According to the Book of Lists by David Wallenchinsky, Irving Wallace and Ann Wallace, the fear of public speaking is the most common fear, surpassing the fear of flying, snakes, spiders, heights, and even death.
As frequent presenters who have overcome our fear of speaking, we have compiled our Top Ten Tips for helping overcome fears and helping you make an effective presentation based on tips from some of the best orators of the past, as well as our personal experiences.
Number 10: Determine the Type of Presentation
"A speech is an instrument which the speaker uses to get certain things done. He can't build a bridge with a speech. But by a speech he can enlist the support and cooperation that will enable him to get the bridge built. Support, consent, cooperation, willingness, consensus, agreement, acceptance, understanding-these terms indicate real things that can be said to be true of groups after speeches have been made to them"
- Wilbur S Howell of Princeton University in "The Speaker's Abstract: A Guide for Public Speaking (published in 1950).
The first consideration is determining the type of presentation that you will be presenting. This decision is usually dependent on the size of the audience, the venue and the expected outcome as a result of the presentation.
The first involves presenting to a small group within a meeting-like environment. In this instance the speaker or presenter has more personal contact with the group and is able to deliver a more interactive presentation. With this size group it is possible to elicit feedback and participation. These types of presentations usually are more of a persuasive nature and have an expectancy of a decision being reached at the conclusion of the session. This is a very typical presentation method for a project manager to deliver status or progress reports, project gate results or updates to steering committees and/or upper management.
At times a project manager may be requested to deliver a more structured, informational presentation to a large, mostly anonymous audience. Rather than being in proximity with the attendees, the presenter is elevated to a stage, often with bright lights which prevent any eye contact with the audience.
With the advent of technology, either small or large presentations may now be supported through virtual meetings or webinars. In these instances the same content may be presented but the audience may be scattered across the globe. Not only is personal interaction constrained, but in many cases, the actual size or composure of the audience is unknown.
Number 9: Know your audience
"There are apathetic, sleeping audiences that must be awakened; there are hostile audiences that must be defied and conquered; there are alienated or sullen audiences that must be won back; there are frightened audiences that must be calmed. There are loyal, affectionate audiences that must be further inspired. There are cool, skeptical audiences that must be coolly convinced. There are heterogeneous audiences that must be molded into some kind of unity."
- Houston Peterson, author, A Treasury of the World's Great Speeches
Audiences are made up of people and therefore come in many varieties. You must be able to determine the type of audience and then identify the best strategy for being able to relate to them most effectively.
Some questions to help analyze the audience are:
- What are the demographics of the group (age, gender, economic status, education level, etc.)?
- Why is the audience attending? (Be able to answer the question "What is in it for me? )
- If this is an internal organizational presentation, where am I organizationally relative to the other attendees?
- Who are the key decision makers in the audience?
There is no such thing as an unimportant audience. These people have taken time out of their life to come see you. You owe them the best that you have in you.
Number 8: Understand the logistics of your presentation
"Paying attention to simple little things that most people neglect makes a few people rich"
- Henry Ford
Hopefully the logistics of the presentation has been handled by someone else. As part of the planning, the time, date, location, room setup, and equipment required have been discussed, approved and in place prior to the event.
Even with the best planning, as Murphy reminds us "if something can do wrong, it will."
The first concern is to arrive at the location in plenty of time to make sure that indeed everything is in place and working properly. With today's transportation problems, whether arriving from a distance or just traveling locally, it is better to have time to spare than be running into the venue at the last moment.
When audio-visual equipment is going to be used, a test run is imperative. You want to remember to check the electrical connections, lighting, sound, and room temperature before the attendees start assembling.
Number 7: Determine the appropriate delivery method
"Speech preparation may be defined as the process of making decisions beforehand upon the content, the organization, the wording, and the delivery of a speech."
The determination of which delivery method is most appropriate is based on the type of presentation, the knowledge of the audience and the logistics of where the presentation is to be held.
For large audiences and informative presentations a more formal presentation can be utilized. These presentations may be based on a previously submitted white paper and are scripted with carefully chosen visuals to illustrate key points. (More on visuals later).
For the smaller, more informal presentations, a more interactive speaking style may be more appropriate. These may still utilize visuals, but may incorporate more than one method (including slides, flipcharts, etc.). Because of the interactive nature of these presentations, less detailed notes supporting the content are often more appropriate.
