Remember these tips next time you face an audience.

Whether you are leading a seminar before a small group of your peers or delivering a keynote address to thousands of strangers, unless you have years of speaking experience, you are likely to feel awkward or uncomfortable when the microphone is in your hand.
It’s common reaction – most people simply do not enjoy speaking in front of an audience.  But your anxieties can be lessened if you remember these seven simple strategies:
  • Do not try to hide behind technology.

It is a disastrous mistake to plan a great slide presentation so that people won’t focus on you.  That’s wrong.  A bad speaker with a good PowerPoint is still a bad speaker. Slide presentation is never a substitute for preparation.

  • No one will leave a program saying, “Wow! Those were great bullet points!”  Instead, if they leave saying, “Wow! The presenter sure knew his stuff, and he illustrated his points well,” they you have done your job and exceeded most people’s expectations. The audience is rarely the enemy.
While it is true that audience members may not always agree with your message, they almost never want you to fail.  Most people who take the time to listen to you hope for a good performance; they are inherently on your side from the start.  Take comfort in their support. 
  • Begin by choosing one of four objectives.
Good speakers always begin their projects by asking themselves, “Is my objective to inform, to persuade, to inspire or to entertain?”  Choose at least one.  Remember, if your objective isn’t clear to you, the audience will never figure it out.
  • Speak with your audience not to them.
Today’s audiences generally want short, practical presentations – more tightly focused and with an emphasis on “What’s in it for me?”  Today’s speakers know that a good speech is good conversation.  And the best speakers speak conversationally while keeping it brief.
  • Nothing can top a good story.
The essence of public speaking is simply this: Make a point(s), tell a story(ies).  People don’t remember points.  But they do remember stories.  So where do you get stories to make your points?  Pay attention to the little stories of the little things that happen to you on a daily basis.  As soon as you start using your personal, real-life stores and anecdotes, the audiences will start remembering you.
  • Write it out.
Yes, write your speech word for word, but don’t ever stand there and read it.  It shows a lack of preparation and commitment to the message.  Writing a speech encourages brevity and precision.  Therefore, write out your thoughts, then edit aggressively.  Pack the most information into the least time.  Finally rehearse it to the point where you can deliver them by referring only to a few note cards.
  • There is no substitute for practice.
Speaking is a skill that takes practice.  So practice your presentation aloud, at full volume, until it flows smoothly and you’re comfortable with its rhythm.  It is entirely different from merely rehearsing in your head.  The audience will hear the ‘aloud’ version, so you’d better be sure you are comfortable with what they are going to hear.
 
“People don’t remember points.
But they do remember stories.”
 
Summarized from the article “Seven Staples of Public Speaking” by David Brooks
Originally appeared in Performance Magazine, 2006
 
 

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