In my career I’ve been honored (or not – depends on how you feel about public speaking) with opportunities to present on a variety of topics. And I find solace in a few helpful tips that effectively help me prepare for a two minute pitch or the marathon monologue. Perhaps a Houston business professional (or two) might find them useful as well?
But before diving in – there’s something that you should be reminded of first and foremost. It’s simply this…
Bravery, gumption and a reputation for having somewhat of a clue on the subject matter is why you won the gig in the first place. That’s a big deal. Someone picked you when they could’ve picked someone else. Congrats.
Which leads me to my first point…
1. Humbleness. You’re good. But not THAT good. Subject matter on just about anything evolves as fast as a ten minute segment of Homeland. Encourage the audience members to raise hands and participate throughout. Maybe they’ll have ideas to add that you hadn’t thought of – nor even knew about. They’re likely experts on the subject just like you and will respect you even more for respecting their intelligence as well.
2. Ask the audience for insights. They’re all there because they may have specific questions/topics to have addressed that may not be in your presentation plan. Ensuring your audience walks away with exactly what they want not only helps amplify your post-speech survey results (everyone loves a 5/5) – but it gives you more credibility as a subject matter expert. (Hint: If you can’t deviate subjects mid-presentation, park their questions somewhere you can refer to at the end. A large memo pad + easel works great.)
3. Warm up. Then play hard. Translation? Get to know your audience members. Let them get to know you. Try some (work-appropriate) humor on them. Starting an especially long presentation with a segment that’s irrelevant to your overall speech topic but relevant for your audience can be a great way to build momentum. And contrary to what you may have been taught…
4. …humor isn’t a bad thing. Some will argue that it hinders your credibility. But I’ve found that an appropriate amount of humor gets and keeps people interested in what you’re saying. Smart phones and devices compete for your audience’s attention – engaging listeners is 90% of the battle. Humor will also put the room at ease – demonstrating that you’re not some sort of dull, business robot. You’re real. You’re authentic. You’re not a know-it-all. You’re like them.
5. Find out who is in your audience beforehand so you can tailor your speech. If you can’t obtain a list of job titles, companies and/or industries represented – ask for the info yourself. Request a show of hands on some of these questions up front. This mini-survey can let you know how to customize your message on the fly.
6. Establish the right time for Q & A. It’s important that you establish how you want to approach the Q & A before you start. My preference is to address questions as they arise a during the presentation. Regardless, give them a heads up so they know in advance whether to jot a question down for the end or simply raise a hand at any time.
7. Be flexible to altering the path of your speech on the fly. Perhaps you have mostly B2B owners in the room and you had designed the presentation for a B2C audience? Or maybe a question turns into a conversation you hadn’t anticipated but your audience seems to be very passionate about it? Time to quickly evaluate the time you have remaining with this captive audience and how you can convey your key points and be responsive to their hot buttons.
8. Avoid writing specific talking points (and reading them) verbatim. While having some notes to refer to throughout the presentation is acceptable – reading a ‘book report’ verbatim is hard for an audience to connect with. They’ll be focused on the fact that you’re supposed to be an “expert”, but how can you be if you need to read it straight from a script? If you can’t speak fluidly about subject – you may want to reconsider presenting on it in the first place. (Not an option? Maybe throw in a little joke about your inability to memorize. Self-deprecation works to the advantage of many speakers who find themselves in awkward situations!)
9. Less info = more impact. When it comes to building a PowerPoint to support your presentation – think ‘less is more’ when it comes to each individual slide.
10. Did someone say PowerPoint? A few suggestions:
- Images should complement your main point…and I’ve found that Clip Art rarely does a presentation any justice. (Hint.)
- Avoid placing hard-to-read charts and graphs on the screen. If it’s that important…print it out and walk ’em through it.
- Doubble and tripple check speling and grammer. Errers can distract you’re audeince beyond repare. (Hang with me here. Those blips were for effect.)
- Know what comes next. Build a natural flow to your presentation – so it’s easy for you to anticipate what’s coming next and there are minimal, mini-surprises for you when you’ve got your groove.
- Avoid reading content from the slides verbatim. They got the reading thing down for themselves. Consider using single words/descriptors as bullet points for key ideas and then elaborate on in your speech.
- Time yourself giving the presentation in concert with your slides. Make sure you stay within your alloted time and always save from for Q&A.
- More slides with less content is typically more effective than less slides with more content on them.
- Always cite and source. Our high-school paper-writing days are over, but the rules we learned about integrity and honesty are timeless. It doesn’t take someone more than a Google search to find out you’re a phony.
11. Say ‘thank you’. At the beginning…and definitely at the end. Your audience members decided to come listen to your schpeel when they could’ve put out about 12 fires (each) at work.
12. Call in a life line. Ask an informed colleague to co-present. Two presenters can be more effective than one – depending on speech length and scope. Changing up voice and tone helps keep the audience engaged.
13. Consider hosting a webinar. If the idea of presenting in front of a live group makes your stomach churn – see if you can host a webinar instead. There may be a sense of comfort being able to host it from the safety of your office.
14. Google some ‘top 10’ lists related to your subject. Not only are ‘top 10’ lists a great way to get ideas for what to present about – these types of lists can assist in building an effective outline for your speech. (Don’t forget to cite!)
15. Find ways to give your speech again and again. You’ve worked hard on putting it together. May as well make that effort work hard for you. There are likely many organizations and audiences who could benefit from your expertise. Plus – the more times you give it – the easier it gets and the more fluid and natural it becomes.
When you’re standing in front of all those suits – you are certifiably, 100% the bravest person in the room. Everyone else gets to sit, drink coffee and eat (day-old carbs). Where is the valor in that?
You’ll do great. Best of luck.