“There are two types of speakers in the world: the nervous and the liars”
That is a famous quote from Mark Twain that describes most of us, but if you’re anything like me then you are probably the former and not the latter. Go to any search engine and lookup “Public Speaking worse than death?” and you will find many links to stats and quotes showing that people fear public speaking more than death. As you come across a stat like that, you must be wondering how in the world that could be? Is dying really easier than speaking in front of a crowd? Setting aside mental illness or depression, I would logically think that most people would rather experience public speaking than they would death. But then again, who am I?
I used to be afraid of public speaking, and to be honest I still am. The difference is, today I am better about just getting out there most of the time. The reason why I was afraid of it was because I wasn’t very good at it. From a career perspective I have learned that public speaking is going to come up at some point at least with a small audience in your office. If you are one of those people who plans to work their way up the corporate ladder or have a career in sales, it would likely be a good idea to practice the art of public speaking. Before I start offering any words of wisdom from my personal experiences, I want to be clear with you that I also prefer not to speak in public and I also do not consider myself an expert. However, I have done it many times in my career as it was required, and I have made progress in my ability to speak in front of others.
The most important thing to do prior to presenting a project or speaking in general is to be prepared. Make sure you know your topic. Create presentation materials that are in a logical order. Below I have tips I have learned over time from various articles, feedback and Toastmasters meetings I have attended.
While body language sounds logical enough, it is not easy advice to follow. Body language tells the audience a lot about you. You want to work on having a straight posture as this shows confidence. Generally you want your chest out, back straight, body loose and make eye contact. Keep your hands free and at your sides, but don’t plaster your hands there. By doing this, you avoid clutching your hands in front of you or behind you. You also avoid moving your hands around while you speak which can be really distracting to your audience.
It is important that you use your judgement based on the room you are in. If you are in a classroom setting, I have always been recommended to walk around the room making eye contact while you speak. This makes your audience feel more engaged with you. If you happen to be in a lecture hall or auditorium, certainly feel free to stand behind the podium as this is what the setting calls for. Use your judgement and work the room appropriately rather than defaulting to what is simply comfortable to you.
Most importantly, RELAX! I know relaxing is easier said than done, even for myself. I mean seriously, speaking doesn’t come naturally to an introvert like myself. But someone in my club once told us that most of the time people can’t tell you’re nervous. And after a speech, people go back to their desks and typically are not commenting about you, but rather commenting on the topic you discussed. Relaxing will certainly help with your body language.
When speaking to an audience big or small, you want to be heard. If you are shy and speak very low, chances are the people you are speaking to won’t understand you. You have to speak loud enough to be heard, but at the same time do not scream at your audience. You have to pretend you are having a conversation with all the people in the room. If you do this, then chances are you will successfully regulate your volume to the appropriate level for the room you are trying to work.
Language and articulation is key to credibility. I know many people are guilty of using improper language including myself. In the course of a normal day I will hear people in conversations using words like um and ah, which are filler words. These fillers come out typically when we are nervous and when giving a speech, this certainly happens a lot. Well, at least it happens a lot for me. It is important to use proper language when you speak and therefore I recommend that you pause in between sentences. Once you’ve given a point, pause. Once you have made a statement, pause. Pausing gives the room a lot more effect, than trying to fill the speech with ah’s and um’s. If you work on using proper language and avoid filler words, your talk will be much more credible. Language and articulation is especially hard today when many people are using smartphones for texting in short hand, but keep in mind that proper use of language and articulation will go a long way in helping your credibility when you speak.
Powerpoint Slides (Organization)
Powerpoint Slides are the most commonly used visuals in presentations at work. I like to think of Powerpoint slides as Executive Summaries. Most projects or analyses nowadays have multiple tasks, methodologies, etc. I typically take each topic and create sub-sections for each, kind of like chapters in a book. Then I offer highlights for each topic and mix it up with graphs, charts and bullet points. A good way to start each topic is to structure it in a bullet form at first and then create visuals that will help support the bullets. I often find this difficult, since I work in Excel Spreadsheets all the time, however this is possible when you have aggregated summary reports as well as animations.
If you are showing a summary Excel report, be creative. Bring in some bullet points to explain what each field in the aggregated summary means. Create some shapes and animations that will float in to highlight certain sections you want to point out. It is also helpful to add in some backup slides to explain some of the calculations that are being used to lead up to the summaries. The important thing is to know your audience, in order to decide whether or not to get into the weeds up front, or simply to put the details in the appendix at the end in case there are questions.
These tips will make your audience believe in what you are saying. This is also why it is important to be prepared and know your topic. If you generally know the flow of the content you will be presenting, then chances are it will naturally be easier to keep a positive body language and flow as you speak to your audience. Another thing that I didn’t mention in my tips above is to practice. Find different people willing to listen and practice in front of them. Get feedback, make improvements and try it again. Over time you will have no choice but to improve. And remember, presenting is likely more pleasant than experiencing death, so just try to relax and push yourself a little and you will be more comfortable in no time.
This is The Simple Asian signing off for now.