As coaches and mentors, it could be argued that you speak for a living; a large part of what you do for work is speaking to individuals and perhaps teams. If you can speak ‘one to one’, why not speak ‘one to many’ as well and take your expertise and knowledge in front of an audience by presenting or speaking in public?
If you’re still reading this, that means you’re one of the growing number of coaches who recognises the strengths of the ‘one to many’ mode of delivery offered by public speaking. Those who screamed and dropped the magazine in fright at the thought of public speaking are the ones who are missing out.
What are they missing? They’re missing what is an amazing opportunity to spread your message and skills to as many people as possible, a new way for people to access your expertise. If you’re self-employed, public speaking should be near the top of your business development to-do list. Many business groups and events like to hear from all types of coaches as speakers, putting you in front of dozens or even hundreds of potential clients and giving you the opportunity to strut your stuff. If you’re employed or seeking employment, many job interviews now require a presentation as part of the process.
Whether you’re employed or self-employed, presenting and public speaking is now an essential business skill, yet a lot of people still struggle to connect with an audience. Here are some top tips on what to work on to ensure your audience not only stay awake but stay engaged.
1 – Know what you (and they) want to get out of it. A lot of presentations fall at this first hurdle. Before you even start planning your session, make sure you know what you want it to achieve. You may well have professional objectives such as the transfer of knowledge, the desire to engender motivation or inspiration or the need to improve team working, for instance. You might also have personal objectives such as wanting to impress the client or your boss, or to ensure people leave with a positive impression of you. All valid objectives for your presentation and all eminently achievable.
But guess what? Your audience will come to your presentation with their own objectives, and your job, as presenter, is to make sure those are met too. Your audience may be looking for new skills or knowledge, or motivation and inspiration; but they may also be looking for reassurance, or to find out how to make their bonus, or they may just want to be entertained.
Make it work: Before you start planning your presentation, understand what you AND your audience want to get out of it. Those two sets of objectives are often very different.
Fatal flaw: Don’t assume that just because you’ve been asked to (for instance) inspire your audience that they’re even vaguely interested in being inspired. Fail to meet their objectives and your presentation is a failure, even if you ostensibly met yours.
2 – Don’t rely on slides. A lot of speakers still assume that a presentation = slides. Not so. Some of the most effective presentations, and certainly some of the best speakers, use no slides whatsoever.
Remember that your slides are for your audience, not for you. They are there to make your presentation more engaging, easier to understand and more effective. They are not there to be your prompts let alone your script. If you rely on your slides to guide you through your presentations then chances are you’ll end up reading them, losing eye contact with the audience (or even worse, turning your back on them). You also run the risk of any technical problems leaving you without slides – and thus without any prompts.
Make it Work: ‘Less is more’ is a good adage to follow on slides. No long lists of bulletpoints, no overcrowded slides, no extended blocks of text. Use images and minimal words for maximum impact.
Fatal Flaw: Using your slides as your script. They are there for your audience, not you. Use cue cards with bulletpoint prompts instead.
3 – Rehearse your presentation. An actor, musician or comic would never step on stage without rehearsing and you should never step up to present without at least one rehearsal. This does mean preparing your presentation in time to run through it, so factor it into your planning.
Rehearse your presentation out loud, not just in your head. Do certain words or phrases trip you up? Does the order make sense? Do you know when to click on to the next slide? Ideally film your rehearsal and watch it back – don’t worry, everyone hates seeing themselves on camera – as it’s the best way to understand how you come across as a presenter. Did you seem nervous? How was your body language? Were you rigid with fear or moving around too much? Only by seeing yourself in action can you correct these problems.
Make it work: If your presentation is especially important (such as a pitch for new work) rehearse in front of other people and ask for honest feedback.
Fatal Flaw: It’s always obvious to an audience when a speech hasn’t been rehearsed and someone is ‘winging it’. Your audience deserves more respect. Why should they give you the honour of their attention if you can’t be bothered to rehearse and hone what you’re going to say?
4 – Enjoy it. If you enjoy giving your presentation, your audience is far more likely to enjoy watching it. Aim to be relaxed, confident and engaging. Even if you’re none of those things. If you do get nervous, the more preparation you do the less reason you have for nerves, and look to address any visible signs of nerves. A calm exterior will give an audience confidence in you, even if your interior is anything but.
Make it work: Own the stage (or meeting room). Use the whole space and fill it with energy and confidence.
Fatal Flaw: Never start your presentation with an apology. Use your opening sentences to show how relaxed and knowledgeable you are and to tell the audience why they need to listen to YOU.