Have you ever attended a conference or lecture where the keynote speaker spoke eloquently and with defined authority, yet didn’t refer to a presentation or any notes? Those individuals are mesmerizing to watch. Steve Jobs had the ability to speak in a manner that caught his audience in rapt attention. Martin Luther King, Jr., moved the hearts and minds of millions with not only his words but his vocal tone, body language and timing.
When faced with such a presentation, many of us not highly skilled in public speaking have an internal dialogue that says, “He/She has a gift for public speaking,” “I want to be able to speak in public like that” and “It’s just effortless for him/her.”
Here’s the thing—it’s not effortless. All effective speakers become rock stars because they prepare and they practice. A good presenter takes the time to prepare. This takes research and consideration of the audience. Effective speakers carefully craft their presentations in order to be understood and informative. It takes precision and time.
For those of us in the communications field, many still have apprehension when we are required to speak in front of a group, no matter the size of the audience. And I raise my hand as one of them.
I am by no means an expert on public speaking or presentation skills. Quite the contrary. I am a public relations professional who is an ambivert (more introvert than extrovert) with a strong aversion to speaking in public. Notice I said strong aversion, not fear. A few years ago, I would have said fear, but, thankfully, I have moved past that.
Sharing the same tips that helped me move past my fear will hopefully provide you with insights into my journey to become not a master, but a very much improved speaker.
Here are three habits you can develop that will help you conquer your fears to become a solid speaker:
1. Make sure the content of your speech or presentation is exciting and interactive.
The old adage of “It’s not what you say, it’s how you say it” does not apply in speeches and presentations. Just as it is important to speak with confidence and fluency, it’s even more important that what you are saying resonates with the audience.
This is where research comes in. A great speaker gains insight into the audience to which they are presenting and identifies the information the audience is looking to learn from their speech. Then they apply that knowledge to their presentation.
During the presentation, it is also important to interact with the audience to keep them engaged. Ask questions, get feedback and get your audience involved with the presentation as much as you can. If the audience feels that they are part of the dialogue, they get more out of it and so will you.
Make sure you have a clean presentation. Do not use too much text in your slides. You want the audience to be watching you, not reading the screen. Good presenters memorize their notes and they know exactly what is on each slide without looking (more on this below.) Make your presentation visually appealing by using graphics and video more often than slides with only text.
2. Write a script for yourself.
When it comes to presentation prep, I tend to prepare backward. That means I write my script and then decide what content and visuals to put in the deck. This is my process and may or may not work for you. Either way, you have to find a way to prepare your remarks in a manner that is going to allow you to speak to the audience instead of relying too much on written notes or the content of the presentation itself.
The goal is for you to be able to speak fluently and let the presentation deck reinforce your words, not the other way around. This is referred to as content mastery and it’s the difference between a good presenter and a great one.
3. Rehearse, rehearse, rehearse. Then rehearse some more.
Thanks to numerous experiences, I’ve learned that there is no such thing as over-preparing for a speech or presentation. An executive coach once told me that when he began training, he would run through his presentations no less than 100 times. That doesn’t mean that you need to do that every time. However, you need to practice your presentation enough times that you know the subject matter so well that you can focus on the audience—and engage with them—and not worry about what slide is coming up next.
Rehearse, in this case, means more than reviewing your script/notes and deck multiple times. You need to deliver your presentation out loud. Get your phone out and use the timer so you can gauge if you are within your time parameters. Use the voice memo to hear your vocal tone and ensure your articulation and speech is clean. While it might put you outside your comfort zone, taking the time to video yourself will allow you to review your movements. This may seem like a fool’s errand because when practicing in the privacy of our home or office, those unbearable nervous habits won’t materialize like they will when we deliver the presentation in front of the intended audience. But awareness is the key here. If your presentation is video recorded, you may want to watch it back to see what is revealed.
Ultimately, the key to becoming a great presenter is to just simply do it. Practice makes perfect. The more opportunities you have to present, the better you’re going to get. If your job doesn’t provide you opportunities to present that often, consider reaching out to local colleges and universities to present to students. Each time you present you will learn something new that sharpens your skills and gain more confidence that will lead you to become not just a good speaker but a great one.