By Dawn Marie Fichera
When it comes to public speaking, most people become terrified and lose all confidence. Even the most successful business professional gulps at the idea of speaking in front of crowds. Public speaking doesn’t have to be a drag however. There are tricks of the trade to commanding an audience with poise, precision, and passion without sweating through your palms. If you are charged with facing the media, giving this year’s toast, or addressing your stakeholders, below are tried and true methods that will leave you bright and shiny after you are through. Relax, and be the twinkling star you are.
Develop your message points.What do you really want to convey? Have you had a Scooge-like year and need to relate that to your shareholders without coming off-like Ebenezer himself? Have you been one of the lucky few who saw an increase in business because of the tanking economy? Have you had an outstanding employee shine through this turbulent time and bring the company into new and greener pastures? Pinpoint three message points you want to get across to your audience. The trick is to keep these points short, simple, and concise, somewhere under 60 seconds. You can always elaborate more on each point later in your conversation.
Practice. Practice. Practice. No great speaker ever stepped in front of a crowd, an audience or a camera and just hail-mary-ied it. Find a willing participant to run your speech, presentation, or delivery by. The family pet, a mirror, a spouse, or trusted colleague. Ask for feedback. Is your speech too long? Irrelevant? Boring? Cold? Be willing to take the criticism and make changes. If you are in front of a mirror, tape-record or video-tape yourself and playback your recording. You will be able to pick out the duds and the winners once you review your tapes.
Start your speech, presentation or appearance off with an anecdote. Tell your audience a short story that they can relate to. Everyone wants to feel like the person they are listening to is human and can relate to them. Create a short anecdote that will engage your audience and lead into your message points.
Roadmap back to your message points. Feel like you are rambling? Take a breath and get back on track. It is perfectly fine to stop in the middle of a ramble and say, “you know, what I am really trying to say is, X, Y, and Z.” Then give your three message points succinctly, and under 60 seconds.
Check your audience for a pulse. From time to time it is easy to get wrapped up in the soothing sound of our own voice but make sure you stop every now and again to determine if the audience is still with you. Check in with them. Ask if what you are saying makes sense, is helpful, or is creating questions in their minds.
Listen and adapt but hold your ground. Be willing to address your listener’s concerns or questions and change your course of delivery for a split second. If you are asked a question you would rather avoid, deflect by saying something like, “That is an excellent question and deserves more attention than this moment can provide. I will be happy to get back you on that at a later time once I have carefully considered your concerns,” and then, get back to them with an answer or reply.
PowerPoint’s are visual helpers, not show stoppers. How many dreadful presentation have you sat through where you were chained to your chair and forced to watch your presenter’s PowerPoint’s? People have a horrible habit of hanging onto PowerPoint’s as their main attraction. You are the main focus, not the 25 slides crammed with information that cannot be processed by your audience. Keep slides short, preferably full of visuals not words, and, if you have to address a bunch of points, write a catch phrase that your audience can take with them and explain the concept thoroughly in-person. Your audience will thank you for it.
Look the part. When we were younger, we were all told to “dress for the job you want, not the job you have.” Well, in the same vein, think about what you are going to wear for your public appearance. Going in front of a camera? Stay away from patterns, floral, stripes, white or beige. These are not camera friendly. In front of a live crowd, you can wear these colours and patterns as long as you are not being video-taped. Wear makeup—powder for the shine, blush or you will look like a vampire, and wear your eye-make-up a little heavier than usual. Don’t get drastic and change your colours, just apply a little thicker than usual. Women, save your six-inch hoops and gold chins for the club, not the camera.
Gesture. Somewhere along the lines, some corporate dunce said “don’t move around when you are on camera or in front of a crowd or you will look funny.” This is the furthest thing from the truth. You need to move around and gesture, speak with your hands, or do what comes naturally or you will look cold, unapproachable, and inhuman. I am not suggesting waving your arms around wildly and jumping up in down on stage, but I am saying get your blood flowing. If you talk with your body, you will generate a feeling of consistency with your message points. Keep your movements natural but within reason- I prefer the “gesture box” from shoulder to shoulder, and from chin to waist as my guideline.
Have fun. Seriously. Smile while you are in front of your audience. If you are delivering a serious presentation or press conference with somber news, still try and curl your lips in a slight smile to add life to your features. You won’t look sinister or heartless, but you will look alive. If you are giving a holiday speech, curb the over-indulgence of libations until after you speak. You don’t want to slur your words and leave a lifetime of memorable faux pas’. At the end of the day, no one remembers if you mispronounced a word, or knows if juggled your message points, or even skipped a section.
Don’t let the fear of crowds or presentation creep up in to your psyche. Go out there and take the audience by storm. Engage them. Entertain them. Educate them. Do all these with a deliberate style, bearing in mind people’s threshold for information exposure. You have something worthwhile to share with your audience, make them believe it.