Surprisingly so, I’m pretty comfortable getting up before a group & giving a presentation or making a speech.
(You wouldn’t guess it from someone who’s suffered from anxiety & panic attacks.)
Back in 1985, I attended a training course called “Developing Presentation Skills” at the brand-new Marriott Marquis in TimesSquare. No, it wasn’t New Year’s Eve (Laurie & I rarely went out on NYE, ya know, between the crazy weather & the even-crazier drivers, we’d normally stay at home or pretty close to it)!
But I digress…
Going into this seminar, I really didn’t expect to gain much out of it…I was pretty skeptical & honestly, more afraid of being bored to death. I hadn’t chosen to attend myself so, of course, my rebellious radar was on alert.
Yet, by the time I left, I found it to be one of the very best & most useful training sessions I’ve ever attended.
No, they weren’t serving cocktails, silly!
A few insights I gained from the course…
> > Don’t stand still.
If you’re up on the stage or standing in front of a large group, don’t just stay in the middle & speak. Get yourself off to one side.
Now, pick someone sitting on the opposite side, about halfway between the front & back of the audience.
Look straight at that person while you walk (and continue talking) to that side of the stage.
After a minute or so, now choose someone on the other side of the room…and do the same thing. Continue doing this as you’re doing your thing.
Depending on the length of your talk & the number of different topics you plan to cover will help determine how many times you move back & forth.
You can always stop off at the middle, or where you may have your notes (if it’s a straight speech), before you pick up with the “one-corner-pick-a-target-go-to-other-corner” repetitive thingie.
> > Don’t necessarily concentrate on the entire audience as a whole…you’ll often find it way too “intimidating”!
Instead, continuously pick out different people, sitting in different areas…front, back, left, right, middle…and talk DIRECTLY to THAT person. 30 seconds or so later, pick out someone else, not in the same area, and do the very same.
And don’t forget your walking back & forth every few minutes.
> > Yes, you can picture your audience either naked or in their underwear!
That’s totally allowable.
Warning: For some of you (🙋🏻♂️), this may prove to be way too distracting (although they will appear a helluva lot less intimidating)!
And NO comments on their attire, please!
> > And one of my own personal tips…
Don’t write down your entire speech or presentation. Definitely not word for word!
And if you’re giving a presentation, your visuals should help cover just the tree-tops, not every word you intend on saying.
Again, do NOT write down your entire speech! This will only make you sound a little (?) too rehearsed & contrived.
And if you ever happen to lose your place (perhaps, by getting distracted or handling a question), you’re dead! You’ll panic like a 14 year old boy at a high school dance & then it’ll be downhill from there.
Rather, build yourself a map.
Jot down a bunch of bullet points with all your different topics.
Have an outline with only a few key words.
First off, you had better know your material extremely well…upside down, right side up & inside out! That does NOT necessarily mean that you’ve memorized your “speech” from start to finish.
But you should be comfortable enough to confidently speak about that subject, just as if you were talking with a buddy or business associate.
Chop up the speech/presentation into manageable bites.
All you really need are the names of the different topics as well as a few key points to discuss within each topic.
Again, you must be 1000% comfortable with all the material already.
Your notes are NOT there to tell you what to say, but should merely remind you of the general topic & a few reminders of what points to cover.
If that’s not enough for you to talk anywhere from 1-10 minutes, you either don’t know your stuff well enough or you haven’t sufficiently practiced.
If you hafta read what you wanna say, you may as well print it & just have a bunch of handouts.
Trust me, your mind will get filled with dozens & dozens of things to say about each topic. That’s what those “key words” are all about!
Or, at least, it should.
Don’t worry if you don’t cover every single last point.
But if you have enough different topics & key points jotted down, you will never be at a loss for words nor ideas!
Once again, you’d better know your stuff!
At every leadership training session I ever attended, I so HATED when they used role plays (“Here, read this piece. Judy, you’ll be the manager. Bill, you’re the employee. Mary, you play the HR lady.”)
You’d be given like a minute or so to read through the situation & prepare yourself.
Hated that with a passion.
In real life, I would never, ever consciously put myself into a situation where I wasn’t in total command of all the facts in the case…or not thoroughly familiar with everyone involved or the circumstances that brought us together.
To me, it was so unrealistic as I would be so focused on trying to remember all the “facts of the case” & who’s who instead of concentrating on merely using that info to help formulate what I’m gonna say or how I intend on communicating that.
I’d rather talk with 5,000 people on something I know well than with 2 people regarding something I just read or learned.
But I’m sure I gained some valuable insights & good experience by being thrust into an “uncomfortable situation”.
…that’s what I believe can & will help you when you’re called upon to present to a group.
Naturally, while your familiarity with the topic(s) is always paramount, being comfortable & familiar with your audience can also help quite a bit.
Seeing some friendly, smiling faces out there can certainly help, as will knowing their general mindsets.
How do you think they will “accept” your information?
Is it good news?
Will they be totally shocked & surprised?
Anticipating can certainly better prepare yourself for the eventual reaction…as well as any questions or issues that may arise along the way.
And the ONLY way you’re gonna get better at this!whole presentation thingie is to do it.
Again & again.
If you’re at a staff meeting with your people, get up & present your piece to the group instead of just handling it while seated.
Make yourself “uncomfortable” – – in a comfortable setting – – so you can gain that confidence you need going forward.
And get a good night’s sleep & make sure you have plenty of time to get yourself prepared.
Although, when you get really good at this stuff, you can do it with a blindfold on or after being woken up in the middle of the night.
As you get more adept at this stuff, you’ll learn how to engage your audience…use specific examples with which they’re familiar to illustrate the points you’re trying to get across…and every now & then, maybe inject a little humor into the proceedings.
Key words for that last point…”every now & then”, “maybe”, “little” & “as you get more adept”. The downfall of poor or misplaced humor is MUCH greater than its possible rewards.
As you’ve come to (unfortunately) realize in all these stories of mine.
(It’s called “self-deprecating humor” & it’s actually intended to put one’s audience at ease.
Make ’em comfortable.
At least, that’s my story (very punny, Mike!) & I’m sticking to it!)
And, yeah, practice.
What you’re gonna say…topic by topic.
Try a dry run with a few close people or friends. They’ll be more willing to be open & honest with you and will be more familiar with the “real you” so as to provide useful feedback
And it’s always good to have a little nervous energy…all the best players do in the big games.
Thank you, as always, for listening!