Three public speaking tips from an expert panel

Tips for public speaking

I was recently approached by energy giants, Gazprom, to share tips for public speakers. Here are the top three takeaways from me and the other members of the panel. You can read the full piece here.

Speaking in front of a room full of strangers can be one of the more daunting aspects of your career, whatever your level of seniority. With all eyes on you, your inner critic can have a field day, making you worry you’ll ‘mess up’ or make a fool of yourself. Do you know what? – often, when I ‘mess up’, or go off script it’s the best bit! Here are three tips for public speakers to worry less about messing up and enjoy your next presentation.

Treat it like a performance

Approach your presentation as if it is a performance. People want to learn, and they also want to be entertained. A ‘do your best performance’ mindset can help to put you at ease and your delivery will be more fluid. Grab your audience’s attention by just being your best and real you up on that stage. Ditch your notes and if you use presentation slides, go light on text and big on images that enhance your core messages. People are there to listen to you – not see some big slides on a screen.

Get the audience involved

Get your audience involved as soon as possible. It takes the pressure off you, gives you a sense of the mood of the room and gives you a moment to regroup. Ask them a question that people can put their hands up to. Ask a question that will have a lot of ‘yes’ answers, giving the audience an opportunity to participate and agree, for example, a lot of people fell into the profession of fundraising. Asking people who else is an accidental fundraiser (at a presentation to fundraisers) gets hands raising and builds rapport because they know you are one too. Obviously adapt this to your audience! Take people on an emotional journey during your presentation by telling stories. People learn and remember more through story and they also remember how you made them feel. Having a variety of stories, data, diagrams and models helps to change pace and keep your audience’s interest. It can also offer a chance for your audience to engage emotionally with your topic.

Do your last minute prep

The last of the tips for public speakers is the few bits of on-the-day prep that will ensure you’re ready and raring to go. In case you’re running short on time, map out where you’ll be at specific points in your presentation and make a note of the things that could be left out if things get delayed. Arrive early and double check the equipment you’ll be using. Is there a mic? Where’s the clicker to move the slides along? Do a sound check (especially if you have video content), Where will you stand – or depending on your style – where will you pace about? Is the laptop fully charged? Is your calendar auto reminder turned off?  Think about what you are going to wear – both in practical terms, for example, is there a place to put the battery pack for the microphone and does it fit you properly?  If you are distracted because you’re uncomfortable in what you’re wearing it will impact on you delivering your best performance. And finally make sure that what you’re wearing makes you feel good, feel confident and ready to take on the world.

If you found this blog useful you might also like the Lucidity Network – a place for people pushing to make change happen, a place to learn, a place to share and a place to connect. Check it out and join us here.

Don’t aim to be professional, aim to be you

Recently I wrote a blog about how in striving for professionalism, we often leave our personalities at the door. This can be detrimental for both our businesses and for us.

But it got me thinking about some professional situations, like job interviews, pitching or presenting, and whether we can inadvertently dial-up our professionalism to our detriment when required to impress or perform.

Personality is important across any business or work-based scenario. Decision makers, (whether they are open about it or not) will be thinking, “Would I like to work with this person?”

At Lucidity, I’m a ‘professional’ speaker, and I deliver presentations, team days, keynote speeches and facilitate workshops.

I remember when I was a fledgling presenter wanting to improve, I attended a three-day presentation skills course. I was filmed presenting and then critiqued. They picked up ‘ums’ and ‘ahs’ and weird nervous things I did with my hands without realising. I took the feedback. Practiced. Did it again. Received feedback. Practiced, and did it all again. It was a rather painful yet fundamental learning experience.

Everyone in the group finished the training and was able to present. We all completed the course ‘professional presenters’; presenting in exactly the same way. We were blank canvases – empty vessels waiting for our ‘professional’ content to arrive. We all stood straight. We all stood still. We spoke slowly. Our hands made the shapes that reinforced what we said. We were textbook.

Then I started to really pay attention to great presenters, and noticed that they didn’t stand still or do any of the textbook things I had learned. The best presenters, in my opinion, brought the best parts of themselves onto the stage. If they had humour, they were funny. If they were outspoken, they shocked. If they were experts, they bought expertise. So I decided to do the same.

The blank canvas was still an excellent start, and over the years my confidence has grown and I’ve practiced putting ‘me’ back in to my presentations. Just the good bits – not the bit where I stand with one hip slanted so it looks like I’m flirting with the flip chart, or the nervous lip-chewing or the over use of the word ‘like’ inserted anxiously into sentences.

I also began to realise what was holding ‘me’ back: I was terrified of being heckled or forgetting what I was going to say.

So I took improv classes to help me respond better ‘in the moment’, and to manage my fear of slipping up (which still exists by the way – I think you need a healthy amount of adrenalin when presenting, but it’s how you manage it that’s important). I am no longer afraid to respond to the audience, or to go off track. And I now get much better feedback and results than when I was a professional blank canvas.

My advice for you if you want to improve your public speaking skills is;

  • Learn the basics and create your blank canvas
  • Practice in front of the mirror, to friends, family and anyone who will listen
  • Say ‘yes’ to every opportunity to speak in front of an audience, for example team days, chairing meetings, speaking groups and clubs
  • Start to notice what other excellent speakers do
  • Recognise the areas you want to improve and focus on those, for example I knew my weak spot was fear of improvising – so I took an improv course with Hoopla.

As your confidence builds, you can add your personality back into the mix. It’s not a choice between professional or personality – it’s how you bring your true self to your professional life that will create the magic.

People work with people they know and like. Not everyone will like you, but if you over professionalise, you may accidentally lose the thing that makes you stand out. You.

Don’t aim to be professional, aim to be your best you.

If you’re interested in improving your public speaking skills, do get in touch. Lucidity delivers workshops and coaching in public speaking for all levels and abilities, from creating a blank canvas to putting personality back into your presentations.

We won’t train you to be professional, we will train you to be you.