Your first tentative steps in to the art of public speaking are often taken from school age as a youngster. You may be required to finely hone these initial skills throughout the rest of your educational and professional life. Like with the evolution of most skills, practice makes perfect, as you go through many stages of the learning curve, from novice to expert.
Classroom presentations about books on the curriculum are very different to presentations you might be required to give when pitching yourself at a job interview to a panel of employees. Likewise, interview presentations differ substantially from public speaking as an authority on your subject matter to audiences. Yet your lifetime’s worth of presentations, as a student, an executive or an academic, is given the edge by the application of a few basic principles.
Regardless of your age, your level of public speaking experience and your audiences, these tips form bases from which you can continuously improve from good to better to best:
1) Prepare To Succeed
Knowledge always equates to power, yet words are often hollow. Audience members do not want to be bored by presenters reading out what can already be scanned on an overstuffed screen. Minimising your materials, and maximising your knowledge of the subject at hand, are imperative to the proficient preparation quality presentations, thus enabling you to deliver them with authority and aplomb.
2) Critique Practice Run Throughs
Video yourself doing dry run presentations, and critique yourself firmly but fairly. Ask a trusted confidante to sit in on your rehearsals and be prepared to take their feedback on the chin.
3) Look Them In The Eyes
Aim to gain rapport with your audience by looking directly at them – not at your laptop, your notes, or your feet. However, avoid the unintentional temptation to make a particular audience member your focal point when public speaking. It makes an innocent participant feel self conscious and uncomfortable.
4) Speak With Then, Not Just At Them
Encourage audiences to interact with you during your presentations. Allowing them to interject with doubts, questions and relevant comments is testament to the fact that they are engaged with you. Your competent feedback further enhances their confidence in you and what you have to say.
5) Clock The Atmosphere
Let your emotional intelligence guide you. At certain points during your presentations, the mood of your audiences might get confrontational and heated, or down tempo and low on energy. Drop in anecdotes or jokes at such junctures, to lighten any tension or regain waning engagement.
6) Avoid Useless Fillers
Whether you have a tendency to “um” and “ah”, or use particular turns of phrase over frequently when you speak, weaning yourself off them will improve your public speaking. They are often more irritating to audiences than you realise.
7) Answer Questions Accurately
When preparing your presentations, put yourself in your audience’s shoes and anticipate the questions they might fire at you. This is a great way of forearming and forewarning yourself. Besides taking audience questions throughout the duration of your presentations, make sure you leave plenty of time at the end for closing questions. The answers you provide should confirm and amplify the messages you deliver throughout the session.