Whenever someone asks me for tips on presentation or public speaking, my first impulse is to say prepare, prepare, prepare, prepare. Having a script, an outline, or a fancy slide deck does not make you prepared. Preparation goes far beyond content creation. Once your content is ready, you might be halfway there because knowing your material is not the same thing as delivering the material. Those are two separate skill sets. You can know the material like the back of your hand and still hit a wall when it comes to communicating it clearly and effectively. Here are some easy strategies anyone can use to prepare more thoroughly for an effective presentation.
Format your notes so they actually help you. Speakers often try presenting from pages or slides that have large sections of small type and not enough white space. When the text is too dense on the page, it’s very easy to lose your place, and you’ll tend to keep your eyes glued to your notes. Use at least 14-point fonts and place small sections of double spaced text at the top, middle, and bottom of the page. The rest will be white space. That way your notes will support you, not distract you.
Rehearse the speech. To be fully prepared, you must practice doing exactly what you’ll be doing when you actually give the speech. That often means standing up and talking through your material out loud. Reading over your notes is not rehearsal. If you make a video of your rehearsal, it gets even better. You immediately notice what’s working well and what needs your attention. In a very short time, you’ll become your own coach.
Master the beginning and the end. The opening and closing could arguably be the most important parts of your presentation, but they often get the least amount of preparation. Create a compelling opening. Learn it so well you won’t need notes. Then use that freedom to establish an immediate connection and engage your listeners. Create a conclusion that drives home your main points and inspires your listeners to take action. What do they need to remember? What do they need to do? How do you want them to feel? If there’s any moment when you need to speak with persuasiveness, clarity, and conviction, it’s during the conclusion, and that takes preparation.
Know what you’re practicing. Before you have to speak, pick one small skill you can practice while you are presenting. It should be something small and not too distracting such as I’m going to stand on both feet, or I’m going to really see my listeners. It’s impossible to focus on everything, so make a point of focusing on one thing. Choosing your task will help you stay present, feel in control, and be realistic in your expectations. It also will guarantee that you keep improving.
Public speaking isn’t rocket science. The skills required are pretty straightforward. The challenge is learning to do what is ordinary in out-of-the-ordinary situations. Speaking is ordinary. Speaking alone in front of 15, 50, or 100 people is out of the ordinary. It’s no time to cross your fingers and hope for the best, nor to assume it’s as easy as it looks. When you’re prepared, and you know you’re prepared, you’ll approach the podium with strength, confidence, and a realistic expectation of success.
For more training to enhance your speaking skills, visit voiceandspeech.com and sign up for your free video mini-course The Sound of Success.