Speak in public? Most people shake in their boots at the very thought. Yet, as a writer, chances are you will find yourself in front of an audience sooner or later. The ability to speak confidently and comfortably to a group will help you communicate your knowledge in an engaging style, enhance your credibility, and build self-confidence.
Public speaking is a learnable skill. There are four simple guidelines for giving an effective talk, no matter what its purpose or the size of the audience.
You must prepare for any spoken encounter, even if you only have seconds to do so. In the case of a “prepared speech,” you are expected to think it through before you speak. The audience has a purpose for being there, and it is incumbent upon you to know the subject matter and be able to present it in an easy-to-follow manner.
There is an art to speaking to every single person in the audience. No matter how many people are in the room, your job is to make every one of them feel like the most important person there. You can do that by preparing your presentation as if it were a conversation with one other person.
Finally, visual aids can enrich your talk, or they can wreck it. If you are planning to use any, it’s important to be very familiar with them, whether they include equipment, charts, handouts, or a blackboard. Do not leave your visual aids to chance.
There is no acceptable reason for not practicing, but there are consequences when you don’t do it. For one thing, lack of practice shows. For another, it undermines your credibility as an expert. In addition, lack of practice reveals character flaws and sloppy work habits; it fails to meet the needs of your audience; and it casts doubt on how well you know your subject.
The first time you give a presentation in public should never be the first time. Go over the actual sequence again and again. Listen to yourself on a tape recorder. You may be shocked to hear how you sound to others. Pace your words so that you are not speaking too fast or too slowly. Breathe deeply, which will relax you and deepen the tonal quality of your voice. Use gestures and movements to add emphasis to the points you want people to remember.
If you can, videotape yourself or practice in front of people. Then, hard as this may be, ask for feedback.
The heart of the matter, of course, is what you say and how you say it. think of your talk as a package. Content is what is inside. It is your message, and it must be substantive and accurate. Delivery and appearance are the packaging. No one will bother with what you say if the way you say it or the way you look turns people off. Your posture makes an instant impression and influences your audience’s perceptions throughout your presentation.
Before you begin your presentation, take a few moments to center yourself. Every person’s centering technique is unique. If you don’t already have one, take time to discover this valuable resource in yourself. You’ll probably find many, many other times to use it besides public speaking. If you have done steps one and two, your presentation should be a piece of cake. The only element you can’t control is your audience, but you can manage it.
Of course, you hope your audience is interested and attentive; but if you are plagued with challengers or talkers, there are diplomatic though firm ways to handle them. When someone wants to tell you and everyone else everything he or she knows, treat that person with firmness, care, respect, and acceptance. Annoying as problem people can be, when you find yourself confronting one, don’t lose sight of that person’s feelings and your own need to deal with them in a constructive manner.
Process doesn’t mean how you perform, but rather how well you analyze your performance after the fact. Think of processing as the way you close the loop on your talk by helping you assess whether or not you met your own goals, revealing how you came across to others, and creating a roadmap for improvement.
After each presentation, it’s important for you to evaluate your performance so that you can learn from it. Processing has two steps: self-evaluation and feedback. If you do receive evaluation forms, don’t look at them until you have asked yourself these questions: What did I do today in my presentation that worked? … What did I do today in my presentation that did not work? … If I were to do the same presentation tomorrow, what would I change?
Successful presentations don’t just happen. They are not the result of luck or innate talent. Presentation skills are learned and earned by those who prepare, practice, present, and process effectively.