How to Speak in Public, Part I: The 5 Golden Rules

Practice and motivation are key elements in learning how to presentFor many people, speaking in public is up at the top of their list of worst fears.  This is nothing unusual – even very experienced speakers still feel nervous or anxious at times.  When we know we have to make a presentation, our first thoughts may be “Will I be nervous?  What will I sound like? What will they think of me?”

First of all, remember it’s not bad to be nervous – the adrenalin can keep you on your toes and make sure you give the best of yourself.

The importance of making a successful presentation is not to do with whether you are going to win an Oscar for your glowing public performance. The aim is to achieve the goal you have set yourself.

Think about why you are making the presentation – it’s not just to test your presentation skills!

What is your goal?

What do you want the outcome of your presentation to be? 

The time and energy you put into your presentation are an investment – and before you start investing you must know what you want your return to be!

Funnily enough whenever I ask at the start of my presentation skills courses “what is your goal?” most of my students will say “just to get it over and done with as quickly as possible!” or “talk as quickly as I can and finish my presentation so people stop staring at me!”

This is understandable, but it’s not the kind of goal I like to hear.

So what is a good goal? Here are a few:

  • Making sure my prospects know exactly what services we can provide
  • Communicating clearly what I can do for my clients
  • Presenting in a logical way why they should choose me and not my competitor
  • Presenting the upcoming restructuring in a comprehensive and reassuring way to my employees
  • Selling a new business idea to my colleagues

It all starts with your preparation; you can break your preparation questions down to three simple steps:

  • Where am I now?
  • Where do I want to be?
  • How can my presentation help me to get there? 
To get what you want, give them what they want

When you are clear about what you want to achieve with your presentation, the next step is to figure out how this particular audience can move you towards your goal. 

For this you have to know who is in your audience, where they come from, their background, and why they are here today listening to you. In other words:

What’s in it for your audience?

What is their motivation? Think about who will be listening to you, why they are listening – what information they want to hear from you and in what form they want to hear it.

What will my roIe be?

Helen had recently begun leading a new project, and was working with a new team.  At the first team meeting Helen gave a presentation to her team members explaining what the new project was all about.  She explained what would be achieved, and how it would fit in with the overall strategy and goals of the company. She went on to explain the role of each of the team members, and finished with the details of the timeline they would set in order to complete the project by the required date.  Helen’s team members were enthusiastic, and Helen was pleased with her presentation. She had achieved her goal of motivating the members of her team to get the project going.  Team motivation was her role.

The following week, Helen’s boss came to her to tell her that the company directors were reallocating some of the company budget, and he wanted to try to get some extra budget allocated to their project.  He asked Helen to attend a meeting of the directors so that she could make a presentation to them explaining the details of the project.

“Good” thought Helen, “I’ve just made a very successful presentation about the project.  I’ll use that to present to the directors”.

The presentation seemed to go well, and Helen felt confident because she had been through it before.  The directors were interested, asked questions, and seemed encouraging to Helen.  But afterwards, Helen and her boss were disappointed; they didn’t get the extra budget they were hoping for.

Where did Helen do wrong?  What should she have done differently?

Helen didn’t focus enough on what she wanted to get out of the presentation with the directors.  The directors were a completely different audience from the team members; and what was in it for them was completely different.  Helen thought that she should give them accurate details and a full picture of the project.  She told them who would be doing what task, and how the timeline was planned to meet the deadline.  She presented in a very clear and confident way, and kept to the time allocated to her.

But this was not what the directors wanted to hear.  Helen didn’t tell them about the benefits the company would gain by allocating more money to the project. She didn’t tell them what was in it for them.  She didn’t prepare this particular role very well.

Know your audience

So, one of the key success points is to know your audience. Do your homework! 

Find out who they are, where they come from, why they are here and what they are looking for.

Make yourself a simple checklist:

  • Find out as much as you can about the group in advance
  • Learn your audience’s names and use them if possible
  • Anticipate potential problems and your responses to them
  • Practise responses to tough questions
  • Remember that if there is a mix of cultures you need to use your intercultural sensitivities
  • Understand the motivation of your audience. People will only listen to you if there is something in it for them!

And when you know who they are and why they are there: Give them what they want

Here are some of the questions you can ask yourself before you start:

  • What is the most important information for my audience?
  • Prioritise your information according to their priorities – making sure that you also include everything you need for your own goals
  • How will I communicate my message so it is understood by everybody in the room?

Put yourself in their place as they listen to what you are saying. What stories/facts are interesting for the attendees?

Keep your presentation lively by including new information or facts – maybe something you have just read in the newspaper. 

Knowledge on a subject which is not new to you can be new to your audience – and perhaps you possess experience which your public does not have

And once you have started your presentation, remember to gauge the atmosphere in the room, keep your focus on the audience, and use plenty of eye contact.

Give them what they want and you are halfway to getting what you want!

My top five tips for a good presentation:
  1. Understand that nerves are normal and most of us have them. Use your adrenaline to channel your energy in the right way. The right amount of positive adrenaline will give you the right amount of energy to look and sound convincing.
  2. Know what you want to achieve at the end of your presentation. Be very clear in your mind what your goal is!
  3. Be prepared so you can give your audience what they want; what’s in it for them to listen to you?  The predominant thought of every human being is WIIFM.
  4. Know your role! The clearer you are about the role, the clearer your audience will be.
  5. Know your audience. An excellent presenter will always make sure it’s “all about his audience” and not “all about him”.

Throughout the many years I have conducted presentation skills training programmes, I have seen people evolve from being very nervous at the start to being confident and actually enjoying themselves in the end. This convinces me that it’s possible to learn to be a good presenter and that practice and motivation are key elements in this learning curve.

Next time we will find out more about structure and language during your presentation.

Diana Vanbrabant, Managing Director of ETACC, conducts tailor-made presentation skills courses and also individually coaches managers and directors on their ‘presentation skills’.

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