I need you to give a presentation on our reorganization plan to the rest of the group. This is your baby, so there’s no one more qualified than you to explain it.
Why are you hiding under the desk? Stop sobbing. It’s only 30 people. Sure the big boss will be there. But this is your chance to show everyone what you got.
And you’re afraid to show everyone you have a severe case of stage fright.
You need to relax. You can do this. Even if you’re a certified introvert. Let me tell you how I get through these presentations.
It’s not about you
I know why you’re nervous. You’re afraid of making a mistake in front of an audience. Don’t want to look like a fool. But no one is coming to see you. They don’t care what you look like. There is a problem, and they want to find out what your solution is.
You owe them something. Don’t spend any time worrying about how you can mess up. Focus on what they want to know – not your ego.
Talk to someone
It’s still hard to shake off that nervousness. You’re going to stand in front of a group armed with a podium, projector and laser pointer. You’re brushing up on all the formal speechifying tips. Speaking like this in front of so many people is new.
So throw all that out of your mind. Imagine what you would say if you sat at a table with someone. What would you say?
Explain this to the audience like you would to just one person. Be direct, clear and friendly. Imagine talking to someone you know. What would it take to explain this to your spouse or bowling buddy?
This is going a long way to making your presentation more relaxed and natural.
Watch your jargon
You have specific language to describe what you do. And you use it everyday with coworkers. Will your audience understand this language? If you’re speaking to anyone who comes from outside your professional circle, it’s a good bet you’re using words they’re not familiar with.
Also, remember that you’re giving this presentation because you know something that your audience doesn’t. So by definition they’re probably going to have trouble with some of the vocabulary.
The trick is to use language that someone outside your office will understand without talking down to them.
Don’t be afraid to use notes
President Obama arguably is one of the best speakers of our time. And he uses a teleprompter. There’s no shame in using notes.
That doesn’t mean it’s OK to read from a script. You need to have familiarity with the content. Use the notes to remind you of what you’re going to say.
I love 3 x 5 index cards. I write a point on each card, turning a stack into an outline. Then it’s real easy to re-organize the speech by switching the order of the cards. Adding new points or throwing out unneeded parts is easy with index cards. While I work on the presentation, I add notes to each card to help me through it.
The trick is to have just enough information on each card so I can absorb it with a glance. The glances come during the pauses found in every speech and presentation. I use the pauses to check my cards. It keeps me on track and in the flow of conversation.
Practice, practice, practice
Stand up and practice out loud. This isn’t just a memorization step. It’s a chance to listen to yourself. That’s why you should record your practice. Listen for awkward phrases and gaps in logic. Put yourself in the audience and look for weaknesses in your presentation. It becomes much easier to spot the areas needing improvement.
And time yourself. You have a time limit for your presentation. See how close you are to that time. Despite what I first said, you’re going to be a bit nervous. And that’s going to speed up your delivery. But your speech will be slowed by questions and objections. So your practice time can be close to what you actually deliver.
Friends don’t let friends use PowerPoint
I have lost too much time in my life to weak PowerPoint slides. Too many people use them to spell out the same words they’re speaking. Lord help me.
But sometimes you need some help. Guy Kawasaki has great advice on using PowerPoint. Basically, keep it down to 10 slides in 20 minutes. Anything more is bordering on information overload.
Images have impact
OK, here’s a chance to use PowerPoint effectively. Find powerful images to illustrate your point. It will help the audience remember what you say. They will associate your words to the image on the screen. That strengthens the memory they will have. Plus when they see similar images later, they will be reminded of what you say.
I am a member of Toastmasters – an international public speaking club. Each meeting allows members a chance to give speeches and get feedback. There is a structured program that helps me develop public speaking skills one speech at a time. The feedback is invaluable (I’m working on increasing my speaking volume) and the more experienced speakers are incredibly informative to watch.
This is the best opportunity you will have to develop the skills and confidence you will need to rock your presentations.
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