A to Z of presenting in public

by Arlene.


Audience. Try and find out as much about your expected audience as you can. If you are using examples make them relevant to the group, avoid jargon, keep the talk at a level that will be effective for the majority of the audience.


Breathing is a vital part of the presentation skills – practice sighing, ughing, eeing, aaing and diaphragmatic breathing. It keeps the squeaks out and the projection in. A voice coach can help to develop this lifelong skill. All the strange new noises may cause others in your family to laugh, which stops you taking yourself too seriously. Talking should be fun for you too!


Cards. You may like to use cards that fit into your palm to put the main points on, particularly if you are forgetful or inclined to get off track when passionate about the topic. Remember only brief points not the whole talk on the cards. They can boost confidence.


Don’t let your ego get in the way of the message. Some audiences react badly to a speaker who knows it all, and doesn’t allow the audience to participate or offer suggestions.


Equipment. Nowadays you will be offered a range of audiovisual equipment. Experiment beforehand and always have backup for when the laptop, bulb or electricity fails.


Fun. Where possible work something into your presentation which causes the audience to laugh or at least titter. They will pay attention and be more relaxed for you, which will help with any nerves you may have. After a while you will look forward to speaking and this improves your presentations.


Good solid content matter. Whatever you have been asked to speak on should be what you provide. You can be controversial if the occasion merits it and challenge the status quo thinking, but remember most people do not like change.


Handouts. Used to interact with the audience or if there is too much material for people to take in. You may be encouraging membership by having handouts and/or giveaways. Remember WIIFM (what’s in it for me) benefits are expected in return for giving up time to hear you speak.


Introductions should be striking or topical, give outline, humorous or solemn dependent on the occasion.


Judgement. Judging the mood of a room comes with experience and confidence. You will be able to scan an audience’s body language and know if you are stimulating them, a little chatter or murmur in big audiences means that they are sharing with each other, that will be ok provided they are still looking your way most of the time. Leaning forward looking at you, smiling or nodding are all positive signals. If it is not working, stop and invite the audience to share their concerns with you. Everyone will get what he or she wants when this happens.


Keep eye contact with most of the audience when you are speaking. In a large group it helps to settle you and for a small group it engages you closer to the audience.


Listening is also a part of speaking. Pick up ideas prior to standing that you could put into your talk about what is important to your audience. Remembering the names of your host comes from listening too. Etiquette requires you know who is in your audience if opening an event.


Music. If music is playing at the venue ask the staff or your host to switch it off just before you start using a pre-arranged signal. Using music with your presentations can be very effective. Follow the tips in ‘equipment’ and check that where you are speaking has a music license or get one yourself (approx. $100 per annum). Remember not all computers attached to LCD projectors have sound cards. Also music and graphics eat up memory.


Noisy audiences. If you can get your hosts to ask for quiet do so, but if you are in control then consider these tips. Smiling reassures the rest of the audience you are in control. Walk closer to the noisy ones, stop talking until silence resumes, use their name, and invite them to share.


Organisation is paramount. If you are using equipment or handouts, fitting in behind other speakers or dinner then you need to be organised on the day. Organisation also extends to keeping the functions people aware of your expectations or requirements. Contact them if they have not contacted you, then there is no room for error.


Planning is vital. For every 15 mins of talk you do there is 1-1.25 hours of preparation and planning behind you. You can wing it, and may have to but this is not honouring your audience. Likewise, it is better to have a few “stories” that make the point ready for you to pull out and use when appropriate.


Questions. Fielding questions can be rewarding, For a start you know your audience has listened enough to ask questions. If you know the content well you should be able to answer. If you do not know the answer admit it, throw the question out to the audience, someone else may know. You may like to offer to get back later and remember to do so.


Rooms. Make sure you know the type of room you will be in or quickly get used to “seeing” a room and summing up how to best project your message in the room. Lots of material and carpets muffle quiet voices. If you have a very quiet voice consider carrying a portable microphone or invest in a voice coach.


Style. You have to choose a style of speaking that will complement the audience and bring out the best in you. Are you there to entertain, to inform or explain, to sell or persuade, or to develop or train the audience? Each requires your material to be pitched differently.


Timing cannot be emphasised enough. If you have a set time stick to it. No-one likes a windbag. For a 30 minute talk, that will probably have someone take 5 mins introducing you (unless you give them a short profile which is highly recommended), allow yourself 3-4 mins introduction, 5 mins conclusion and time for 1-2 questions. This results in you having about 15 mins to sell, persuade, inform, explain or entertain the audience. It is not long. You will only get 2-3 main points over.


Use stories and anecdotal points about your life and relationships when speaking to groups of women, try sport or business when your audience is mainly men.


Your Voice is an instrument; it needs cleaning, tuning and careful handling if it is to be used to project a strong image. Watch that you drink plenty of water and avoid alcohol until after you have spoken if possible.


Where do you stand? Front centre stage is the strongest point. Use this for persuasion and emphasis, right and left front of stage (or table) are both acceptable points to present information. Step to back right or left (left is probably weakest) to enable audience to think about what you are saying – you fade out a bit. It offers emphasis when you return to the forward positions.


Xenophobia – beware of a strong dislike of foreigners; if your message is “alien” to the audience don’t be surprised if they reject the concept. Use as many ways as possible to promote the messages.


You are the person they have invited to speak. Get used to being stared at. If you are shy, work on distancing yourself from the audience using visionary techniques. Very good content takes the fear away.


Zoom in at conclusion on the main purpose of the talk, particularly when seeking financial or emotional support for work. Consider exposure to as many senses as possible in the conclusion. Remember the fireworks display is noisiest and most spectacular at the end.