The art of public speaking is forever evolving along with new technologies and ideas, however it’s not a case of one size fits all.
Whether public speaking is your forte or not, going back to basics and sharpening your presentation skills can only be beneficial to yourself and your career.
Your presentation skills are just as important as the content you are presenting. There is much to the art of communication; you can study seminars, TED talks, talk shows, or even ordinary conversations, however certain rules still apply to language and interaction through words.
Both experienced and inexperienced presenters need to learn to frame, practice and deliver talks that people enjoy listening to and watching. It’s about continually tweaking your approach so that your presentations can be the best they can.
1. What you know
There is no better way to start learning to be an effective communicator than to know yourself (and the topic!) inside out.
You firstly need to know the information you are putting across to an audience and why it is important. Education is all about learning the basics, and presenting is about practicing what you have learned from your personal experience. Every individual has limitations, but that doesn’t mean they can’t share what they know.
2. Framing objectives
Conceptualising and framing what you have to say is the most vital part of preparation. The most engaging speakers very quickly introduce the topic, explaining why they care so deeply about it, convincing the audience members that they should too.
The biggest problem in some presentations is trying to cover too much ground – it is unnecessary to tell the audience about your whole field of study. Keep it relevant – think about the purpose of the presentation, the objective and what outcomes you and the audience expect. A clear and concise presentation will provide specific examples to present main ideas.
A good presentation discusses the important features that are revolutionary and cutting edge, whether it is new technologies or techniques.
3. The type of audience
Each situation should require a different approach and a different level of formality. It is crucial to understand exactly what type of people are going to constitute your audience prior to your speech – otherwise, you could end up writing for the wrong crowd.
With a large audience you need to be concise, direct, fast and be able to keep their attention. With a small audience, you’ll have to pace your presentation more slowly, pausing for potential questions.
4. Q&A sessions
Q&A sessions can be an excellent opportunity to expand on key points in more detail, but there is nothing worse than getting hit with a question that you aren’t prepared for. To avoid shambled responses, it is recommended that you rehearse a variety of possible answers to a range of questions.
5. Eye contact
There is a lot to say when it comes to directing your attention to the audience with an eye- catching gaze. Strategic eye contact can make your audience feel like they are part of a conversation, rather than being spoken to.
Eye contact can be a powerful tool of persuasion, allowing others to see things as you see them. Making eye contact, no matter how big the audience may be, focuses your eyes and helps you concentrate. When listeners see your eyes scanning their faces, they feel invited to engage with you and are encouraged to signal to you how they feel about what you’re saying.
6. The delivery
Don’t read your presentation out. It often becomes very distancing when a presenter reads directly form a source – the audience will immediately sense it and any intimate connection will evaporate. Instead, memorise or learn the content.
It is also important to be aware of your tone – it is much better to sound conversational and just be yourself rather than putting on a mask.
A bit of humour can do wonders to lift any tension or, worse, boredom when making your speech. That way, you’ll get the attention of the majority of the crowd and they’ll feel that you are approachable for any questions after.
7. Get loud
There is no better way to practice a presentation than reading it out loud. Listening to the sound of your own voice while you practice your speech in an open room can help correct the stress areas of your pitch.
If you can, invite a close friend, spouse or colleague so they can give you some feedback. You’ll also be able to see their reaction to your energy and eye contact.
Tony Schwartz in his book, The Four Keys To Transforming the Way We Work and Live says, “If you’re not actively working to get better at what you do, there’s a good chance you’re getting worse, no matter what the quality of your initial training – in some cases, diminished performance is simply the result of a failure to keep up with the advances in a given field. But it’s also because most of us tend to become fixed in our habits and practices, even when they’re suboptimal.”
There are no shortcuts – presentations can be daunting to some but are ultimately an important factor in the projection of new ideas, technologies, case studies and techniques. The better prepared you are and the more you know about the circumstances of your presentation, the better you’ll perform in the end.
Try something different
Pecha Kucha (which means “chatter” in Japanese is a Japanese presentation style, where 20 slides are shown in 20 seconds each. It was developed as a presentation format to allow design and creative types to share their passions and show off their work.
This format has the great advantage of keeping presentations concise and fast-paced, moving straight to the point: say what you need to say in six minutes and 40 seconds of exquisitely matched words and images.
Pecha Kucha has become such a hit there are now are “pecha-nights” in 80 cities, from Amsterdam and Atlanta to San Francisco and Shanghai.
Greatest orators of all time
It has been said that if a man wishes to become a great orator, he must first become a student of those who have come before him. We take a look at some of the best of the best, as voted in TIME magazine.
1. Socrates – Apology, 4th century B.C.
2. Patrick Henry – Give Me Liberty or Give Me Death, 1775
3. Frederick Douglass – The Hypocrisy of American Slavery, 1852
4. Abraham Lincoln – The Gettysburg Address, 1863
5. Susan B. Anthony – Women’s Right to the Suffrage, 1873
6. Winston Churchill – Blood, Toil, Tears and Sweat, 1940
7. John F. Kennedy – Inaugural Address, 1961
8. Martin Luther King, Jr. – I Have a Dream, 1963
9. Lyndon B. Johnson – The American Promise, 1965
10. Ronald Reagan – Remarks at the Brandenburg Gate, 1987