Small business owners and business leaders often find themselves in front of an audience: orals presentations, off-sites to drive strategy, all-employee town halls, business development pitches, speaking engagements, community development meetings…the list goes on.
It’s part of the gig as an entrepreneur to rally and inspire, but that doesn’t mean it comes naturally. More than 80% of the population experiences fear and anxiety around public speaking and we know many C-suites who are excellent presenters, but would rather undergo a root canal than give a speech. We also know from helping our clients prep for orals that the government wants to hear from key personnel and the real people doing the work. However, the real people may have never presented before.
Today, we’re sharing few tips on how to build effective public presentation skills, including techniques to manage stage fright, project confidence, and better engage with your audience so you (and your team!) can transform nerves into positive energy.
Be One with Your Purpose
Clearly defining your goal and the presentation’s purpose will put you in the driver’s seat. It also allows you to empathize with your audience and motivate them to take action on your content. Most presenters try to persuade their audience. But, people want to be understood and inspired—not be sold to or talked at. Tap into the emotional side of your audience by asking yourself questions like:
- If you’re in an orals presentation—how does your solution make life easier, stronger, and better for the agency or department you’re presenting to?
- If delivering bad news—how would you take it and want news like that to be delivered?
- If you need an answer from your superiors on an issue—what are they going to be most concerned about? What is most relevant and impactful to them in regards to the decision that needs to be made?
Know Who You’re Talking To
Seems obvious, but in order to inspire and engage, you must know who you’re talking to. The people in your audience are typically going to be directly affected by you, your company, and your solution. These are people with hopes, dreams, feelings, and political or professional stakes in the game. While you might not always know—or ever know—who you’re going to be addressing, think back to the RFP and mission of the agency or department. What were the evaluation criteria? What were the key concerns? And then, make sure you’re selling the benefits of your solution—not the features. For example, if your new program benefits the agency by saving time and money, this is what you should emphasize. It will appeal to your audience much more than a discussion of actual program features.
Most of the time, our advice and approach is to open with a story that reveals a picture of the problem at hand. Stories engage people, especially if they’re personal and real. They create an authentic connection and grab attention. Remember: what is your audience feeling? Try to capture and respond to that in the first 30 seconds. Then, follow-up analysis, relevant data, stats, past performance, and your benefits-focused solution.
Let Go of Your Safety Nets
Use your presentation to supplement your talk and illustrate key points—don’t let it take your place and don’t read directly off the screen! Believe what you’re saying is resonating and have faith that everyone is there to learn something from what you’re sharing. If you forget something or even skip an entire section, pause and breathe. No one knows what’s coming next or what you’re thinking. And we know there are times—like in orals—where you have fit a ton of content on your slides to ensure compliance…so do it, but then pick and choose what you verbally highlight.
Reading directly from your slides is just one of many safety nets. We’ve seen all sorts, but the following seem to be the most popular. If you find yourself doing any of these things…don’t despair! Just make a commitment to be more aware and intentional about your speaking skills.
- Some experts suggest memorizing the first 60 seconds of your speech. Totally cool if you can do this, but make sure your tone and pace sound natural and authentic.
- Don’t draw attention to your nervousness by sharing it with your audience.
- Don’t fidget or fiddle with your hair, clothes, or body parts. Early in her career, our Marketing Director unknowingly twirled her hair as she spoke. Until someone shared how distracting it was. Mortified, she wanted to melt into the floor. But instead, started rocking a ponytail.
- Minimize nervous speak tics like “um,” “like,” “you know,” and “got it?”
Practice, Practice, Practice
And we don’t mean alone in front of the mirror. Practice pitches with your sales team and peers, join an organization like Toastmasters, or call us to video you giving a mock presentation. Hearing live feedback allows you to identify opportunities for improvement. Knowing where and how to improve places you in control and helps build speaking confidence, which is a great mechanism for quelling fear where you’re in front of an audience.
It takes time, effort, and lots of energy to overcome anxiety about public speaking, and sometimes, fears can’t be completely eradicated, but we hope sharing our perspective and strategies helps you gain confidence and feel more successful every time you get up to speak!
Have an orals presentation coming up? Give us a call! We’re here to help you win more.