- Posted by James Canada
As business owners, we are often expected to speak in front of a group. We might be communicating an idea, delivering a prepared talk or leading a meeting. Although we don’t label it as “public speaking”, that’s exactly what it is—and it’s never too late to sharpen our presentation skills. If you are in the majority of professionals that fear public speaking, here are several tips designed to help you feel more relaxed, appear more in-control, maximize your thinking ability, and get over your fear of speaking to groups.
- Eye Contact Many of us were taught to “Scan the audience.” When scanning, we were told to move our eyes rapidly around the audience and to make sure that we made eye contact with everyone. Extended eye control simulates normal one-on-one conversation. We can improve the delivery of a message by using the skills of extended eye control as follows:
- Looking at one person for an extended period of time, usually 3-5 seconds
- Finishing a thought or phrase
- Silently moving your eyes to another person and continuing to talk.
This method works great within smaller groups. It makes members of the audience feel drawn into the conversation. Attendees leave the presentation feeling like the presenter was speaking directly to them. Unfortunately, it does not work as well in larger groups. Instead, focus on sections of the audience in a larger group. Look to the left for a short period, up the middle and then to the right. Continue to move from left to right with a pause in each area. If possible, look at a different person in each section when you rotate sections. It makes the large group feel as if you are covering your audience.
- Nervous energy torments most presenters. Their knees vibrate. Their stomach turns upside-down. Their hands become wet and clammy. To control nervousness, many presenters lean on furniture, hold their hands in a “fig leaf” position or even wave a pointer (endangering audience members in the first row). So, what are some solutions to nervousness? Release energy productivity. Productive energy release can be accomplished by neutral stance, gestures that support your presentation and appropriate voice volume and pace. A neutral stance means you are facing the audience, feet are shoulder-width apart, knees unlocked and hands at your side.
- Gestures are the visual representation of your presentation. For example, if a large budget variance is being discussed, a big gesture to indicate the size of the variance would be appropriate. Effective gestures can only be generated when the hands are free of foreign objects. Voice volume and pace is critical to an effective presentation. Voice volume and pace must be in harmony with the other skills of effective presentation. The large budget variance, as an example, can be accented with an increase in volume and a quickened pace.
- Visual information can be very powerful–so powerful that at times it can create hazards for presenters. The two hazards are visuals when a) the audience gets pulled into the information or b) the speaker gets pulled into the information. Controlling the information revealed on a visual is a technique called “Clearing the Visual” that has two steps:
- Tell the audience what they are looking at – in detail
- Tell them what it means
Next or in combination with “Clearing the Visual” is the skill of “Ready Aim Fire”. This helps to control the presenter. Often times you may be the expert with the information and begin talking to the visual. The other view is that you are not familiar with the information and need to keep looking at the visual to become familiar. Practicing with the information will help you become familiar, and “Ready Aim Fire” will help overall. This skill has three steps:
- Ready Stage – Reference the information with your arm outstretched, palm of your hand open, gesturing to where you want the audience to look. Then, silently read the information to yourself, and gather your thoughts.
- Aim Stage – Come out and find a pair of eyes. This is an extension of extended eye control.
- Fire Stage – Deliver or say the information to that pair of eyes.
Next time you find yourself scheduled to speak in front of a group, review and practice these presentation tips. When you find yourself feeling more relaxed, in control and thinking clearly, you’ll be glad you took the time to brush up on your speaking skills—and chances are, your colleagues will show greater signs of interest.
Jim is an operations, business development and program/project management leader with Executive Management experience in both Service and Manufacturing environments.
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