Several research studies on public speaking across the globe, reveal the fact that people are more frightened to speak in public than they are of dying! Actor comedian Jerry Seinfeld the star of ‘Seinfeld,’ had a great one liner about this. In one of his stand up acts he said, “It’s interesting to hear that people would rather die than speak publicly, so if you are at a funeral, you’d rather be in the coffin than do the eulogy!”
Jokes aside, the fear of public speaking grips many business executives, resulting in stress they don’t really need. Today, public speaking skills are considered a ‘given’ in the business world, and play a significant part in building your personal brand and in your corporate success.
A good presenter or speaker has the power to convince others about his or her concepts, get buy-in and influence change. TED talks are a great example of how this works in a larger context.
Unfortunately, many of us struggle with the thought of speaking publicly and need a nudge and a hand-hold, so here’s my two cents based on my journey.
My public speaking story began roughly 15 years ago when I was asked to do an overseas presentation for the company I was working for. The stress of doing this for the first time in front of a global company audience literally killed me and ruined my trip!
The presentation was nothing short of a total disaster. I ended up reading off my typed notes and the slides. I was as nervous as a long-tailed cat in a room full of rocking chairs!
From that day on, I vowed to get this right.
Today, I am delighted and privileged to have had the opportunity to speak to audiences of all sizes, from the Singapore Chambers of Commerce, to major events, conferences and seminars.
But this transformation didn’t happen overnight. It took years of self-discipline and drawing inspiration from great speakers to gradually overcome my angst of public speaking, build my confidence and find my own style.
I’ve made my fair share of mistakes, taken a few knocks and eventually found my own path. There’s still heaps more to learn!
So, here’s a few cues for you to consider, to sharpen your presenting and speaking skills:
Your speaker essence:
Ask the question, “who really am I as a speaker?” People connect with speakers and presenters who are authentic and real. Your stories and unique life experiences make YOU unique.
The audience is not just there for your content but for YOU!
They want to know about YOUR journey and YOUR learnings.
Great speakers do this all the time, it seems easy, but takes time to master. Have patience and work on this. You have stories, everyone does, just package them well and weave them into your presentation at relevant times.
How would people describe your style? Are you inspirational, funny, motivational, candid and sincere or passionate? Ask people what they think of your speaking style and build on this or modify your style based on what you feel you are.
Go with what comes naturally to you and what you feel most comfortable with. Don’t make the mistake of copying other people’s styles or else you won’t build up your own identity as a presenter or speaker. Discover and nurture your own unique style and refine this over time.
After a talk, I generally ask people how they felt about me as a speaker and they are happy to share their thoughts. See what words consistently pop up for you and build on this.
Keep it really simple. I usually don’t have more than 2-3 keywords per slide or 2-3 bullet points at max. Use metaphors to illustrate complex ideas or processes.
It’s unbelievable how many presentations I’ve seen from senior executives that display slides so packed with information and charts, that they themselves can’t read! Yet they subject their hapless audience to this visual vomit! Speak to the content and don’t include everything just because you can squeeze it into a slide!
If you must include a process or share a report, keep it very simple and clear. Get to the core of what it needs to communicate. Have a think and ask the question; “What is the simplest way I can present this data or idea, so the audience gets it, and more importantly remembers it?”
Watch more TED talks for inspiration.
Energy and pace
This is a good one and creates a big impact when mastered. It’s what I’ve been focusing the most on. The way to think about pace and energy is light and shade. You control the mood lighting in the room. You can brighten it up and turn it down based on your journey and where you want to take your audience.
Speak to the room, connect with people, project your voice to reach all ends of the room. Vary the pace and energy, so you don’t sound monotonous and dull.
I’ve seen many speakers lose their audience, simply because they don’t vary their tone and modulate their energy. It’s mastering these moments of light and shade that takes you from being average, to great.
Over time you will begin to quickly sense the energy in the room, and vary your pace and energy accordingly, to keep the audience engaged and in sync with the mood you are trying to create.
People make an impression of you in the first few seconds, so this is critical. You don’t get a second chance to make a first impression!
Set the tone in the first couple of minutes. Establish why you are there, and what benefits your audience can expect. Open with a couple of empowering questions that engage the audience.
Most importantly, relax and exude a quiet confidence. Remember the audience decides in a few moments, whether you are the one that is going to help them today, and if they like you or not.
Think of your takeaways
Make it about your audience, give them what they came there for. Build on your central idea, support it with mini stories. Think of your presentation as a journey, setting the scene, the destination and how you are going to get there. I’ll drop in a cliché here; begin with the end in mind.
Reinforce the theme with key messages and punch these through at critical points.
Remember, transformation doesn’t happen overnight. Most great speakers have taken years, even decades to polish their skills, to get to where they are now.
Practice a lot, speak at every opportunity you can. Start with small groups and learn and grow from there. Do more presentations/speaking sessions at work, and get feedback. I highly recommend recording your presentations and playing these back to review.
Learn how to use your greatest instrument and share your message with the world. Master your unique super power, to help and transform people, and make a difference.
This is the beginning of a long journey of self-discovery, so enjoy it.
I’ll end with sound advice from Oscar Wilde; “Be yourself; everyone else is already taken!”