On With the Show…

As a professional communicator, I am often called upon to make presentations or teach in front of audiences.  I have never found too much anxiety in this proposition, the gift of gab* is apparently a genetic trait in my family. *insert other more evocative words than ‘gab’ if you choose.

For others, this is not always a pleasurable experience.  Having been previously approached for tips or suggestions on how to make this a more tolerable exercise, I decided to share some here.  Since I’m always on the lookout for new ideas, feel free to share your thoughts as well.

  • Be Confident.  More than likely, you’ve been asked to present on information that you have and the audience doesn’t.  That gives you a leg up, stand on it.
  • Know Your Presentation.  Personally, I’m not a fan of memorizing lines or scripts.  I prefer presenting in a more conversational style.  But, it is always helpful to have talking points, segues or facts memorized so that I can use them to stay on topic and to prevent those blanks we are all familiar with.  If you’re not comfortable going off the cuff, learn your presentation until you can give it with your eyes closed (but don’t do that, it looks weird).  Once you know your script well enough that you can give it in a casual way, you will become confident and fluid.
  • Know Your Presentation Tools.  If you are using visuals, especially slideshows, practice and learn the sequencing ahead of time.  I have been in the audience many times when a presenter is using a Powerpoint slideshow and appears unsure or surprised with each new slide that appears.  Always know what will pop up next.  That way you can speak to the audience and not stare at the screen with them and read what they can read.
  • Get the Lay of the Land.  Get to know your surroundings before the spotlights are on you.  As you are preparing in advance, speak with whoever extended the invitation or assignment and discuss the audience.  Who are they?  What is their background?  What are some key points to hit or avoid?  Also ask the logistical questions.  How big is the room?  What is the A/V setup?  How much equipment, if any, should I expect to provide?  And make sure you arrive early to your own show.  Give yourself plenty of time to set up anything that needs setting up.  And if possible, meet and greet some of the audience so there will be some familiar faces in the crowd.  Avoid feeling rushed and you will feel much more comfortable.
  • Talk to a Friend.  How much more comfortable would you be discussing your presentation topic with one of your co-workers in a one on one conversation?  When you stand before an audience, you are essentially having that same conversation, just multiple times over.  If you find the masses intimidating, periodically pick out one or two people and “talk” to them.  This will also help to prevent the “deer in the headlights” look.

Delivering a successful presentation is dependent on your preparation and your confidence.  These are just a few ways that can help.  If all else fails, you can always “picture everyone in their underwear”.  But I hope you don’t get to that point, for everyone’s sake!

Posted in Communication.

2 Comments

  1. Thanks for inspirational info. I have stage fright. I need to overcome my fair of rejection, not good enough, I am ready. It paralyze me. I need to do in my my Auctioneering career I am working on. I have the will power, the tools. But … It overwhelms me every time.

  2. Jeff, I’d add four more thoughts:

    1. If it’s a chamber of commerce style event where businesses have booths out front, visit with at least two of the booths and make reference to them, what they do and what they said that impressed you.
    2. Learn what the organization stands for and be aware of its latest or upcoming activities including fund-raising drives. It’s smart to pay homage to the host organization.
    3. Call names of people in the crowd and how they relate to your presentation, even if you only met them there. I recall one speaker who arrived early and worked the entire room and could share details about several audience members. Impressive!
    4. Tell stories that relate to the audience. Not just YOUR favorite stories, but those that have something to do with the audience or organization’s mission or interests. CAUTION: If you speak frequently in the area, have a bank of relevant stories so you are always using fresh material. I know one speaker who has opened with the same two stories for 10 years and it’s embarrassing when he does it.

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