How to master public speaking
Earlier this week I gave a presentation to a large group of sports therapists at the NEC in Birmingham. Following the talk someone said to me that they’d really enjoyed the presentation but that they couldn’t imagine doing that themselves! It got me thinking about presentations and how scary they are for people. A quick search on google and it comes up as one of our top three fears alongside heights and snakes (I hate those things)…HERE is an article I found earlier from push doctor.
Although I often am told that I present well and people enjoy the talks I give, it really hasn’t been a skill that has come naturally to me. I would say that I’ve made it happen because I realised the value it would bring to me and my business. After around 250 live performances over the last ten or so years I still get really nervous but I can manage the nerves better than I used to.
Many years ago I was asked to present at a couple of fairly big conference in front of around 200 people at each event and I can remember the nerves that I felt. My heart was racing and I felt sick, and that was when I was initially asked to do the event, let alone performing at the event itself!
To help me overcome the nerves I hired a presentation coach as the reality was that although I’d been delivering workshops and courses for years I’d never really had any training on how to present in public so I was essentially ‘winging it’ (nothing wrong with that but you do get found out eventually lol!)…
Let me tell you that I learnt a TON of information from the coach who helped me and it really broke down the process so that I was able to deliver a good presentation and take the learnings from that into my career to date.
These days whilst I wouldn’t say I’ve mastered the art of public speaking it’s a LOT more comfortable for me and I really enjoy doing it.
So with that in mind I wanted to share some key points that work for me and that I hope will help you. In true coaching style I’ve put these together into what I call the POWER presenting formula.
And here it is:
Preparation, plan and Perform
Words, worse case
Rapport, be real
Lets break down each point one by one:
An absolute critical piece of the presentation puzzle is you must know your content inside out. You need to know it so well that if someone said to you before the presentation that you didn’t have any power point slides or whiteboard you could still deliver your presentation comfortably from memory.
If the presentation is important enough you want to have rehearsed it at least three times prior to actually delivering it and mastered your timings.
The story you tell to people and the journey you take them through is your plan. A good presentation should have a start, middle and an end. Don’t be afraid to communicate this to people when you’re giving the talk. For example in my talk yesterday when I reached the end of the introduction I explained that I was going to take people through why injuries occur, then how we can assess to prevent them, then the training interventions that we would use, before a summary at the end. This is a clear start, middle and end. It makes people feel comfortable and allows them to relax and actually learn from you. In your preparation you can storyboard out each section of your talk and the key points you want people to take from it, ensuring you have that structure in place.
These days anyone can find content and information online. The value of attending a live event or presentation is hearing it from the expert, but also that the audience are in a learning frame of mind and have chosen to be there. With that in mind as presenters we need to put on a performance. We need to be memorable for those people. Our goal is to inspire them into taking action when they get back to their home environment.
Opening Line into story
When you see a 100m sprinter preparing for their heat on TV it’s very clear that they are going through some kind of pre event routine to manage their nerves and energy before the race begins. If they get a bad start it’s really tough for them to make up lost ground. Similarly if they get a flying start they are often unbeatable.
Your pre-event routine and your opening line is the way you can get a flying start when you’re presenting. My strategy with this is to talk to as many people as I can and ask them questions. They will be pleased to share with you and it helps to keep you calm. Something as simple as ‘where have you travelled from today’ or ‘what have you learnt so far at the conference’ are great ways to break the ice. It also shows that you are comfortable and confident which is an important element to a successful presentation.
Incidentally, that reference to the 100m sprinter is what’s referred to as a metaphor and this is a very good strategy to help people to learn more efficiently. A metaphor is when you compare two things that aren’t the same but have some things in common with a goal to get your point across more effectively. To an extent I would say that the better you are able to use metaphors in your story telling the more impactful your presentations will be. Here’s a few examples:
- He drowned in a sea of grief.
- She is fishing in troubled waters.
- Success is a bastard as it has many fathers, and failure is an orphan, with no takers.
Another good tactic to include within your presentations and storytelling is analogies. These are similar to metaphors, a well known one being Forest Gumps ‘Life is like a box of chocolates’. Here’s a few other examples:
- Finding a good man is like finding a needle in a haystack.As Dusty Springfield knows, finding a small needle in a pile of hay takes a long time, so the task at hand is likely to be hard and tedious.
- That’s as useful as rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic.It looks like you’re doing something helpful but really it will make no difference in the end.
- Explaining a joke is like dissecting a frog. You understand it better but the frog dies in the process.
You can read a lot more of metaphors and analogies at THIS link.
Your opening line or opening few lines need to be absolutely clear and memorised. These need to be what I describe as softeners into the main content. Maybe you saw something on the drive to the event that you can share, or you have been chatting to someone earlier and you can re tell that to the whole crowd. I usually try to get a laugh of some kind from people in these opening few lines. The value of this is massive. It puts you at ease, but more importantly it puts your audience at ease and begins to bring you together rather than they’re being a divide between you and them.
I remember giving a talk in Ipswich a few years ago. As I was driving down from Leeds on the A1 I kept noticing there were loads of sex shops on road going through Lincolnshire and into Suffolk.
