You are not alone if the thought of public speaking or presenting scares you.
Presenting or speaking to an audience regularly tops the list in surveys of peoples' top fears, creating a greater sense of trepidation than heights, flying or even dying.
There are some classic tell-tale signs of those struggling to present, even when they know their subject and are very experienced in their role. You may recognise these uncomfortable experiences from attending talks yourself:
- Presenters read from a prepared sheet in monotone, occasionally looking up, but losing the audience's attention rapidly, with listeners struggling to recall anything they said
- They try to remember their speech word for word, so it comes across as an exercise in memory recall, rather than engaging with their audience
- They’re focused on presenting data, rather than making the data tell stories and come alive for the audience
- Content is overbearing and detailed, resulting in information overload, with the speaker rushing to deliver all the information in the allotted time
- Presentation style is too safe and predictable, coming across as boring
- Speakers talk with low energy, in effect draining the room of interest, at what should otherwise be a rousing and inspiring event
- Presenters come across as too formal and 'stiff', perhaps appearing to be taking on another persona
- They clearly want to get it over with quickly (and so do you!) so they rush it and avoid eye contact
- They haven't prepared enough or practised enough, so it comes across as sloppy or vague
- Handling questions is scary so they respond 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 an event rather than the highlights. It’s not good for the speaker, their audience, or the organisation they represent.
Turning around a poor 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 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. The key areas we typically train and help our clients with include:
- Being clear about what the speaker wants to achieve with the speech and what they want the audience to remember, feel and do on the back of their talk
- Distilling and reducing the content down to the few key messages that really matter – the ones you want the audience to take away with them
- Preparing how to get the audience engaged and 'buying into' the message
- Critiquing the content from the listener’s perspective, asking: "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.
Chances are they were once fearful and hesitant at the prospect of speaking too. The difference is they will likely have spent days or weeks preparing, rehearsing and fine-tuning.
Standing in front of a large audience or an important client is a real opportunity for you to share your know-how, insights and passion. You have a platform to positively influence your audience’s opinion and command their respect and trust in you, your ideas, brand, services and your firm.
Investing time in preparing to give speeches and presentations so they are delivered with confidence and high impact is worthwhile - and leads to developing a skill that can last a lifetime.
In time, dreaded speeches will be something you look forward to, and can become the highlight of an event or meeting for you, your audience and your clients.