What is more feared than spiders, heights or death? Public speaking. The thought of standing in front of a crowd and delivering your wisdom is enough to induce palpitations in even the most high-powered business person. Yet to operate successfully in the business world, we must control our racing heartbeat, wipe the sweat off our palms and deliver confident presentations.
Feeling nervous about presentations is natural. After all, you have to grab the audience’s attention immediately and hold it for several minutes, not an easy task when you’re dealing with time-pressed, multi-tasking business people. The good news is that you don’t need to be Barack Obama to deliver quality presentations. You just need to invest a little time thinking about what you want to say and how you want to say it.
Think about what you’d like the audience to know that they didn’t know before you began your presentation. Use that as the cornerstone for your presentation. Say you want to convince small-business owners that taking out insurance against loss of income is a good idea. In your first paragraph, set out your stall and explain that this is the aim of your presentation. Appeal to the audience’s interest by asking them relevant questions or telling them an anecdote. And don’t be afraid to make them laugh. It’ll lighten the mood for all of you and make your presentation memorable long afterwards.
In the main body of your speech you can then elaborate on the benefits of this insurance and the options available. To make things easier for yourself, aim to make one point for paragraph. If you’re an instinctive type of person, write down all your thoughts on the subject and choose the most important ones. If you prefer to plan, create a structure with the points you wish to cover in each paragraph.
When you’ve written out your presentation, pick key words in each paragraph, which will act as signposts to guide you through your presentation. If you’re doing a PowerPoint presentation, the keywords will form the basis of your sides. Otherwise, you can write the words on a flipchart.
Once you’ve written your presentation, it’s time to practise, practise, practise. Rehearsal is the key to eliminating those pesky nerves. Say it aloud to yourself. Add in your non-verbal signals. Think about the gestures which go well with what you’re saying. For example, if there are three products that you want to inform the audience about, you could hold up three fingers of your hand. Your speech is a whole package, voice, gestures and content. Rehearsing will help you deliver that package.
Think about how your voice will sound. Identify places where you can slow down, or add a little lightness to your tone. Also, find places where you can pause and collect yourself. You can pause at the end of each paragraph, but commas also offer an opportunity to take a mini-pause. If you pause, you’ll resist the temptation to race through your presentation. After all, you want people to absorb your message. Using these tricks will help you to deliver your presentation at the right pace, in a voice that’s calm and measured, but also full of variety.
A lot of people like to use visual aids as an anchor. They can certainly add an extra dimension to your presentation and add impact to your message. PowerPoint presentations tend to be the visual aid of choice. Apparently, Malcolm Gladwell, author of The Tipping Point, isn’t a fan of them; he feels that they’re stale. I agree with him. I’d rather just hear the message, pure and simple. If you’re a visual person, you might consider a more inventive option. For example, if you want to talk about the fine art of making jewellery, why not bring a few samples along.
On the day itself, don’t beat yourself up if you’re still nervous. A certain amount of nerves are necessary to give your presentation an edge. If you’re too complacent, your presentation will seem dull and unoriginal. To overcome that initial burst of nerves as you stand before your audience, follow this useful tip I picked up at a Bizcamp presentation last week. Plant your feet firmly on the ground and look around the room. This gives you and your audience time to collect yourself. Then take a deep breath and begin. Remember, everyone there will want you to succeed. Good luck.