The opportunity to speak at a conference or other gathering can be a way to achieve great exposure for your business. But for most people the idea is rather intimidating.
Presentations cause a degree of fear in most people. For some peculiar reason, when faced with speaking for twenty minutes to even a relatively small group, most of us feel tense. There is probably a physiological reason for this as the symptoms are similar for most of us; dry throat, increased heart rate, slight feeling of anxiety. But as will all symptoms, it’s possible to deal with them effectively and deliver a well-prepared speech or presentation without too much trauma. Some people seem to genuinely not experience these effects but most do. And that doesn’t mean that you’re a poor speaker. It can simply mean that you care about your presentation being well received.
It’s important to recognise how speaking to a group differs from chatting with a few friends or colleagues. Likewise, it’s important to consider the type of audience and how they will respond to a given style and content. Regardless of your political sympathies it was rather amusing to see Tony Blair, a fine public speaker, struggle with the audience at the Women’s Institute Conference a number of years ago. In a small, informal group of people you know, or one-to-one, you receive feedback as you speak. You engage with people and a rhythm quickly develops. This is not the case when presenting to either a larger group or to those that are not known to you. Some speakers will try to gain some sort of engagement with individuals in a presentation through eye-contact or perhaps asking questions. But it depends on the group size and format and it is perhaps as much for the benefit of the presenter as the audience.
Without that feedback from your audience, it feels strange. It can upset your sense of timing of speech and is more difficult to establish the rhythm that makes it feel “right”. This is where confidence and preparation make all the difference. If you know you are speaking at the right pace and volume, have prepared well and believe you are worth listening to then you will quickly overcome any sense of discomfort.
Obviously the content will be driven by the chosen title, the event and the audience. Whatever it is, don’t try to get too many messages in the presentation. Try to consider the lingering sense that you want to leave the audience with. And remember that when you are evaluating whether or not to include a comment/statistic or a joke. Does it support that principal message.
Jokes. Be very careful here. A “light-hearted” remark that is misinterpreted or flatly received can destroy an otherwise good presentation. The larger the audience, the less likely it is to be able to find something that’s amusing to everyone. Most people who believe that they are funny in social groups, assume they will be similarly received in a presentation. This is rarely the case and jokes or other comment designed to create levity must be thoroughly thought through.
Decide on the one feeling or idea that you want your audience to be left with. It might be “what a lovely couple they make” at a wedding, “our company delivers great service” at a sales pitch or perhaps “this is a fun place to work” at a recruitment drive. Whatever it is, use that as the template for what is included and what is not.
Within that, there will be other supporting messages. Decide on a few, not too many, as they will be lost. Imagine you have to explain something to a small child. You have to keep the message simple and clear otherwise it won’t sink in.
This probably is the area that will have the greatest effect on how well you are received. Prepare well and it will not go badly.
Make sure that having written and revised your material, that you take the time to practise delivery too. Stand in front of a mirror and deliver the whole thing – three times. Deliver the whole thing to a friend or trusted colleague, to your husband/wife/daughter/son/dog. Deliver it again and again.
Come back next month for the second part, where we look more into the delivery of your speech and interaction with your audience.