How Not To Freak When You Speak

Tuesday, February 1, 2011
posted by Geetesh Bajaj at 6:58 AM IST



Sandra SchriftThis is a guest blog post by Sandra Schrift, president/owner of CoachSchrift and Associates, a San Diego based consulting, training and coaching firm. Since 1996, Sandra has been coaching speakers who want to become highly paid professional speakers as well as executives and business professionals who want to develop persuasive presentations. In this post, Sandra provides tips to retain your composure while speaking in front of an audience.

Do you feel at ease when you are speaking with your friends or your colleagues but freak when you have to present to a group of strangers in a small or large audience?

Would you like to feel comfortable the next time you are asked to do some public speaking? If the answer is yes, then let’s get started.

I suggest three key things to remember:

  • Know your audience
  • Know your content . . . well
  • Get over yourself! (remember you are speaking to a group because you have information they need to hear) So be there for them – it is not about you.

To be a polished platform speaker practice the following:

  • Meet and greet –- Get to your presentation early and “work” the room. Shake hands, introduce yourself and learn others names. Then when you begin your speech, some faces will be familiar to you and you to them.
  • Before you begin your presentation, breathe. Like opera singers, good speakers learn to breathe from their diaphragms and practice this daily. Proper breathing calms us down.
  • Your opening is crucial. Audiences have short attention spans, so you need to get their attention in the first 30 seconds and sustain it. Some good techniques for attention getting are:
    1. Ask a rhetorical question
    2. Make a startling statement
    3. Use a quotation or quote from the media
    4. Tell a personal story
    5. Share a funny story
    6. Show a short video clip that leads into your presentation

Don’t ever begin by saying “thank you” to your introducer, or telling your audience how nervous you are, or telling them a joke.

You have their attention and now you need to sustain it. The following are some ways you can persuade your listeners on your ideas.

  • Up front, you tell them what you will be telling them. This needs to be their agenda and what is important for them to know.
  • Your 3-4 points need to refer to the audience’s issues. Support your points with some stories. Most people are visual learners, so your stories will help them delineate their thoughts visually. As they listen to you, they will be a step away from their own story. Stories create connection.
  • Your listeners will respond to your recommendations if you explain how your solution will solve their challenges/problems. The story is a good place to support your recommendation(s) with evidence.
  • Your ending or closing needs to include a summary of what you just told them and a call to action. For example, you may say, “What is one nugget you can use immediately?” or “What is one thing you can do differently in the next 7 days?”

Enthusiasm and passion are contagious – so use it generously to persuade your audience to buy your product, use your service, or make some change. People have short memories, so repeat your key points several times. Use short, simple words. Give ‘em the facts. Don’t bore them with too much detail. Keep your presentation short. (Obama’s inaugural speech was 18 minutes and 20 seconds long)

Provide some interactive exercises. This keeps the audience involved and “owning” some of the material you present. You can have people turn to their partner and act on an action you present to them. If there is time, divide in small groups to work on an action. Make time for some feedback from the group.

Use a conversational style with your audience. Use the word “you” as often as possible. For example:

  • What would you do?
  • If you could create a perfect life, what would it look like?
  • How do you feel right now?

Now, are you ready to present with power and pizzazz?

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