Got an important presentation or public speaking engagement coming up? Whether you have spoken before crowds before or it is completely new to you, keep these tips in mind for an effective presentation.
- Relax. This is our number one tip. First of all, realize that no one cares about your mistakes but you. If you stumble a few times, drop your notes, mispronounce a word, it’s really not a big deal. Your listeners aren’t rooting against you, they want you to succeed. Don’t think of it as giving a speech, but rather think of it as having a one-on-one conversation with someone and talk to the audience as you would to a colleague or friend.
- Visualize giving a great speech. All the great athletes and performers know this secret; if you visualize yourself succeeding, you greatly increase your chances of success. Before your speech, we recommend you visualize yourself delivering it smoothly, calmly and professionally. It’s surprisingly effective.
- Don’t expect to be able to walk up in front of an audience and “wing it,” especially if you’ve never done any public speaking before. Even if the practice is simply in front of your mirror, it will help you immensely to run through it a few times beforehand. Practicing in front of a trusted friend or coworkers is even better. Ask for their honest feedback and use it to improve your performance.
- Practice. Don’t expect to be able to walk up in front of an audience and “wing it,” especially if you’ve never done any public speaking before. Even if the practice is simply in front of your mirror, it will help you immensely to run through it a few times beforehand. Practicing in front of a trusted friend or coworkers is even better. Ask for their honest feedback and use it to improve your performance.
- Create an outline. Your speech should include an introduction, the main points you want to cover, and a wrap-up/conclusion. Illustrate all your main points with concrete examples. If you are a nervous type, having as much written down as possible will help you relax. We don’t recommend that you read a speech verbatim from a script as that will seem stilted but having all the bullet points there if you need them can be your “security blanket.”
- Focus on the needs and desires of your audience. Think about what your listeners are actually hoping to get from your presentation. Take the focus off yourself and onto the participants. Not only will you be less nervous, but you will deliver a more compelling speech.
- Keep your points concise. Be careful of being too long-winded and losing your audience’s attention. Better to leave your audience wishing you had spoken longer than counting the minutes because you’ve gone on too long.
- Incorporate personal stories. Every great speaker knows the power of connecting with your listeners through anecdotes and reminiscences. Find ways to personalize your presentation through the triumphs, struggles and histories of yourself and other real people.
- Create compelling and instructive visuals. An effective PowerPoint or Google Slides presentation with photos, graphs, charts and bullet points can be a valuable tool for illustrating whatever concepts you are trying to explain. The longer the presentation or more complicated or controversial the concepts, the more visuals you will need and the more descriptive they will need to be. If you can include some short video clips into your presentation, these can also be effective at sustaining attention and breaking up the flow of your speech so that it doesn’t become monotonous. Enlist a graphic designer to help with this if you need it.
- Test out all your equipment beforehand. Even if you have a techie who is going to help you set up any A/V equipment you will be using, see if you can do a quick dry run to head off any technical glitches in advance.
- Check your pacing. A common tendency of many new presenters is to speak too fast. It is often unconscious and you may not even realize that you are doing it. This is why it’s great to practice in front of others who can let you know if you need to slow down. It will also help your nervousness if you make a habit to take a few deep breaths through your presentation and slow down.
- Watch your “ums” and “ahs.” Most of us have an unconscious filler word or phrase that we use when trying to complete a thought. You may not realize that you have one, but if you ask your friends, they might tell you that you say “like” or “you know” or “so” a lot. Then there are the good old standbys “uh” and “um.” Using any of these occasionally is fine and to be expected, but when they are peppered frequently throughout one’s speech, it can become distracting for the listener and lessen your credibility.
- Dress professionally, but for comfort. This isn’t the time to wear those great spiked heels that pinch your feet or a tweed jacket that makes you sweat. Do wear a layer like a jacket that can be removed without ruining the professionalism of your look in case the room is stuffy or left on if cold. If you have a tendency to sweat, you can purchase self-adhesive underarm pads to keep from developing embarrassing armpit stains. Have a handkerchief on hand for facial perspiration.
Want to learn and practice more to become a great public speaker? Consider joining a Toastmasters Club or find a speaking coach near you.