We know the statistics – people today are more scared of public speaking than they are of death. It’s a fear that many of us know too well, taking the form of shaky knees and sweaty palms.
Lois Feldman has been helping clients manage the trauma of public speaking for over 20 years. The biggest struggle when delivering a presentation is finding a way to connect with your audience, she explains. Here are some of Lois’s tips to deliver a powerful presentation.
Recognize your strengths. If you have been selected to speak on a particular topic, chances are you know it well. Remind yourself of why this subject is so important to you. Your answers can help you create a captivating conversation. Make a list of the points you want to touch upon during your speech.
Find a hook. Why is the material meaningful for your audience? Will your presentation educate them on a topic they need to know more about? Will it be profitable for them? Whether you’re presenting to board members or a college classroom, finding that hook will grab their attention. Also know that you are delivering a message they probably couldn’t get anywhere else.
Deliver your message. The only thing more important than what you say is how you say it. Follow these practices:
Breathe: Get used to breathing in a mindful way because it will center you. Some people are so anxious they can’t remember what they said – that comes from not breathing enough. Breathing will help you relax, create natural pauses while you talk and engage your the audience.
Connect with people’s eyes. Make your own gaze soft and available and receive the reactions from people who are looking and listening to you in the same way. This sets up a connection with them. You will know what changes you need to make – speed up, slow down, move around, or ask a question – to suit their needs.*
Stay on track. Sometimes you start out strong but lose yourself – and your audience – along the way. Rather than remembering exact words of a speech, focus on your list of points and let your words be more spontaneous. Nervous for the Q&A portion? Remember, you’re helping people. When they ask you a question it’s a good thing – it means they were paying attention. Give yourself time to think about how you’ll answer by saying, “That’s an interesting question.” Once you start to realize why it’s an interesting question, begin to formulate an answer.
*Exercises created by Lee Glickstein, founder of Speaking Circles International.
Step Zero: Before you step onto the platform, while you are being introduced, stand in the front of the room and appreciate your audience. Be with them – remember, they want you to do well.
Step One: Your nonverbal opening. When the applause ends, honor the silence. Center yourself, breathe and take in the entire room.
Step Two: Your opening line. Resist the temptation to open with a nicety, such as, “It’s great to be here.” Instead, make your opening line short and make it something that transports them directly to a specific, time, place, and situation.
Step Three: The rest of your personal story. Don’t just recite it, but don’t force feelings on the audience by overdramatizing it. Tell the story clearly and with emotional content.
Step Four: Transition to the present. In three to five sentences, connect that story and what you learned from it to why you are here today to talk with them.
Step Five: Brief agenda. Outline the major points you will cover in your talk. Use three or four concise headline sentences.
Step Six: Your promise. In once sentence, make the most provocative promise you can comfortably guarantee. This is what you intend to deliver with your talk.
Step Seven: Collecting agreement. In silence, survey the audience to collect their agreement that they are in the right room and ready to take off with you. Gathering the agreement signals that you are moving on to the talk itself.
Adapted from “Be Heard Now” by Lee Glickstein, Broadway Books.