When it comes to speaking in public, for many, it induces panic and sweat. Those are never fun things to have while standing in front of a group of people, so whether you’re a student looking to give a presentation, a new employee presenting a report for your boss, or merely ordering at a restaurant, follow these three concepts and you’ll crush it. And then crush it again.
Okay, so obviously having confidence in yourself is crucial to a great presentation. But, what’s vitally important that many miss out on is confidence in the material you’re presenting. Say you’re talking about some set of data that (a) you may think is bullshit or (b) you don’t really know. If you don’t at least take the time to study or to at least feign interest in your topic, it really shows, and it really translates to a bad time.
Know your material front and back without the usage of note cards or slides, and if you don’t like it, follow the old adage, “fake it ’til ya make it.” When you present yourself as an expert, even though by all definitions you may not be, people really play off of that confidence and respond accordingly.
What about if you don’t feel very confident yourself? Like, “Ahh, I’m a big ol’ dummy,” or, “I am awful at this.” Already, you are putting yourself in a negative mind set, so you want to change this at the start. Begin by saying something to yourself like, “I know this material, and I’m gonna rock this presentation.” Even if you don’t truly believe it, by saying it out loud, it will help shift your negative losing mindset to a more positive one. If you go into it with a losing attitude, you’re gonna lose.
The best speeches are memorable not necessarily on the content, but by how the deliverer, well, delivered it. There are two ways to make yourself sound like a confident and expert speaker that many folk overlook.
First, it’s okay to take a pause. Having natural silence in a conversation is not as scary as you may think it is, nor is it as long and awkward. Moreover, it may even add dramatic effect to a point you’re delivering, or leave people a moment to ponder. The go to solution to avoid this pause is to insert linguistic noises like “ummmm,” and when you begin instead to fill these pauses with, “uhh, umm, well, see, uhh,” you lose crediblity and crowd interest with every single utterance. You sound less confident, organized, prepared, and ecstatic about whatever you’re presenting.
Secondly, slow down. Speak slower than you “think” sounds natural, it will translate very well to a crowd of people, especially when that crowd begins to climb into the double and triple digits. When you slow down, it gives you more time to process your thoughts, allows for more natural pauses, and forces you to enunciate your words to more clearly ar-ti-cu-late what is going on.
The best way to practice? Record yourself. And I mean both audio AND video. You will probably cringe if you’ve never done this, as people generally don’t like the sound of their own voice. But, fight through that! Because by recording yourself giving a practice talk, you can immediately begin to pinpoint what’s going wrong or right and will naturally adjust accordingly. What’s especially important here besides vocal delivery is physical delivery: do you move around too much, use your hands too much, tap nervously, etc. These are behaviors that distract from your material, but don’t beat yourself up too much. Take some time to practice and recognize you won’t become an instantly great speaker overnight by recording, but begin to tease apart your behaviors and make adjustments accordingly.
This isn’t to be mean to yourself, it’s to look at yourself and identify both positive and negative traits in your speech. Go in judgment free, or have a close friend help out, and you’ll see your skills improve wonderfully.
Okay, the last part of giving a good speech is to remember who you’re talking to. Tailor your word choices, prose, and presentation materials to your audience. Are you speaking to a ton of Ivory Tower folk, or to a general audience , or to your boss, your friends, family, etc.? Depending on who is out there, give your talk TO them, not just in front of them. Speak to your audience, play off their reactions and understand them as well.
For example, if you happen to crack and awkward joke and no one laughs, move on. And, don’t try to say it again later, you may get a pity laugh, but you know that they probably don’t dig that particular sense of humor.
If your audience is really enjoying your talk, you’ll know it, and if they aren’t, you’ll also know it, too. In the moment, it can be hard to know why they may or may not like it, but try your best to take that pause and get sorted to move the train back on the track (well, if it got derailed).
What’s the best way to ascertain this knowledge? Practice. Practice giving talks to many different groups of folks and adjust your content accordingly. Over time, you’ll figure out what works for who and apply it in an apropos fashion. There is no blanket answer for any particular audience, as each one will be different, but this is a skill that comes with practice and patience, and once you master it, you’ll be wowing audiences for years to come.
Tl;dr – I gave a speech about speeches this year and was recorded, so take a listen if you’re interested.
Until next time,