How to Be a Better Public Speaker

It’s said that our biggest fear as human beings is the fear of death.   In second place, apparently, is the fear of public speaking.  We’ve all been there, face sweating, heart racing and an adrenaline rush similar to that of riding a roller coaster.  Doing a presentation in front of our team or even senior leadership can be a stress inducing experience.  But here’s the thing, it doesn’t have to be.  Here are some tips that can help you become a more competent and confident public speaker.

Set a Goal
Before you even start crafting your presentation or speech establish a goal.  Think about the key message you want to convey.  Is it inspirational?  Informational?  Are you communicating strategy based on an analysis you conducted?  Identify the key takeaway of your presentation and build from there.  It will keep you focused while you’re speaking and form a centre point around which you can create your speech.

Breathe and Practice
Fear generates the fight or flight response and a side effect of this is shallow breathing.  Unfortunately this shallow breathing then feeds the fear response creating an unhealthy cycle.  Short circuit the fight or flight response by taking a deep breath before you present.  This tells your brain that there’s nothing to fear and that it can relax.

Before you get to your presentation day, increase your chances of success by practicing your speech as much as you can.  While you do so, focus on remaining calm.  Visualize yourself as relaxed and notice if you have tension in your body.  Remember, neurons that fire together wire together, so the more you can see yourself as calm during your speech, the more you train your brain and body to have this response.

Film Yourself
Before you present, film yourself.  Note the tone of your voice, body language miscues and pacing inefficiencies.  Consider inviting a friend to watch the video or watch you in real time.  Ask for feedback.  Be open to changing your presentation.  After all, something that seems clear to you as the expert on the topic, may not be getting effectively conveyed.

Conversation
The best presenters connect with their audience.  They do so, in part, by speaking with their audience not just to them.  This is an important distinction.  While you might be information sharing, attempting to make the presentation flow two ways can be better than a long-winded narrative.  Is there a story you could mine that would make your message more relatable?  Your audience is much more likely to remember a story connected to facts or figures, then those same figures without something they can relate to.

To find out how better communication in general can strengthen your finance team read this post.

Body Language
Albert Mehrabian’s communication model reveals the importance of body language in determining how a message is received, particularly if we’re communicating feelings or attitudes:

  • 55% of the message comes from our perception of a person’s facial expression
  • 38% of our understanding of the message is derived from a person’s tone of voice
  • 7% only is communicated by the words that are spoken

Think about your body language.  What message is it sending?

Watch this TED talk to learn more about how body language can be the key to successful communication.

Be Succinct
The phrase “less is more” is highly applicable when giving a presentation or speech.  The temptation, as the expert in the room, will be to provide a lot of information.  Instead, identify the key points you want to convey and focus on them.  It doesn’t hurt to repeat them at the end of your speech so that people understand the key takeaways.

Death by PowerPoint
We’ve all seen them, presenters or speech givers who rely too heavily on PowerPoint to communicate their ideas.  Keep your slides clutter free.  Visuals such as graphs and charts are fine, but keep the formatting as straightforward as possible.  And most importantly, don’t simply read from the PowerPoint slide.  It’s a guaranteed way to lose your audience.

For more information on how to create a great PowerPoint presentation read this article.

Key Takeaways
To become a better public speaker set a goal for the presentation.  Practice as much as you can and consider filming yourself to review your body language and tone of voice.  Consider how you can create a conversational style and don’t rely too heavily on PowerPoint to communicate your message.  With these tips in mind you have a good chance to becoming a more confident and competent public speaker.

Your Next Step
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