OK, you’ve been assigned to make a presentation in class. It might be a solo presentation or as part of a group, either way, it still means standing up in front of your classmates and the Instructor and talking. I’m going to make this post in two parts. The first part, which I will cover below will discuss the speaking part.
Fear of public speaking is one of the most universal fears that we have. There are a few things you can do to make your presentation a success, regardless of your experience.
- Almost everyone feels nervous just before starting – this is normal, you won’t die and the nervous feeling usually fades within 60 seconds of starting. Don’t let the butterflies get the better of you.
- Take some deep breaths just before starting your presentation, this oxygenates your blood and helps your brain, which hopefully will help you get focused and get through those first 60 seconds.
- Know your material. This can’t be emphasized enough. Winging it will almost always allow for distractions and usually, it is obvious to your audience that you aren’t prepared. You can only blow smoke for so long before it becomes apparent that you don’t know what you are talking about. Know your material THOROUGHLY. Go over it repeatedly until you can deliver the information from a knowledge base, then if you get distracted it will be easier to get back on track.
- Rotate your eye contact every 2-7 seconds and look people directly in the eyes. You will find this is a powerful method to build audience engagement. It also lowers your own anxiety as you will be directing your comments at one person instead of thinking about the larger audience. Pay special attention to your supervisor if there is one present. Don’t forget the back of the room or the wings.
- If you are using technology have a plan B in mind if it were to fail. I have seen this happen all too often and when it does it often throws the speaker completely off track. Think about it ahead of time and be able to move forward in spite of these difficulties. This builds your credibility and enhances your image in the eyes of your supervisors, which is a nice benefit of something that could be a disaster.
- If you are using PowerPoint or something similar, follow the 10-20-30 rule. 10 slides, 20 minutes in length, 30 point font. Only use text where necessary, otherwise, use graphics to communicate.
- “Leave them longing rather than loathing.” Keep track of your time and make sure you stay within the allotted time frame for your presentation. Going over your time is one of the most frustrating things you can do both for audiences and event organizers. You may feel like your content is worth it, but likely there are many others who won’t agree. Leave them longing rather than loathing.
- Be organized. Make sure your material is presented in a sequence which is easy for an audience to grasp. This is why so many people use points, e.g. point 1, point 2, etc. People like to see patterns and understand the sequence at an emotional level. Your organization can contribute to their understanding of your material or being so confused that they go away empty.
- Jokes are good, especially at the start, to ease everyone into the presentation. However, if the joke is off-color or offensive in any way it will overshadow anything else you say and damage your credibility. Make sure you look at the joke from the receiving end and consider whether it could be offensive. Better no joke, than an offensive joke, this goes double for off-color jokes.
- Examples and illustrations spread throughout the presentation help communicate with the audience and lets them identify with you or the material. It helps make sense of large amounts of data. You can overdo this, refer to point 6 above.
- Those new to speaking in public often fall into the trap of using filler words or expressions such as “uh.” This is always annoying and in extreme cases can completely derail communication of your subject. Practice your speech/presentation before a mirror and record it. Afterward, count the number of filler words used and work on reducing the number. This comes with practice and intentionally working to overcome this habit.
- Use pauses in place of filler words to give yourself time to think and to allow your message to connect. Usually no more than a few seconds, pauses placed strategically throughout the presentation can greatly enhance communication. As with filler words, practice in front of a mirror and record, then review and think about where a pause would have the best impact.