How to become a confident public speaker
Most people aren’t born public speakers, but everyone can become a good, even inspiring, speaker. Author James Schofield offers some down-to-earth tips
If you dislike talking in public you’re not alone; millions of people dislike standing in front of an audience. However, fear of public speaking might be damaging for a career. No matter how strong your technical skills and qualifications you are at a serious disadvantage in the job market because in business you are constantly called upon to make presentations. The ability to speak effectively in front of other people is something that anybody who has something to say needs to acquire.
The good news is that the necessary skills can be acquired. People aren’t born able to present, they learn how to do it and Presentation Skills in 7 Simple Steps shows everything you need to become a confident and successful presenter. So, what are the necessary steps?
Step 1 – preparation, preparation, preparation
The master of the cool, laid-back, seemingly spontaneous presentation was Steve Jobs (see https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vN4U5FqrOdQ, iPhone launch 2007). What many people don’t realize is that Jobs devoted a lot of time and energy to cultivating this approach. Each presentation was carefully prepared, rehearsed and practiced so that the end result gave the appearance of somebody chatting to a group of friends.
To achieve this you need to plan as much as possible in advance. Preparation is the foundation on which you build everything else.
Step 2 – structure and tools
What is your presentation goal? Do you want to inform, entertain or persuade? You need to think about this before you decide how to structure the presentation. If your goal is to inform, then a classical approach is probably best. You tell the audience what you’re going to say in the introduction, you repeat the message in the main body with examples and you use the conclusion to hammer home the key points again. However, if you want to persuade your listeners then a structure which anticipates their objections and deals with them might be more suitable.
It also pays to think carefully which tools to use. Microsoft’sPowerPoint is the most commonly used presentation software but if you want something radically different then have a look at Prezi (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x5gL2EEpqcw) and if you have a smaller group why not consider working with flipcharts and pin boards to give a more intimate, personal feel to your topic?
Step 3 – venue and equipment
It’s not always possible to ensure you have an ideal venue for your presentation, but if you know in advance its strengths and weaknesses than you can anticipate possible problems. The same goes for the equipment. Will you be able to use a multi-media projector, is it compatible with your computer, do you need speakers or internet access? All these aspects need to be checked out in advance.
Step 4 – making an impact
A presentation is different to an essay or a report. In writing we tend to adopt a neutral, objective tone, but when we present something we want to get our audience involved. You can do this with a wide range of techniques from inserting rhetorical questions to including personal anecdotes that grab people’s attention.
Your voice is also a very powerful tool. Clever use of stress, intonation and emphasis can make the driest of topics stimulating and absorbing to your listeners.
Step 5 – body language
The US choreographer Martha Graham once said ‘The body says what words cannot’ and this is a very important lesson for a presenter to learn. Humans have been trained over millennia to carefully read other people’s body language to detect if they are lying or not. If you are claiming something is important but you look bored you’ll have a hard time convincing anybody. Video yourself doing a practice run of your presentation and then analyse it critically, or – better still – get a friend to have a look at it and ask what they think.
Step 6 – nerves
Feeling nervous before presenting is a good thing. It is caused by an increase in adrenalin – the fight or flight hormone – which heightens all your senses and makes you look more alive and powerful. However too much adrenalin can become a problem and incapacitate you. The important thing is to recognize when it is getting out of hand and then take steps to deal with it. There are lots of possibilities, from doing breathing exercises to simply walking up and down the stairs a couple of times in order to use up some of the adrenalin in your system.
Step 7 – dealing with questions
Some presenters dread questions from the audience because they can be unpredictable. This is a pity because questions are very useful feedback which tells you what your audience have or have not understood from your presentation. See questions as an opportunity to engage with your audience and convince them of what you want to say.
Presentation techniques are not difficult to learn, but they are difficult to implement consistently. The best way to learn is through practice, so seek out every opportunity available to you to make presentations. Be prepared to get things wrong and realize every time you make a mistake you haven’t failed, you’re just one step closer to being the kind of self-confident and motivating presenter that you want to be.
James Schofield has worked for various multinational companies and governmental departments in Asia and Europe for more than twenty-five years. His new book, Presentation Skills in 7 Simple Steps, is published by Collins in the new 7 Simple Steps series.