After I was introduced to the attendees at the conference I told them this story and there were a few sniggers from the crowd. I then ended with a line I’d thought of which was simply, ‘those lorry drivers must be big spenders or there must be nothing else to do around there’! The audience laughed and whilst I’m not going to win any awards for stand up comedy anytime soon it made everyone feel at ease. Job done.
Words VS Pictures VS Stories and Worst Case scenario
The better your preparation process is the more effective your words and delivery will become. Say less and give more is a good mantra here. If you can be succinct with your points and know clearly what the key point is from each slide or section of your talk the more impact you’ll make on your audience.
The same goes for your slides, try to have less information on them and purely use the slides as cues for you to expand on in your storytelling.
I went through a phase of trying to have no more than one word on each slide and use pictures to make the impact. The picture would signal a story and a key point at the end of that story. It was a good grounding for my presentations that I give today.
In addition to this I would strongly recommend that when you want to make an important point you take the picture away. Maybe you have a really good metaphor or analogy to share, you really don’t want people to miss it and focus on the slide instead of your words. You can use your clicker for this. People will focus on you as the speaker rather than your picture on the screen. Combine your stories with pictures, videos and minimal words and you are well on your way.
Final point, don’t expect people to listen to your talking when you’re showing videos. Let people watch the video and then share with them. Or pre frame the video with the context then play the video. Don’t spoil an impactful video with you talking over the top of it!
Worst Case Scenario
Always go prepared for the worst case scenario. Things change at the last minute at events and you don’t want to be left in a position where you feel like you can’t cope. As I said in the preparation section above, if you know your content well you could deliver it without any slides or whiteboards. Think through what would happen if this was to be the case. What if there was a power failure and you cant use your laptop?
I’ve lost count of the amount of times that the schedule for the day changes, the IT people aren’t ready and waiting to go and you have to fend for yourself. To de-risk anything from your side happening make sure you take your adaptors, your power cables, slide clicker, water bottle and anything else you need to deliver your best performance.
As a presenter I am probably known for being quite animated on stage and I like to move around a lot and engage with people in the crowd. I don’t like to stand behind a lectern and talk at people, I’m all about the headset which allows me to move around freely and really get my points across.
With that being said the key point about energy is that variety is key. If all you do is jump around and shout at people your information will be lost in the noise. The art of presenting is to sometimes be animated, sometimes be calm and centred, sometimes in the crowd, other times back on stage. When you’re telling a story you could be moving around but then when you want to make that big important point you come back to the centre and stay still, lower your volume and make people really listen to you. The difference is powerful.
The best way to evaluate your natural style is watch yourself back on video and see what you do naturally. Or even better work with a coach and get their input. Then think about introducing some different styles into your next presentation to help you make your points more effectively. It’s a constantly evolving process.
Rapport, Be real
I mentioned earlier about how when I present I try to engage with people in the audience before hand. I’ve even sat down next to people and had a conversation before I’m introduced. Whilst this is part of my pre-performance routine to keep myself calm it’s also a great rapport builder. It helps you to connect with people, it helps them to be comfortable and it might just give you a great opening comment to make to break the ice with people when you are introduced formally to them at the start of your presentation.
Let’s be clear that your goal when you present is to inspire people into taking action, to teach them something they did not know before or to shine a light on something that they are not doing effectively to help them to get results. At no point is this about you being seen as the guru, it’s about working together to get the desired outcome. To help you achieve this keep regular eye contact with people. Focus your attention at different times on specific sections of the crowd or on particular individuals within the crowd. Go towards them and be a part of them. Reduce the barriers between you as much as possible. When I am on a raised platform or stage even then I try to get as close to the edge as I can and if possible I’ll step off and go into the crowd just to connect that little bit more. I’ve tripped over the cables a number of times to the annoyance of the technicians waiting in the wings!
My final point is be real. By that I mean be open and honest up there. No one engages with a martyr so tell them about mistakes you ‘ve made, lessons learnt and how it’s made you a better version of yourself. My friend and excellent presenter Ron McKeefery says show some vulnerability. Ultimately people buy into people. If you’re coming across as some kind of machine that never makes mistakes and always has an answer then you’ll always have a divide between reality and you.
So there you have it, the POWER presenting system! If you have a passion for helping people and a mission to make a big impact then you have got to get yourself in front of groups of people to share your message. It really is a huge opportunity. If you are reading this feeling energised and inspired then get a seminar or workshop in your diary and get promoting it.
If you are slightly nervous or worried reading this then try to reframe that. Your reaction is telling you that you just need to learn this stuff, practise it and build your confidence. It’s not telling you to avoid it.
If you would like my help then get in touch and we can arrange some coaching. I’ve had some enquiries recently about creating a presentations course for people to teach the principles I have described in more detail and allow you to develop into a great presenter. If you think this would help you then please do reach out and we can set something up. Just reply to this email and we can go from there.
In the meantime I wish you well and good luck at your next presentation, wherever that may be.
To your strength and success,