Public Speaking or Dying

Presenting or speaking to an audience regularly tops the list in surveys of peoples’ top fears – more than heights, flying or even dying! So, you are not alone if the thought of speaking in public scares you. On the contrary, almost everyone feels fearful of presenting and public speaking to one degree or another.

Can you recall events where you observed an otherwise confident, competent speaker step up to a podium and then proceed to give a presentation where they:

  1. Read up from a prepared sheet in a monotone, occasionally looking up, but losing the audience’s attention rapidly (with listeners struggling to recall anything they said)
  2. Try to remember their speech word for word, so it comes across as an exercise in memory recall, rather than engaging with an audience
  3. Focus on presenting data, rather than making the data tell stories and come alive for the audience
  4. Present too much, resulting in information overload, and the speaker rushing to get through all the slides
  5. Are too safe and predictable, coming across as boring
  6. Speak with low energy, in effect draining the room of energy, at what should otherwise have been a rousing and inspiring event
  7. Come across as too formal and “stiff” – appearing to be taking on another persona?
  8. Clearly want to get it over with quickly (and so do you!) – so they rush it
  9. Haven’t prepared enough or practised enough, so it comes across as sloppy or vague
  10. Are handling questions defensively or aggressively as they feel under pressure and exposed in front of the audience.

Does this sound familiar? The result is that often the speeches and presentations become the low-points of the event rather than the highlights. It’s not good for the speaker, their audience, or the organisation they represent.

Expert input – the difference between a poor and perfect presentation

As business coaches and trainers, we regularly help corporate leaders, business owners, advisers and experts prepare for speaking at important events. These can be product, company or training presentations to existing clients, potential clients or colleagues, or they can be public speaking opportunities at seminars, business networking events or conferences.

It is rarely the speaker’s knowledge about the subject matter that is the issue. No, the key areas we typically train and help our clients with include:

  • Bringing clarity to what the speaker wants to achieve with the speech and what they want the audience to remember, feel and do on the back of the speech
  • Distilling and reducing the content down to the few key messages that really matter
  • Preparing how to get the audience engaged and ‘buying into’ the message
  • Critiquing the content, not because we know the subject matter better, but often because we don’t know it, and therefore have the courage to ask “What do you mean by …?” or “What makes that important to the audience?”
  • Understanding the importance and impact of body language, voice and presence
  • Rehearsing, giving feedback and refining content and delivery
  • Helping the speaker manage their state of mind, their fears and self-doubts

Making it look effortless

Some speakers make it look effortless. But don’t be fooled. They will often have spent days or weeks preparing, rehearsing and fine-tuning.

Standing in front of a large audience is a big opportunity for you to share your know-how, insights and passion. You are given the platform to positively influence the audience’s opinion, respect and trust in you, your idea, your brand, your product and your company.

Earning the opportunity to walk onto that podium has often taken the speaker (or others) a large amount of effort and time, sometimes years! So, don’t blow it by being poorly prepared and ill-equipped to deliver a memorable experience.

Getting training and professional help, be it external or internal, to deliver speeches and presentations with confidence and high impact, is a comparatively small investment. It can turn dreaded speeches into the highlight of an event for both the speaker and the audience.

What are your experiences of good and bad speakers at events and meetings?

This article was adapted from an article previously written by Jan Bowen-Nielsen for Rhodes Event Management.

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