- Don’t read; speak!
- Think messages
- Be yourself
You may already have experience in getting up in front of a classroom or auditorium and giving a speech or lecture. If you have, you’re way ahead of the game because, according to surveys, more people fear speaking in front of a crowd than fear dying!
As Charles Osgood in his book, “Osgood on Speaking,” suggests, “Relax. Nobody’s going to get hurt…All you have to do is get over the mistaken belief that it’s difficult and dangerous.”
But as Osgood also points out, you’ve got to radiate confidence. And that means being forceful and doing the same kinds of things we talked about while doing an on-camera interview.
Think primary messages. What do you really want your audience to remember as they leave the room? It may well be just one or two points or subjects. So it’s important to concentrate on those and keep coming back to them.
It’s not the time to read your notes word for word or to settle into a monotone delivery. The more you can sound spontaneous, the better off you and your audience will be. Again, to quote Osgood, “Listening to somebody read a prepared text is about as exciting as attending a congressional hearing on interstate commerce.”
In other words, don’t read -- speak!
Other musts for public speaking:
- Be yourself and give personal anecdotes. The more “human” you are, the more your audience will trust you and embrace what you have to say.
- Be relaxed -- because if you’re not, your audience won’t be either.
- Chances are that your subject isn’t as serious as you think it may be (although you still want to communicate its importance). So keep it light when appropriate, and for goodness' sake, smile!
- Don’t eat a big meal or have more than one drink before delivering a speech.
- Try to get a video of your presentation, and then watch it! You will see and hear things that you never realized you were doing.
- Smile as much as you can.
- If it’s comfortable for you, use humor. But only if it’s funny.
If you’re speaking in a public forum, pick up a few tidbits about the group you’re speaking to, and include them in your remarks – possibly before you get into the meat of your speech. They will like you for it, and thereby listen intently to what you have to say.
PowerPoint: the double-edged sword
Now that PowerPoint has been around for 20-some years, it’s hard to imagine how presentations happened without it. No screen full of diagrams and bullet points in the background? You mean speakers once gave talks just by talking? Today, of course, PowerPoint is everywhere, and it’s been both a blessing and a curse for communication.
Done well, PowerPoint enlivens a presentation and helps the audience grasp key concepts. Done poorly, it can turn a presentation into a snoozefest or a bout of motion sickness. One US general even banned PowerPoint presentations during briefings -- not everything, he said, fits into bullet-points!
If you opt to use PowerPoint (which you no doubt will), think about these pointers:
- Limit your slides. Slides should be an accessory to your talk, not the substance of it. Their job is to enhance the audience’s experience, not to serve as your notes during the talk or as a crutch if you haven’t practiced enough ahead of time. They should serve only to reinforce key points in your presentation or – better yet – to present information in visually exciting forms.
- Use photo and video. This is where PowerPoint shines. Visual illustrations such as photos, videos and graphs add excitement to your verbal presentation and convey information effectively. Make sure that items showing research data are appropriately labeled and simplified (if necessary) for your audience, and give people plenty of time to digest them.
- Don’t read your slides! This is a great way to put the audience to sleep. If all they’re going to get is what’s on the screen, they could read it themselves and wouldn’t need you there. They’ve come to hear you, not to read slides. Put out some energy and talk to them!