Phobia about Presentation? 5 tips to help you become a better conference speaker.
If you are one of the many people who struggle when preparing to make a speech or conference presentation, here are some solutions to help you cope, improve and thrive as a public speaker.
Very few people enjoy standing up in front of their peers at a business meeting, conference or seminar. Speaking in front of your work colleagues or clients can be nerve wracking, resulting in sweaty palms, dry throat, shaky voice, and even worse, losing your train of thought and staring blankly at your audience as you wait in vain for those words to come.
Some people handle the pressure better than others. But don't be fooled - very little of this comes naturally to any of us. The best public speakers are those who follow certain basic rules that enable them to deliver their presentation in a coherent and confident manner. In this article we share some of these tips with you. Try them out, you'll prepare better, deliver with a confidence you didn't think you had, and - who knows - maybe even get to the stage where you enjoy the experience (ok, maybe that last one's a step too far.)
In workshops I give to business clients, I begin by saying that very little of what I say to them will be completely new. Most of it is common sense. But, while you spend years in College studying to end up in the job you are in, very few University courses supply you with the skills or experience of how to stand up in front of a group of people and deliver a presentation to them. So here are 5 areas you should concentrate on, and if you want to follow up with any questions or comments, feel free to drop me an Email.
GOOD PREPARATION BREEDS CONFIDENCE
Most people complain that they haven't had sufficient time to prepare their Presentation. Sometimes your boss will arrive at your desk asking you to present at the following morning's planning meeting. So on those occasions it can be difficult to prepare anything, and panic ensues.
OK, so those scenarios are difficult to control, but what about the situations where you have some time to get ready? Often we can put some time into preparing a Presentation which we know we will use regularly. Maybe stats, facts and figures will need to be amended from time to time, but the general layout and content will remain the same.
In that case, allow plenty of time to get your Presentation right. Don't overload it with text. The idea of a Presentation aid like Powerpoint is to give your audience a visual reference of what your key points are. It's up to you to elaborate when you speak. So your slides should be a mix of text, photos, diagrams and any statistics you need to include. Where you need to, add charts, weblink and video, but as a general rule of thumb, if you have information overload in your slides, it will remain difficult to maintain the concentration of your audience, no matter how enthusiastic you are.
ANALYSE & REVIEW
Once you get the basic layout right, road test it on your own or with colleagues whose opinion you trust. Maybe get them to film you with their mobile phone and look back at this. But be warned, no-one likes the look of themselves, let alone hearing the sound of their voice on tape. But this is a necessary part of preparation, after all this is what people see when they look at you. Your perception of how you come across to your audience, and what the viewer actually sees can be very different, so I'm very much in favour of regularly recording your rehearsal to help you get it right.
You'll also get a good idea of what works. Some people like to introduce humour, and I really recommend you let your personality come through in your presentation style as it will help put you at ease and will enable you to establish a rapport with your audience. But some people just don't have this gift for being funny. So, if your work colleague who looks at your rehearsal thinks your attempts at humour are likely to fall flat, then it's likely they will - play it straight is the only way to go in this case. But if you are on top of your subject and deliver with confidence, then you are well on your way to a successful Presentation.
If the opportunity exists for the conference to be recorded, ask for a copy or web link to your presentation. Suggest Dropbox or WeTransfer or bring a memory stick and ask the technician to give you an encoded copy of your Presentation at the end of the conference, provided you have received the ok from the organisers. For the IT team at a conference, supplying you with a video file may not be straightforward, so don't leave it until the day of the event to put in your request for clips of your delivery. In terms of formats, ask for a .mov which is pretty universal, and the best codec for web use is .h264.
A really helpful tool can be the use of Cue Cards. These (A6 is a good size to fit in your hand) are where you write key words relevant to each slide in your Presentation. Don't overload these - 2 or 3 words only per slide is generally sufficient and these should be key reminders of specific content in your slides. The benefit of cue cards are as follows:
You have something in your hand which you know you can refer to if you need to, but actually the chances are you won't even need them when the time comes. They'll give you the confidence that they are there if you need a quick peek, and will help settle the nerves.
They'll help keep you facing your audience. You need to strike a balance between pointing out important information on your slides to your audience and engaging with them, making eye contact and striking a rapport. The cue cards will enable you to face your audience, work the room in the knowledge that - if you end up losing your train of thought - a quick look at the cue card will get you back on track.
The cue cards will also help those who suffer from 'flappy arm syndrome.' I'm all for letting your personality out when presenting, but waving your arms about can be a distraction. Unfortunately most of us are unaware of this until we look back at a recording of the Presentation. The cue cards will keep both hands in check. When you finish with a card, slide it to the back, and leave a blank slide at the end so that you know no other cards remain.
GET YOUR TIMING RIGHT
Usually you are allotted a specific time slot, and your delivery, along with the Question & Answer session you may include, will have to take place within this timeframe. It's very easy to lose track of time, and audience participation in a Q&A can really add to the time needed.
When you rehearse your Presentation you should time the duration of the entire delivery, allowing the time you think is required for the Q&A. On the day of the Presentation, check whether there's a clock that's visible from the rostrum at the venue. If not, place your phone (in Airplane mode, as the settings can interfere with the audiovisual equipment) in a convenient location where you can glance at it from time to time as you need to. Make sure the sleep function on the phone is deactivated in the phone's settings.
While we are on the subject of Q&A, some people leave this until the end, and you can shorten or lengthen it as time allows. Others like to break the Presentation up into sections, where a short Q&A is conducted at the end of each section. This is particularly useful where you are making a long Presentation and it might be a bit much to expect the audience to retain information from the beginning by the time you reach the end of your Presentation. Whichever suits you, ensure you set the ground rules with the audience at the beginning of your Presentation. By letting them know that you are inviting questions, you place the onus on them to engage more, and they also be prepared when you'll come to that part of the Presentation.
TAKE NO CHANCES
So, having worked tirelessly on getting your Presentation right, the last thing you want to do is to leave things to chance when it comes to the day of the conference itself.
As well as the hours spent preparing your Presentation, often it will fall to you to do most of the work on the day of the event itself, especially when it comes to in-house meetings. But even if you are speaking at a conference, it's worth checking everything before you start, so get in well ahead of time to rehearse.
It's very easy to get distracted at the start of a conference - lots of people milling around, catching up with colleagues you may not have met in a while, and as final technical checks are taking place, you assume that everything will go right, but sometimes - through no fault of your own - this may not be the case.
Technology has a habit of not working when you most need it to. The file you sent to the technical team may not open, a cable to the mic stand might be faulty, even the glass of water you need may not be at the podium.
So the best way around this is to agree with the venue organiser a time that suits for you to go through your Presentation - not the whole thing, just a scroll through each slide to make sure everything works and is in the right order.
You can then also see what the view from the podium is like, so that you've already seen what this vantage point is like before you take to the stage for your actual Presentation. You can do an audio check, also ensure that the confidence monitor containing your slides is working and near enough for you to see. Really you should have a personal checklist with you so that you know that vital elements of your presentation - cue cards, for example, haven't been left in the car or on the dressing table at home.
And even if the technical operators think you are overdoing it, stand your ground on this one. It's you and not anyone else who is in the line of fire. Once you are sure everything works, and you've done your own prep for the event, then you can be confident that your Presentation is as well prepared as possible. After that, let your personality loose, and revel in the occasion!
If you have any comments or queries relating to this article, then you can Email us. You can also enquire about scheduling a workshop for you or your team. We provide workshops for general improvements in Presentation techniques and can also help you prepare for specific events & tasks including conference presentations & media interviews.
Visit www.omedia.ie/media-training for more details.