Many people have a fear of speaking in public, and it is a perfectly natural and justifiable fear. When all eyes are on you and you make a mistake, you can feel like the smallest person in the room. There are all kinds of suggestions out there about how to be more comfortable on stage or when making a presentation, but picturing all of your colleagues naked may not be the solution that actually works for you. In fact, there are much more practical ways to be more confident in front of other people.
The thing is, being a better public speaker will have a number of other benefits for you, making you a more desirable employee and one that is more versatile in your ability to interact with others. Also, this confidence will transfer to more mundane daily reactions, something you can use in everything from sales pitches to client phone calls.
Maybe you have a stutter you need to overcome, or some other speech issue. Those are things you can work through pretty easily before you ever get on stage.
Here are five ways you can be a better public speaker once you have conquered any physical limitations.
Tell Stories Rather Than Giving Speeches
Humans have been telling stories for centuries and using them to make a point or relate to something unfamiliar. The creation story and all of the stories of the gods are essentially men trying to explain things we did not fully understand at the time. From legends to metaphors, we are all about storytelling.
This will make your speeches and presentations different than those that are more mundane. The numbers you are presenting, the facts you are trying to get across all tell a story. It has a beginning, a middle, and an ending. Perhaps it is even an ongoing story. Think of it this way using the illustration of numbers
The numbers started somewhere and are where we began. Those numbers went up or down related to certain events that happened, whether those were market forces or what we did as a company, or other factors. Where we are now is the ending, and the story is how we got here, whether the market corrected, we changed our sales tactics or accounting practices. Your conclusion may be the lessons we have learned from this story and how we can apply them going forward.
This is your story, and it is much more entertaining and compelling than simply presenting charts and graphs and letting them speak for themselves.
Beware of Death by PowerPoint
PowerPoint is a great tool if used properly. However, it can be the death of almost any presentation. Too many words on a slide, a confusing graphic, or a distracting design can have the audience focused on your slides and not you. Unless you are presenting facts and figures that need to be illustrated, ditch the PowerPoint altogether.
If you must use one, keep these things in mind when you are preparing.
- Keep it Simple: Elaborate designs and odd colors are a distraction rather than an addition to your presentation.
- Pay Attention to Color: You would not design a website or an ad campaign and ignore colors. The psychology of color is well known, and the effect colors have on people should never be overlooked in presentations.
- Keep Graphs Easy to Read: Make sure bars, pie charts, and other figures and numbers are easy to read and understand. If they are too complex, leave them out and offer a handout or SlideShare later.
- Don’t Overdo the Text: Keep text simple and general to keep the focus on you and not the screen behind you.
There are probably classes on making presentations and using PowerPoint in your area, or there are several online. Take one and understand how great speakers use these tools. A good method is to watch TED Talks and see how the best presentations are made.
Keep Your Audience in Mind
You need to know your audience. Really know your audience. If you are speaking to professionals in your niche, it may be fine to use abbreviations and some jargon. However, if you are speaking to a more general audience you might have to explain these things or even better leave them out. Understand their knowledge level and how they will best understand what you are trying to say.
If you don’t know your audience, it is best to feel them out and try to get to know them. Judge their response by your first few sentences and watch them to see if they are engaged. Don’t be afraid to use humor but be careful with this too. See if they are “getting” your jokes by judging reactions and be sure they are appropriate for the audience you are speaking to.
The better you know your audience, the more you speak their language, the more likely you are to engage them right away and keep them focused on what you have to say. If at all possible, learn as much about them as you can before you even start to write your speech or presentation.
No one wants to go see a robot speak. The reason Simon Sinek has some of the greatest TED talks on business is not because of the facts and ideas he presents, even though those are great. It is because he feels free to be himself, and to impart the knowledge he has in those areas in a compelling way that is unique to him.
Remember, you have something important to say, and you have a unique voice and a different take on things than anyone else does. There is likely a reason you have been chosen to speak on this topic. Remember that, and don’t change who you are to try to fit the audience. Yes, speak in their language, but let your personality shine through.
Yes, let your personality shine through, but at the same time be humble. No one wants to listen to a proud know it all either, and this can be especially a problem if you make a mistake. Humility does not mean being meek, not speaking clearly with authority, and not showing that you are confident. Rather, show that you have confidence in your content and that you are also comfortable with who you are.
At the same time, don’t act cocky or puffed up. You will come across as a jerk, and many listeners will tune you out right away. Even telling stories about your own shortcomings can endear an audience to you and help them relate to your stories and your content even more.
Public speaking can be hard and even humiliating. It may be something you are afraid of, but you have no reason not to learn how and make yourself a better speaker. Adding this skill to your toolbox will make you a better worker, and the confidence you gain will translate to other areas of your life.