I feel very fortunate that I learned about public speaking early in life. One of my first jobs was being a tour guide at an aquatic marine life theme park who has an Orcinus orca as their mascot. (I’ll let you guess which one!) While I didn’t realize it at the time, the experience was priceless.
After attending a few events lately, I wanted to share a few observations about public speaking. We’ve all heard the old cliché about more people fearing public speaking than death. As business professionals, it’s essential to learn how to speak in front of groups. It’s part of our job. Even if we don’t do it every day. Let me share a couple of examples that might hit home:
- At conferences, major sponsors are invited to speak about their company at the podium. Or a volunteer leader is asked to introduce a speaker.
- I once worked with a software company that held an annual users conference. During the event, their programmers (i.e. the subject matter experts) would conduct the sessions. The programmers had to not only work on their sessions but also their presentation skills.
Don’t make excuses like “I’m not a professional speaker.” or “I don’t need to learn public speaking.” because someday you might need to do an introduction, a short talk about your company, or a presentation demonstrating your expertise. The next time you’re invited to do any kind of public speaking, here are 9 tips to help you:
- PRACTICE! And practice some more. Whether it’s your first for fifty-first presentation, it doesn’t hurt to do a little practice. Review the material. Make sure your PowerPoint works. I like to practice in front of a mirror – it gives me reminders about my posture and body language. I also practice saying the words out loud. Not only does it allow me to get comfortable with the material but I can time myself to see if I’m over/under.
- Arrive early and stand in front of the room. And I don’t mean stand there for 30 seconds. Stand there long enough to get comfortable with the surroundings. If the room has a podium, stand behind it for a couple minutes to see how it feels. If the podium is on a riser, stand on it so you know what it feels like to walk up the steps and be on a raised platform. The more comfortable you are, the more you can focus on the content you are sharing.
- Test the microphone. The room has a microphone for a reason. People think their voice will project – it doesn’t. When you are supposed to use a microphone and you don’t, you give the audience a reason to stop paying attention to you. Don’t use “Test one, two, three…” When I test a microphone, I try to use a couple of sentences that allows me to get used to the sound of my voice amplified. For instance, “I have a Dalmatian. She likes to eat Pop-Tarts.” I like the sentence because it has a “P” word in it – and I can hear how it sounds.
- Don’t say your content is boring. This might seem like a no-brainer. But I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard someone refer to their material as boring. And it’s only because it might be technical. If you say it, then people will believe it before they even hear you speak. You’re the expert and what you have to say is important. ‘Nuf said.
- Put the event hashtag and your Twitter handle on every slide. PowerPoint is at most events these days. Instead of hating it…use it as an opportunity. I was at a conference recently where some of the presenters put their Twitter handle, the conference hashtag and soundbites on their slides. Twitter gold – make it easy for me to Tweet and they get rewarded with their soundbites filling the Twitter stream.
- Get a photo. This is a biggie! If there’s an event photographer, find out if you will be photographed and if you can get a copy of the photo. As a business person, a photograph of you standing behind a podium is gold. If there’s no event photographer, ask someone in the front row if they will take a couple photos of you while you’re speaking. Give them your phone. Buy a $5 gift card to Starbucks or Amazon before the event and thank them with it.
- Speaker selfies are “in”. If you don’t want to hand over your phone over to someone, do a speaker selfie. Turn your back to the audience, ask them to smile and wave, then snap a photo with them in the background. Or just take a picture of the audience and send it out via social media. It’s a way to get the audience involved and have some fun.
- Take your name badge off. Why? See reasons 5 and 6 above.
- Have one piece of “filler”. I’ve been to several sessions lately where the speaker has ended early. Not 5-minutes early but 15-20 (and one even 30) minutes early. But I can empathize. It’s happened to me – you anticipate more interaction or questions, etc. Create a safety net by having a piece of extra info. Make it something you know really well that doesn’t need a slide or handout. If you don’t need it, that’s fine – it didn’t make or break the session. But if you notice you have time, share it.
Public speaking is one of those things that gets easier with frequency. And having a few jitters is okay. It’s about focusing on being comfortable with the room so you can showcase your expertise and knowledge.
Got any public speaking advice? Let us know in the comments!
Image courtesy of Sharlyn Lauby0