Last month we looked at Effective Public Speaking in terms of Audience, Content and Preparation. This week we continue with Delivery and Interaction...
The knowledge that you have prepared well is a great boost in confidence when delivering your presentation. But a few practical things can help too:
- Do not drink much alcohol – with all activities, alcohol tends to hinder performance. Any expected reduction in nervousness is offset by this.
- Make sure that you have eaten something. Low blood sugar level will exaggerate any anxiousness.
- If possible, in advance, take a good look at the stand/stage that you will speak from. It helps later, if it is familiar to you.
- As for the physical responses to speaking to a large group, sip water immediately before and during your presentation. Have the confidence to pause for a sip at a convenient point, perhaps after a strong message. And don’t apologise for pausing.
As the moment approaches for you to be introduced, your heart rate will increase. Simply breathe deeply and steadily, smile and sip. If you are out of sight of the audience then stretch out and up to help relax, extend your fingers as you stretch. These physical actions aid relaxation. If you need to clear your throat then do so. Try not to keep doing it during your presentation as it will interrupt your rhythm.
Avoid fiddling with things. When they first see themselves on video, most people are very surprised by how much they scratch their chin, hold their ear, wave a pen around, or whatever. Most people have little habits and the increased tension brings this out in us. Some speakers put a hand in their pocket, others hold the lectern or a prop of some sort. These are just ways of avoiding exaggerated fiddling. Find something to occupy your hands that works for you – which may be waving them expressively!
In some situations a little interaction with your audience can be good. It can bring people to attention, generate more focus on what you say and perhaps reinforce your ideas/message. Bear in mind that people will not want to be “spotlighted” in any way. They will feel exposed and others will feel nervous for them. More of a group interaction can be more audience acceptable.
Consider too that you may need to create negative reinforcement to gain maximum participation to a group question. For example, if you ask an audience “who has felt uncomfortable asking for a pay rise?”, you will get fewer hands raised than if you do the following: ask everyone to raise an arm. Then ask them to “put down your arm if you have not ever felt uncomfortable asking your boss for a pay rise”. The whole room will be more a little more attentive at having interacted and you will get a better answer.
Doing something like this early on or even at the start can generate better focus on you and your subject matter. It can also be used to reinforce a particular point.
Tone of voice, volume and pace are key things that will be noticed at the outset. Try to speak clearly, at a good but comfortable (for you) volume and avoid speaking too quickly. Racing through the presentation sounds like what it is: a desire to get it over with!
Use intonation when speaking to emphasise the key things and to add interest. You mustn’t come across as though you are simply reading from a book. Monotone speakers quickly lose their audience. Listening to someone speaking in this way, even of things that interest us, can be surprisingly soporific. Just think what a ticking clock can do to you.
You may be constrained to using a fixed microphone and stage position. If not, use your physical freedom! It can make you appear more relaxed and accessible if you walk around a little. If you like to do this, do it at a reasonably slow pace so it’s not a distraction. If you are not restricted to a stage position and can walk around a room, I can be a good way to engage a little more with your audience. Try not to make it too difficult for people to see and crucially, hear you.
Audiences feel most uncomfortable when they sense nervousness and discomfort from the speaker. They often seem to have a remarkable compassion for a speaker. Put yourself at ease and the audience will relax too and be far more receptive to your message.
Next month sees our final article on Business Thinking, where we will focus on Expenses Management.