Does your stomach do flips when you hear the word “presentation”? Does your throat get drier than the Sahara desert when you have to speak to more than one person? Do you sweat profusely when you have to “network”? Do your legs wobble if you have to resolve perceived conflicts and unequivocally state your opinion?
Well, you are not alone, according to The Book of Lists. Public speaking outranked death and disease as the number one fear for the majority of people. Basically, some people would rather encounter death face-on, or welcome a crippling disease, than have to speak in front of a group of people.
We all have fears, but speaking with confidence to anyone shouldn’t be a choice between life and death.
I recently attended a workshop on how to speak with confidence and I would like share some of the useful tips I learned from it.
On presentation and public speaking:
1. Know your audience:
- What are the needs of your audience? Is it information gathering or decision making? The audience needs to feel respected, listened to, valued, and needs to have a chance to voice their views.
- What is the background of your audience? Are they experts in your field? Are they students who are eager to learn? Or are they lay persons who are external to your field of expertise? You should know this prior to the presentation so you can adjust your presentation to match.
- What is the preferred communication style? Do they prefer a back-and-forth interactive style? Or do they prefer a more lecture-type style? Your audience should be able to give you clues early on during your presentation, and you may need to tailor your presentation accordingly.
2. Determine your purpose: There are some questions you need to ask yourself about why you are doing a presentation for you to feel confident about it.
- What would you like to gain from it? Further knowledge or answers to some questions? Satisfaction from sharing knowledge? Impress your peers?
- What is your key message? Have one or two take-home messages.
- What is the nature of my message? Simple/complex? Emotive/neutral? Success or failure? How do you want your audience to feel at the end of your presentation?
3. Organize your presentation: There are two styles of story-telling. The style you select is dependent on your audience and the type of presentation you are giving.
- Deductive: Think of an upside down triangle, you first present the overall message then you present supporting evidences to follow it. The audience is presented with the overall message, and you try to convince them with further information.
- Inductive: Think of a triangle with the tip at the top, you present evidence and clues to lead to the final message. You entice the audience to follow your story until you present them with the overall message.
4. Delivery the presentation: During the presentation, random things can happen and throw you off course. You need to have a set of tools to get yourself back on track or answer unexpected questions from your audience.
- Appropriate interpersonal skills to handle emotional issues: when the audience’s emotions are heightened, you need to tread carefully. Tactics to use include finding points to agree with the audience’s statements, ignore distracting sidetracks, remember silence can be golden, maintain focus on the current issue and be aware of trigger words or phrases. Also, deal with one issue at a time and review periodically to stay on course.
5. Responding to your audience: It’s inevitable that someone will ask you a question, and it’s not always a bad thing, it shows that you have engaged your audience sufficiently and that they would like to know more.
- Remember your response does not have to address the question completely. It’s perfectly fine to state that and let the audience know that your answer is not the final and complete response.
- Pick one point from your planned answer and elaborate on that point, then list the other points and let your audience know that you are available for further discussion if required.
- If you do not know the answer, then don’t make up one. Let the audience know that you will need some more time to think about it and will get back to them.
- Answer the question concisely and keep it brief, no one wants an essay on the spot.
6. When you are speaking on the spot: This is the uncomfortable spot most of us have found ourselves in one time or another. Here are some tips to deal with it:
- Give yourself time to think: Repeat the question back to the person, it gives you some time to come up with a response, it also helps to clarify the question being asked. Furthermore, when you need more time, you could use these safety phrases:
- I am glad you asked that.
- That’s a great point.
- I see what you are saying.
- I also wonder about that myself.
- Let’s see if we can work together to come up with an answer.
- Let me make sure that I understood your question.
- Please tell me more about…
- Finally, always return the question to the person by asking “what do you think?” It demonstrates that you value their opinion, and it also allows them to voice their interpretation of your answer and provide you with an opportunity to clear up misunderstandings.
I hope these tips have offered you some reassurance that public speaking is not worse than a rendezvous with the Grim Reaper. It can be done, and it will get easier. I will cover networking in my next blog.