Do you have a presentation, speech, business meeting or other type of talk to give to a group? After speaking are you often left with the feeling that most of the audience was busy thinking about what they were going to have for lunch instead a paying full attention to what you were saying? When confronted with interviews, presentations, or public speeches, too many members of today’s business world are ill-equipped to speak their minds and engage an audience. Here are some tips to help today’s business person at any level speak better, perform better, and leave the audience remarking on the quality of the presentation rather than whether to have their bologna sandwich or go out for a cheese steak.
Research The research tip can be summed up in three simple words: KNOW YOUR STUFF! “Stuff” should be replaced by whatever is appropriate to the occasion. For instance, for an interview, know your resume. For a presentation before your colleagues and associates, know your material. For a keynote address before a national convention of stockholders, know your audience. The more research you do, the more you’ll know, and the more confident you’ll be and appear. Confidence is the key to any live performance because regardless of whether you know what you’re talking about, if you look like you do then the audience will be far more likely to believe you. Knowledge = Confidence in public speaking. You can alleviate the nerves elicited by doubting eyes if you know that you know what you’re talking about.
Regardless of whether you plan to use a script or notes during your presentation, it never hurts to write out what you are going to say (time allowing). There are many approaches to composing a speech. Many people prefer outlines, especially if they actually are going to use their notes during the speech. If time allows, try writing out the entire presentation, word for word, to practice with. This will allow you to gauge most accurately the length and dynamics of your speech. Come performance time, perhaps condense the script to an outline. It is always helpful to bold keywords and make them larger than the rest of the print on the page. That way, especially if you are relatively comfortable with only glancing at your outline from time to time, the most important points of your speech will jump off the page without you having to search for them. If you hope to perform without any written materials at all, it is most beneficial to write out the entire speech for purposes of memorization. The content of your speeches will likely vary, but there should always be a constant: entertainment value. The better you know your stuff, the easier it will be to find a humorous connection to the content that you can share with your audience. Don’t overdue the comedy, though, because, above all, you’re still there to do your job.
Practice the Material
Practice Public speaking, like most things, requires an often inconvenient amount of practice. Even professional speakers with a single act will review their materials regularly to keep it fresh and dynamic. For the novice business speaker, a few hours of practice can make a world of difference in terms of impressing your boss or colleagues. If trying to memorize your speech, read it in its entirety a few times, then tackle it section by section. By breaking up the speech while practicing, you will better remember the order of the speech and the natural organization of its content. Furthermore, by having the speech subdivided in your mind, you can easily adapt to time constraints by shortening or eliminating certain sections. Once you are familiar enough with your content to start practicing aloud, there are three excellent options for a practice ‘audience.’ A live audience, such as friends and family, will allow you to gauge a real life response to your words, especially if you are incorporating comedy or emotion into your speech. Try performing for someone you trust to give you constructive, honest criticism.
Be Your Own Audience
Next, try videotaping yourself. A live audience is helpful, but you likely know more about the content than your spouse or best friend. Watching the video will allow to hear your words out of your own mouth (some things that read extremely well don’t sound nearly as good out loud!). Furthermore, you will be able to notice whether you have any distracting physical habits, like playing with your hands or swaying/rocking while you speak. If you do not have a video camera, your third option is the good old bathroom mirror. If you have a head-to-toe mirror, all the better. The premise here is the same, except that you have to try and watch yourself and notice mistakes while you are speaking at the same time. Remember, too, that the more familiar you are with your speech, the more confident you’ll be, so even if you have little time to perform aloud, reviewing your speech mentally before bed or with your morning coffee can greatly help. Performance Appearance It goes without saying (but I’ll say it anyway) that you should always dress appropriately for the occasion of your presentation. What you are wearing, though, is only one-half of your performance appearance. Posture and stature are key, especially if you are trying to make a good first impression, and your attitude and confidence (or more often, lack thereof) are very explicit in the way you carry yourself. Also, convey your excitement and happiness about what you are doing through the way you move around the room. The more dynamic your appearance, the more dynamic your words.
