Public speaking reportedly scares us more than death, spiders and heights. According to one American study, the fear is hardwired.
So, giving a good presentation is inherently testing, meaning a high risk of poor performance that bores the audience.
But you can keep the audience alert and engaged if you pay enough attention to detail. Here are 10 secrets of a gripping presentation.
1. Fight the fear
The first challenge a public speaker must conquer is nerves, says the general manager of the communication skills training firm The Voice Clinic, Laura James.
Most people would rather be in the box at a funeral than out front giving the eulogy, James says. But never admit you are nervous or you lose authority and audience attention. Instead, James says, accept your anxiety – channel its energy to further your purpose.
Also, know your audience, the arena and your material, which should be structured so that you can remember it. “And practise, practise, practise.”
Then, just before you perform, drink warm water that soothes the throat rather than tightening the vocal cords. Finally, during “the calm before the storm”, pause. Breathe deeply, smile at yourself – remind yourself that public speaking is fun.
2. Watch the clock
If you have been allotted 10 minutes, stick to that many, James says. Running to time stops you waffling – gives your message more punch.
3. Be yourself
Ensure that you use your own presentation style on stage. “Your audience won't buy what you're selling if they don't buy you,” James says.
4. Cut the ums
Speak clearly and confidently. “Audiences don't believe mumblers,” James says.
Watch out for filler words, such as ums and ahs, which you can swap for pauses – just inhale.
And inject some tone into your voice – mix it up because audiences hate monotony.
5. Prowl with purpose
If you rock from side to side or pace aimlessly, the audience will tune out and focus on your movement instead of the message.
“Own your space,” James says. “If you're going to move, move with purpose.”
Meanwhile, ensure you make eye contact with audience members.
“Really, really good speakers can talk to a room of 2000 people – and still everyone in that room feels at some point that speaker was looking directly at them and really connected.”
Work on overcoming fear of eye contact and raise your whole body language game by getting videotaped doing a trial talk, which will expose any blips.
6. Make it fun
Add interaction to your presentation, says speaker and business coach Tracey Leak. If you just stand, talk and click to the next PowerPoint slide, your audience will nod off, Leak says.
Involve the audience in an activity – a writing exercise, a discussion or an interactive game, for instance. For ideas on possible activities, run a search on “presentation games” and you will be amazed at the range, she says.
If an activity you run sparks laughter all the better, she says. Playing a funny, relevant YouTube clip fuels the mood.
7. Switch media
Try to appeal to different senses, so you engage with everyone in the audience, Leak says.
Some people absorb information best through an aural medium, so they just need to hear you. Others are visual, so use PowerPoint pictures and diagrams, or write on a flip chart or whiteboard. Still others learn by doing, so, weave in activities.
“Cover all the bases.”
8. Go easy on the PowerPoint
Keep PowerPoint use to the minimum, says Leak. Only put what information you think you must into PowerPoint form, then cut at least half because the software should just support your theme.
9. Spring some surprises
Change your state roughly every 10 minutes to recapture your audience, says Leak. For instance, you could change where you are speaking by stepping off the stage and into the crowd.
Or you could transition from talking to writing on a flip chart.
Or you could just alter the tone of your voice.
10. Make it matter
Your audience should walk away from your presentation filled with a sense of worthwhile gain, says Leak. “Add value”, she says, irrespective of whether you have been paid to speak.
If you are speaking for free, she says, just imagine each audience member paid at least $100.