Public Speaking & Presentation Tips

Nothing strikes one with a greater sense of fear, uncertainty and doubt (FUD), quite like being called upon to address an audience in a public setting. It is irrelevant whether you are required to address a social or a business audience. The FUD factor hits you all the same, and before you know it you are breaking out in a sweat, fumbling for last minute ideas and jokes, and generally anticipating how much of an ‘Ass’ you are going to look like up there on stage, under the harsh white lights, alone and unprepared.In many ways we are already in the process of creating a ‘self-fulfilling prophecy’ for failure, even before we have uttered the first word in our speech or presentation.

Well let’s talk a little about this very rational sense of foreboding that almost always accompanies any suggestion of ‘Public Speaking’ or ‘Presentation.’ (I will use the term ‘Presentation’ to include Public Speaking and Presentations going forward).

I am going to break it down into 5 parts and for ease of memorizing this approach, I will use the Alphabet ‘P’ (yes inspired from the word Presentation) to categorize each step in the process of getting you to a better state of mind, the next time you are called upon to perform any Presentation honours.

The Five steps are:

  1. Plan
  2. Prepare
  3. Practice
  4. Perform
  5. Process (for Improvement Actions)
  1. Plan:
  • Who is your audience (Demographic, Psychographic) – who are the key ‘Decision makers’ present?
  • What is the occasion?
  • What is the subject you will be Presenting?
  • What is your single point objective (what is the single, most critical point you would like your speech/presentation to deliver?)
  • Do you have sufficient time to prepare – or have you been called to speak or present without prior notification? (See ‘Skating backwards at the speed of light.’)
  • How much time do you have – is there any expectation that you will take questions at the end of your speech/presentation?

Any information and answers you are able to gather for the above questions can only help you to better prepare your Presentation

  1. Prepare:

Consider dress code and the venue – do you need to dress formal, informal or Business casual (dress appropriately and remember; it is better to err on the side of caution and dress formal). You don’t want to show up in Bermudas and Flip Flops and find everyone else in Business Suits?

Prepare for your Presentation.

  • Will you be using a computer with projector, Overhead projector, Flip charts, TV monitor or cue cards/Notes?
  • Include an Introduction, Agenda, Objectives, Main content (Body of your presentation) and Conclusions/ Recommendations.
  • Clarify if you are prepared to take questions after your Presentation.
  • Factor in the questions/answers from Step 1 (Plan) above.
  • Consider an interesting way to kick off your presentation so that you capture the Audience attention and interest right from the start (remember AIDA – Attention, Interest, Desire, Action).
    • What is it about your presentation topic that will motivate your audience to stay tuned and listen?

Here are some common ‘Introduction’ ideas you may consider:

  • Humorous comment or joke (keep it relevant to the theme of your Presentation)
  • Dramatic announcement (something unusual, factual and relevant)
  • Shocking Statement of fact (Historical, Empirical data/fact)
  • Relevant Analogy
  • Personal anecdote that allows you to segue into your Presentation content (Beware personal ‘war stories’)
  • Relevant quotation

 Three ‘T’s’ of Presenting/Public Speaking:

  • Tell them what you are going to tell them
  • Tell them
  • Tell them what you just told them

It is a proven fact that using the above technique makes it easier for the presenter to underscore critical parts of the presentation or speech, while also ensuring that the audience has sufficient opportunity to memorize key points.

Skating backwards at the speed of Light

For the times that you are called upon to speak or present ‘ad lib’ or without any opportunity for preparation, get used to skating backwards at the speed of light. What do we mean?

We mean the ability to internalize the process of Public Speaking or Presentation to a degree that we can perform it at a level of ‘Unconscious Competence.’

In other words, regardless of the Subject matter, Audience, Time available or Venue, we are always totally in control of the Speaking and/ or the Presentation process.

So how does one go about performing on the spur of the moment without any time to prepare?

The answer is to think in terms of ‘Three.’

Almost any subject is better articulated when broken down into smaller, manageable components and three just seems to be a great balance of economy and completeness.

Here is an example of a potential random topic (Sales Trends) to illustrate the point of thinking in terms of ‘Three.’ This will give you some ideas on how you may consider breaking this subject down into three parts in order to speak or present it   ‘off the cuff’ so to speak:

Sales Trends: Break it down into three parts by product configuration: Mainframe, Midrange, Desktop.