NEVER EVER be late. The larger the audience, the greater damage even a few minutes of waiting can do. If you are being introduced, try to chat briefly with whoever is introducing you beforehand so that you can enter the stage/presentation area crisply and promptly. Pacing Both the speed of delivery and the actual physical movement: Most people, even the most seasoned public performers, are at least a little nervous when presenting live, especially before a sizable audience. When people get nervous, their natural tendency is to rush everything: words, movements, etc. The most effective remedy is to do exactly the opposite: slow down and be deliberate. Because you are nervous, what seems like a crawl will actually be a very suitable speaking tempo and will sound normal to the audience. If you can get over the first few minutes of a butterfly-filled stomach, the rest of your speech will run smoothly. This is a key area to practice because rushing a speech can truly ruin it, regardless of whatyou say. If you are incorporating humor, pacing is especially important because many jokes rely on good comedic timing. Once again, PRACTICE PRACTICE PRACTICE! In terms of movement, typically less is more. Actually pacing back and forth across the stage is absolutely out of the question. It is a nervous habit that many resort to when they are completely overwhelmed by the situation, but it looks tacky and unprofessional. Use your body to emphasize major points, perhaps walk a few steps at points of transition, and be sure to position your body so that you can address the entire audience. Any more movement will only distract the audience and detract from what you are saying. Eye Contact Maintaining eye contact with your audience is key to a persuasive performance. One of your top priorities during the speech is to make the audience feel like you are having a conversation with them, not just talking at them. Using your eyes effectively can help you connect with each and every member of the audience. There are two main approaches: First, for the more nervous speaker, simply scan the audience with your eyes, never really focusing in any one place. Second, for the more comfortable speaker, scan at intervals and then settle on a group of people for a few seconds. Direct eye contact is extremely helpful in augmenting your charisma and connecting with the audience. After those few seconds, scan again and refocus on another group of people. The more people you connect with directly, the more people you will affect with your speech.
Speaking Skills Independent of content, there are two extremely important aspects of your speech: articulation and fluency. Both are crucial to ensure your audience understands what you are saying. Additionally, both will help you avoid rushing and fumbling over your words. Articulation is an easy concept to understand but, surprisingly often, difficult to practice. Alliteration is one of many useful rhetorical devices that causes a milieu of problems for speakers, so be wary of its overuse and be sure to practice such sections particularly attentively. Fluency requires a great deal more practice. A multitude of awkward pauses and filler ‘words’ like “um,” “uh,” “like,” and “you know” can destroy a speech. A great way to improve fluency is to pick some random topic like “What’s your favorite movie and why?”, talk into a tape recorder as long as you can (at a nice, easy pace), and then listen to the recording. Count how many fillers you used and then try again with another topic. Before your actual performance, try reading something you’ve never looked at before out loud, making sure you pronounce every word correctly and enunciate as best you can. Then try reading it again, a bit faster, still being wary of any fluency breaks. Do this with a few different pieces of writing (just pick up a newspaper or something) and you should be nice and warmed-up for your performance.
End on a Good Note
Finishing Touches Most public speaking is about the little things, i.e. everyone’s actual speech is good so it’s the other stuff that distinguishes you from the rest. Look like you’re enjoying yourself, never hesitate to throw in some smiles!!! (It’s amazing how far a manifestation of happiness can go when addressing a room full of tired, dehydrated business people who would all rather be at the bar at this point) Just to reiterate, the more excited and engaged you are about what you’re saying, the more response you’ll garner from the audience, and that, of course, is the whole point. SUMMARY Public speaking is an acquired skill, one that may require a ton of practice depending on the person. Start small, and use any and all opportunities to put your abilities to use. Whether a small office conference or the national company convention, it is always important to impress your colleagues with a well planned and executed presentation. Do your research, practice tirelessly, and control your nerves. If you can connect effectively with your audience and excite them about your subject-matter, you might just get that promotion or reputation that you’ve long been working for. Good luck and speak well!
Copyright 2015 by Brad Montgomery. May be reprinted with permission. Brad Montgomery, CSP (Certified Speaking Professional) is a funny motivational speaker and corporate entertainer. Using his own blend of Hilarious humor as well as his Award-Winning magic, Brad reminds us that our lives are both fun and very funny. You can reach Brad at www.bradmontgomery.com
Presentation Tips for Business Speakers
By: Brad Montgomery