Not everyone is afraid of public speaking. In fact, if we go by the stats, an estimated 25 percent of Americans are not afraid to get up and talk in front of a group. That means one out of every four people would willingly stand up in front of a group and speak and have no qualms about it.
But of that 25 percent, how many fearless speakers do you suppose are actually good at it?
We absolutely applaud anyone who’s willing to stand up and share their ideas. There are so few people out there who see public speaking for the opportunity it is. But being comfortable enough to get out there and talk in front of a group is only half the battle. Just because you open your mouth doesn’t mean people have to listen.
Have Something Worth Saying
I once knew a man named Jim who ran a small publishing house. In addition to producing books and magazines geared toward people with special needs, he also did speaking engagements. It was an awesome opportunity for him, since he had a disability himself and could therefore serve as an example and an inspiration for others.
The problem was Jim was a terrible public speaker. Sure, he was confident and he knew his subject material backwards and forwards, but his presentations lacked excitement. And every presentation was exactly the same: He spent an hour or so talking about how he overcame obstacles in his life to start his business, which he constantly promoted throughout his talk. After a while, anyone who had ever sat in on one of Jim’s presentations could repeat every word—verbatim.
Not surprisingly, speaking invites started to drop off for Jim. After hearing the exact same presentation every year for three years, organizations sought other speakers who could bring something new to their audiences. His once lucrative speaking career was over in less than five years because he kept repeating the same presentation over and over again.
Your Presentation is Not About You
The reason organizations no longer invited Jim to come speak to their clients was simple: His presentations weren’t about them; they were about him. Sure, by telling people about the challenges he overcame to build a successful business he was serving as an inspiration, but he did nothing to actually inspire. What he was doing was spending a lot of time talking about how far he’d come, and then he’d follow that up with a pitch for the audience to buy his products.
If you want people to listen, you need to understand that your presentation is about them, not you. Talk to your audience. Have a conversation with them. Tell them about how you’ve struggled and triumphed, and then invite them to share their struggles and triumphs with you. Share stories about other people you’ve met who’ve overcome challenges. Find a way to make your presentation less about you and more about your audience. How does what you’re saying matter to them? That’s what makes it engaging. That’s what makes it worth listening to.
Public Speaking Skills 101
What probably sealed Jim’s fate as a has-been speaker was his regurgitated speech. Regardless of who was in the audience, his presentation was always the same. He never bothered to ask who, specifically, would be in the crowd, and so he delivered the same, generic presentation over and over.
Do you know what happens when you tell and retell the same stories month after month, year after year? They start sounding monotonous—even to people who’ve never heard them before. And when you start sounding monotonous, people begin to tune you out. It’s almost instinctive.
One of the first things we tell people in our Effective Presentations Skills workshops is to tailor every presentation to the audience they’ll be in front of. Can you recycle the same jokes and same quotes in your presentations? Absolutely. But if you’re asked every year to speak at an organization’s AGM, chances are pretty good you’ll see a few of the same faces this year as you’ve seen in years past. Some new material is in order.
Do a little research and find out who it is you’ll be addressing. A presentation you put together for the Board of Directors will look quite a bit different than the presentation you put together for the PTA.
And while we’re talking about preparing for a presentation, here are a few other tips to up your public speaking game:
Break the Ice: Whether it’s sharing an anecdote, a joke, a quote, or playing off pop-culture, find a way to warm up the crowd. Everyone walks into a presentation with the fear of being bored by the speaker. Show the audience right away that you’re different and they’re going to enjoy themselves.
Appreciate The Crowd: Like we said before, just because you’re talking doesn’t mean people have to listen. Say something that matters to your audience. Tell them a story that gets them invested in your presentation. A bad presentation isn’t bad because the topic is lousy. Even the driest subject can get a crowd excited if it’s presented well.
Sack The Notes. (And for goodness sake, don’t read your Powerpoint slides!) You can’t make eye contact with the audience if you’re reading your entire speech. Speaking notes are fine. Use an index card and point-form notes and practice delivering your presentation just from that.
Move — But Not All the Time: Speakers who are constantly pacing the stage looks nervous and erratic. Yes, move around, but do it naturally. Assign one spot (“home base”) as where you’ll stand most of the time, and assign other spots on the stage for hitting key points in your speech. Move to those spots only when you’re about to hit those key points. When you get there, stop. Then gradually make your way back to home base.
What other tips would you offer to people who need to improve their presentation skills? We’d love to get your feedback. And don’t forget we offer great tips and public speaking tricks on our social media channels. Connect with us on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn!