sound unprepared. The more aware you are of when you use them, the more likely you’ll be able to stop yourself from interjecting them into the presentation.
Use visuals wisely. If your speaking engagement is accompanied by a visual presentation, keep it simple. Stick to the highlights and use bullet points instead of full sentences. You don’t want your audience reading your slides instead of listening to what you are saying. The same goes for sloppy graphics. If you are using graphics, make sure they are easy to understand and support the point you are trying to make. Use a font that is large enough to be read easily by the audience.
Reinforce your points and end strong. Just as important as having an engaging beginning to your presentation, it is important to have a dynamic end to it as well. You’ve invested a lot of time preparing the message you want to convey. End the engagement with a relevant quote or bring the audience back to the story you referenced in the opening. It makes them feel invested in what you have to say.
Say “Thank you.” Don’t forget to thank your audience for their time and ask them if they have any questions. End early if possible and never run late. Your audience’s time is valuable. Let them know you appreciate the fact they spent it listening to you.
Whether you are giving a presentation to a conference room of potential clients or speaking to an expo hall full of trade show attendees, it is important to have sharp public speaking skills. Public speaking is an art, and possessing the ability to stand in front of an audience and effectively convey your message with confidence will make you stand out among your peers.
Susan Shelby, FSMPS, CPSM, is president & CEO of Rhino PR.