Sales Trends: Break it down into three parts by Geography: North, South, East (you could add West – doesn’t have to be Three?)

Sales Trends: Break it down into three parts by Chronological factors: Q1, Q2, Q3 (you could add Q4, or breakdown by year – 2011, 2012 and 2013 for a different option).

Sales Trends: Break it down into three parts by Strategic intent: By existing markets, Growth markets and ‘White space’ (untapped markets)

The above examples should give you an idea of how you can address those tricky situations when you are expected to speak/present on the fly…or in other words to skate backwards at the speed of light!

Feel free to make your own ‘Three’ breakdown categories. The opportunities are limitless.

  1. Practice

Practice your Presentation in the same position you will be delivering it. If standing, then practice standing up.

If using a microphone, try to practice with a microphone so you become familiar with your tone, volume, and distance to be maintained away from the microphone.

If you will be using a collar mike, get used to using it just the same as a podium microphone. If you will be walking abut while Presenting, by all means practice in the same setting. Remember the more familiar you become with your subject matter, your physical self and your presentation Venue or environment, the less stressful the Presenting task becomes.

Where possible, perform a ‘dry run’ with an audience of peers to get their feedback and guidance so you can iron out any last minute wrinkles from your speech/presentation content.

Enlist a colleague to help you with your delivery so you can become familiar with areas of your Presentation that may require additional elaboration or explanation.

Get to know the venue, Equipment and layout of the environment in advance if possible. Visit the venue prior to your presentation if that is possible.

There is no such thing as too much practice so make use of every opportunity you can to practice, practice, practice.

  1. Perform

You have completed all the Plan, Prepare and Practice steps.

You have practiced your Presentation several times now, and you have also had a ‘dry run’ with your peer team members and refined your Presentation accordingly.

You have become familiar with the Venue and the Equipment you will be using (If you have been fortunate, you would have also had an opportunity to visit the Venue and become familiar with the layout plan)

So you are now ready to ‘Perform.’

Dress appropriately, make sure you have your Presentation material, with any back-up material you may need to consider (What-If the Laptop or projector does not work?)

Eat light and stay hydrated. Use the Wash- room faccilities if you can prior to your Presentation cue.

Arrive at the venue at least an hour ahead of your Presentation. Make sure everything is working as per plan.

When you are ready to present do remember to thank the Sponsors for inviting you to present at the event. Thank anyone else who may require to be acknowledged in the Audience, or who may have helped with your Presentation.

Remember the Three ‘T’s’ of Presenting/Public Speaking:

  • Tell them what you are going to say
  • Tell them
  • Tell them what you just said

Go ahead – knock them out!!!

Notice that all the ‘Perform’ steps outlined above assumes that you are presenting to a pre-prepared agenda.

So what do we do for those ‘Skating backwards at the speed of Light’ situations?

We don’t need to do anything at all because we are confident that we have completely internalized the Process of Presenting and are now Masters of the concept of thinking in terms of ‘Three.’

We are now able to think on our feet and rapidly navigate and select the most appropriate ‘Three’ breakdown for almost any random subject we may be called upon to Speak/Present to.

So we are now armed for both – the Speaking/presentation eventualities where we have adequate preparation time, as well as for those ‘Elevator Pitch’ opportunities that may come our way.

  1. Process (for Improvement Actions)

Every Good process needs to have what the Japanese Quality Management experts refer to as a ‘PDCA’ cycle built into it.

(PDCA: ‘Plan, Do, Check, Act – or take corrective action)’

Step 5 (Process for Improvement Actions) focuses on the ‘Act’ step in the PDCA cycle.

Having executed the Presentation we had Planned, Prepared and Practiced for, we are now at the stage where we can review:

How we performed, what were the areas that went well and what are the potential areas for future improvements.

How did we do in terms of getting through the presentation, answering queries and questions and closing on time (Time Management?)

Do we believe that our Audience was satisfied with our Presentation?

This is the ultimate measure of Presentation success and not an easy indicator to fathom, unless a post-presentation survey is administered

Did all the Equipment function as planned, did we have adequate back-up and redundancy available – did the back-up plan perform seamlessly if such a contingency did arise during the Presentation?

Make sure that you learn from each presentation and take the corrective actions required to Improve the process so that your next presentation is always better than the last one.

Author: Richard Francis, March 18, 2014

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