This post is quite different from what I usually post but I thought it could be of interest. Public speaking is very scary for most people, including me. If I can get out of a presentation, I’ll do it in a heartbeat. It doesn’t matter if I’m the expert in that area, create the presentation, and train someone else to present it; I would pay to get out of it if I could. Unfortunately, this is not how it works, which is actually good. Doing something scary is always good. You learn and at the end you realize that it wasn’t that bad after all.
Public speaking is not something they teach in college and it should be mandatory. You go through all those years of study, get a job, your boss says that you have to present something and you don’t even know where to start. Fortunately, they are teaching it now starting in kindergarten, unfortunately this is happening only in private schools, at least in San Francisco.
In my case, I was lucky to have a great teacher in business school who gave us incredible tips for effective presentations. Since I’ve learned them, I’ve been paying attention to all the public speakers I’ve seen and trying to learn from their styles.
Here are some of these learnings:
- Address your audience. In public speaking you can’t just talk to one person, you have to look at different people around the room and make eye contact as if you were talking directly to them. This actually calms me down.
- Don’t read the power point. I can’t address this enough. We can read, so please don’t waste people’s time. If for some reason my slide is so detailed that it would make more sense to read it, I still try to paraphrase it.
- Walk around the room if you can. This is self explanatory. You add movement and you make your audience more engaged. Now, this is not always possible or necessary, but the idea is that there’s some movement and you don’t stand still.
- Gesture. Now, I have to say that Spaniards and other cultures, probably Italians, have this to their advantage. We gesture a lot which tends to keep people interested. See point 3.
- Your speech needs to have a beginning, middle, and end. I really think this is very important, and the truth is that not everybody does it. You open your speech with a “why we are here” or “what we are going to talk about today”, and then you follow with the issue at hand. Then you close your speech with a recap, conclusions, recommendations, etc. Sometimes this may vary, but this is the basic structure.
- Props. I’ve found that if I have some props, something to hand out, a video I want to show from YouTube, or even asking questions to the audience, this will help break the ice and calm me down, so I relax and stop shaking!
- Pace yourself and speak at the right volume. I have a strong voice so I don’t need to do much with the volume, but pacing is another story. I can speak too fast. Ideally we want to pace ourselves and have the right volume. I heard someone presenting the other day and she was way too loud, which is very annoying.
- Practice, practice, practice.
So here are my tips which I hope will help you to have a more polished presentation. Needless to say, I’m not an expert, I’ve only done this a few times so I’m learning, and I still want to get out of every single presentation. But what I found out is that if you are prepared and know what you’re talking about, you may be nervous the first couple of minutes but then you’ll be fine.