5 Sure Ways to Master Public Speaking and Delivering Presentations
A post from our Presentation Skills blog
Written by Ashley Andrews
We've all been in the room – or worse, been the one presenting – at a public speaking disaster. The kind that makes the audience cringe, fall asleep, or maybe even walk out of the room. And it's not fun. For anyone.
Experiences like these can make you fearful of public speaking and giving presentations. It can dent your confidence, which can make any weakness in your speaking skills even more pronounced next time you present.
So begins a seemingly unbreakable cycle of failure.
I've been there myself. (I won't say whether I was the one speaking!) It was a university prize ceremony. The speaker was accepting a fairly prestigious award for a research report, which he was supposed to present to the audience. This proves he was no dummy.
But he also hated public speaking, and so he...
Had tried to avoid the situation by writing only bare-bones notes, hoping to wing it on the day
Didn't rehearse the presentation, again due to aversion
Was shaky and nervous throughout the presentation, making the audience uncomfortable
Delivered a presentation that was jumbled, lacking quality and about 5 minutes too short
I'll never forget what the professor said at the end of that presentation.
He said: "Is that it?"
Is that it?!
This was supposed to be the speaker's moment of glory after weeks of hard work. Instead, he was left gutted. His post-ceremony drinks were commiseratory, not celebratory.
It should've been so different. And it can be for you because we've put together this excellent guide with 5 sure-fire ways to master public speaking and giving presentations.
We didn't invent any of these methods. They're techniques that great public speakers already swear by. They're proven to work, and anyone can learn from them.
So, however nervous or nauseous public speaking makes you feel now, stop worrying. Read our guide, follow the simple methods, and become a public speaking master. And if you've read our guide, and while implementing what you've learnt still feel nervous and apprehensive, look into some training where the professionals can help you in person.
Now, let's go!
1. Write your presentation in full. Don't improvise.
Some people have the gift of the gab. They aren't Googling public speaking guides, though. You may become a natural improviser when your confidence grows. But for now, why leave anything to chance?
Write down every word of your presentation as you intend to say it.
Now, even if your mind goes blank on stage, you can simply read from your script.
Do not skip this step!
2. Use proven methods to craft a great presentation.
You might want your presentation to be authentically you, but that doesn't mean you need to reinvent the wheel. You can use the same tried-and-tested techniques that great orators like Churchill relied on.
You just need to know what they are. Well, here they are.
Keep it REAL
As you write and rewrite your presentation, aim to make sure it has ALL these qualities:
Relevant – useful to your audience
Eloquent – the language is clear
Articulate – think through your arguments and make sure they make sense and are easy to follow
Learned – show your expertise
Spend time on the title
The title of your presentation is important, especially if the audience will see it in a programme beforehand. Make sure your title:
Stands out. Be creative and intriguing, and you will have the audience's attention from the very start.
Fits the content. If the audience feels like they aren't getting what the title promised, they'll lose interest.
Promises something useful. Think about what your audience needs, then write a title and presentation that delivers it. That's the essence of a good presentation right there.
Keep it simple
You might feel an urge to sound clever, or pack in everything you know, or to stand out by tackling a really difficult topic with your presentation.
But remember this:
Your audience are not all experts
People will only remember one or two stand-out points from your presentation. The rest is in one ear, out the other.
Overly-complex information will make most of your audience switch off
If you find any of this hard to accept, take 5 minutes to think about it. Remember times when YOU switched off during a presentation, and why. Then realise the above is all true...
And keep your presentation simple!
Here's a winner of a structure you can follow:
1. Tell the audience exactly what you are going to explain
2. Split the main content of your presentation into 3 sections. Each section should make one important point very clearly.
3. Make your conclusion, where you sum up and repeat your 3 main points.
Notice anything? You are only making 3 points – because that's about as many as your audience is going to remember. You're also repeating those 3 points, to help the audience remember.
But because your 3 points are really useful and easy to understand, your audience will love you for it!
3. Use more proven methods to make a big impact
Now you have the foundations of a good presentation. You're basically ready on the writing front. But what if you want to make a great presentation?
Oratory being as long a tradition as it is, there are simple, proven ways to do that too.
Open with a challenging question
Take the most surprising fact from your presentation and use it as an opening question. E.g. "How many sales do you think we lost to our main competitor last year?" Now your audience is expecting to be surprised, and you have their attention.
Use creative, engaging language
Want to come across as confident, stylish and full of personality? Use language that pushes your audience's buttons, like:
Alliteration, e.g. "Let's learn how to achieve super sales success!"
Repetition of key phrases, e.g. "What's our goal? Profit, profit, profit!"
Dramatic pauses, e.g. "And what was the root of the problem? You guessed it... bad service."
Contrasting imagery, e.g. "On the one hand, we need to be efficient. On the other, our customers expect personal attention."
Metaphors, e.g. "This sales dip is an iceberg we've been sailing towards for a long time."
Make the audience feel part of it
Use pronouns and verbs that make the audience feel like they're on this journey with you:
"In the next 3 minutes, we're going to learn why our company is failing and start succeeding again together."
"Let's talk about why particle physics is so fun."
"I believe we can do better next quarter. Who's with me?"
Include quotes and statistics
If you want the audience to believe in your expertise, quotes and stats show you know your stuff – while also supporting the points you're making.
"The success of your presentation will be judged not by the knowledge you send but by what the listener receives." – Lilly Walters
4. Rehearse and rewrite.
Now you have a strong script with flair and impact. But you're not quite ready yet.
You need to know, deep in your heart, that you can deliver this presentation... and more importantly, that you are satisfied with it.
The only way to achieve this is to rehearse. A rehearsal gives you all this:
It makes you familiar with your script, so it feels less new and scary during the actual presentation
It's an opportunity to test your presentation on a friend or colleague. This can build your confidence, or give you feedback you can use to improve it.
It helps you identify problems you can't detect when you're simply reading your script back off the page. You will notice which parts are too long, which parts are hard to follow, and which parts work well.
Best of all, if you're happy with your rehearsal, you'll be happier and more confident when you take to the stage!
5. Take to the stage like a pro
Speaking of which, crafting your presentation is one thing. But once you're in front of the audience, you need to deliver it will if you're going to hit a public speaking home run.
Once again, this is a solved problem. The great orators have already discovered and shared their secrets of a great delivery. You just need to know what they are.
Practice these during your rehearsal:
Walk confidently with your head up on to the stage
Keep your hands by your sides or in front of you – don't fidget or put hands in your pockets
Take a commanding stance – feet forward and shoulder-width apart, chin up
Take a pause before you start – it shows you are in control
Don't apologise if you stumble – everyone does it
Look at the audience like a friend – they want to get behind you
Speak at a steady pace, avoiding speed-ups that nerves can sometimes cause
Now you're ready.
That's it. You know it all. How to plan a great presentation. How to write and rehearse it. How the pros give their public speaking impact. And how to give yourself more confidence and presence once you take the stage.
All that's left to say is good luck with your next presentation. You're going to nail this!
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