I’ve been public speaking for almost 25 years now and I’m often asked how I look so comfortable and as engaging/passionate as I am, this isn’t how I’ve always been…
I was a very shy and nervous child, teenager and even in to my early career in retail; although working in retail helped me immensely in getting over the shyness. I was fine talking one to one, but the very though of having to speak to a group filled me with complete and utter dread. I was paralysed at the thought.
When I moved in to IT I was sent on the Dale Carnegie course in the early 90’s, this included having to do a two minute talk to the rest of the class every week for the length of the course….scary wasn’t the word! However, it did help me to overcome my initial panic (panic was the correct word), and even some of my anxiety/nerves. But, it was a small group, no more than 20 people, not hundreds or thousands!
The first time I did a conference, back in 1996 (to several hundred delegates) I couldn’t stand up because I was so nervous (my legs would not support me; luckily the lectern microphone was faulty, so I got to sit down at the moderators desk, phew!) The following year I presented at the same conference and I actually stood up to deliver my talk; I was still very nervous, however, since then it has become easier (less stressful) & now I actually enjoy presenting at conferences, events and training sessions all over the world.
“I was a very anxious and shy person, I am not an extrovert; although many people believe I am, they often tell me that I am a very engaging and passionate and that I come across as a very natural and confident speaker.’
So, what can you learn from my personal experiences, so that you can tame the nerves and shine when you next have to present?
Here are my top tips to make it as painless for you, and engaging for your audience:
1. Use stories, real world stories help to bring a subject to life, and help to engage your audience (everyone likes a story).
2. Know your stuff, it may sound obvious, but if you don’t know your material (topic) then it will show and be more stressful for you and uncomfortable for your audience. I love sharing the knowledge, tricks and tips that I’ve acquired over the last 31 years…
3a. Never do a live demo (record it instead). Also, any videos or other material you use, make sure you have a local copy (internet connectivity may be patchy or non-existent).
3b.Try and use your own laptop as relying on the organisers one may prove problematic. Issues could include; lack of the correct codecs (meaning your videos won’t play, or won’t play correctly), the laptop the organiser is using may use a different language or Operating System that you don’t know. If you must use the organisers laptop, etc. test that it works as expected with your material, don’t just wing it!
3c. Pictures really do help, (as the old saying goes “A picture is worth a thousand words” by all means use text on your slides, but make it clear that this is for reference, as you will share the slides with the audience afterwards.
4. Rehearse (especially if it is new material, or not your slide deck/talk). If you don’t know your material intimately, then it will show, practice, practice, practice and know your stuff! Speak clearly, and use a measured pace (don’t talk too fast; I’m still guilty of doing this at times). But equally don’t talk too slow, and definitely use a varying tone (it is better for the audience, believe me). Breathe, leave space after you have made a point (to let it sink in).
5. Make it personal, Talk to your audience, ask them questions, ask for feedback/confirmation during the talk (not just at the end).
6. Make it fun (memorable), use humour to make a point and to raise the interest level, especially if it is a rather dry or scary subject. Cartoons can help raise the interest level, as can jokes (but be careful not to offend).
7. Give actionable takeaways (no not food or gifts ;-)) Give your audience things (useful tricks/techniques/best practice, etc.) they can use both at home (in their personal life) and at work.
8. If you are nervous use the nerves to your advantage. Nerves can help give you energy to make your talk sparkle. Be passionate about your subject, you will feel less anxious as a result.
9. Move about, don’t hide behind the lectern/podium, use the stage/floor; this helps you to engage with more of the audience than you could otherwise do. Look as many in the eye as you can (not just those at the front).
10. Enjoy yourself, when you follow the above, you can actually enjoy the experience; this makes it more engaging/comfortable for the audience. Go on, do it, if I can then you can too…
I now present all over the world at event and conferences to audiences from 30 up to over 5,000!
There are probably others that have slipped my mind at this moment, what are your top tips?