Number 6: Organize the content of the presentation
"A speech has two parts. You must state your case and then prove it."
The first step, and probably the most important step, is to know the purpose and understand what you want to accomplish with this presentation. Once you have clearly defined the objective, then you can begin to do your research, make an outline or mind map, prepare any graphics and write your words.
Even though Aristotle was speaking about persuasive speeches having two parts, he later went on to say that most speeches have four parts:
- Introduction - or "tell 'me what you are going to tell 'em"
- Statement - or "tell 'em"
- Argument - or "tell 'em some more"
- Epilogue - or "tell 'em what you told 'em"
This structure has withstood the test of time and can be helpful with the organization of the content of the presentation.
Churchill once said that a speech is like a symphony. It may have three movements but must have one dominant melody. Once the melody (or objective) has been finalized, it is time to "chunk" the middle.
There may be some psychological reason as to why series of threes are best remembered, but whatever the reason, but it probably best to limit your key points to three.
Above all it is important to remember that every part of the presentation concerns the audience. Never give a generic presentation. Personalize it, relate it to the news of the day.
Every presentation starts with an issue of concern to the audience and ends with "a call to action" or next steps towards resolution of the issue. From start to finish the presenter is guiding the audience through the presentation of ideas, data, and plans using the specific language of the audience. The best presentations are those in which the audience believes that the speaker is truly addressing their needs and issues.
Number 5: Determine the balance between pictures or words
"You've got to see it to believe it"
Geri E. H. McArdle, PhD, author of Delivering Effective Training Sessions, notes that adding visuals such as graphs, charts, maps, or photos to a presentation increases the amount of retained information by as much as 55 percent. Using these percentages, people attending a presentation with visuals will remember about 65 percent of the content after three days, compared to about 10 percent who only listened to the presentation. Since many of today's presentations are done virtually or electronically, the delivery mechanism must consist of both audio and visual components.
A study done by the Wharton School of Business showed that the use of visuals reduced meeting times by as much as 28 percent. This study also recognized the decrease in the time needed for participants to reach decisions and consensus through the use of visuals. Other results of using visuals as part of the presentation have shown an increase in the credibility and professionalism of the presenters over those who only spoke.
Even though visuals have a positive influence, a poorly developed visual can negate the results rapidly. Some basic pointers include:
- Limit one basic idea per slide
- Verify the text is readable
- Be consistent with the look and feel of the text and the background (and ensure that the choice is appropriate to the logistics of the presentation)
- Choose appropriate colors for the message and the audience
- Combine visuals with text (remember "a picture is worth a thousand words")
- If you need to refer continuously to some information during your presentation, place it on a flip-chart, whiteboard or a paper handout. This will significantly help your audience to remember or recall the information without going back to the original slide and allow you to continue with your presentation.
Number 4: Elicit feedback from key stakeholders
"When there are two people in a business who always agree, one of them is unnecessary"
- William Wrigley, Jr
There are a number of points at which reviews must be incorporated into the preparation of the presentation.
After being asked to present, time should be allotted to discuss the expectations of the requester(s). This input will help guide the development of the purpose and objectives of the material. It will also reassure the requester that their needs will be met.
In order to make sure that you can connect with your audience you need to put yourself in their shoes. This may involve observing the activities in the work environment, or speaking with a few representative audience members. These activities will increase the credibility of the presentation and ensure that it is timely and addresses the current needs of the audience.
After you have completed your first version it is time to review the content with the subject matter experts. This will ensure that not only is the material accurate but also that it is understandable.
Number 3: Practice your delivery
"You ain't heard nothing yet"
- Al Jolson
Some tricks to help ensure a smooth delivery through the use of a "dry run":
- Vocalize the speech aloud, making note of natural pauses
- Rehearse in front of team members, preferably in a location similar to the final venue
- Review the timing
- Refine the materials, including both visuals and content, where necessary
- Verify the required setup, including lighting and sound levels
- Review personal presentation and voice tonality
- Practice, practice, practice
Number 2: Make yourself "presentable"
"No one is more confusing than the person who gives good advice while setting a bad example"
There are two main aspects that the presenter needs to consider on a personal level. One is appearance and the other is voice. Ignoring these items can distract and ruin an otherwise outstanding presentation.
Some hints for your appearance:
- Make sure that you are well-groomed, including the proverbial "shoes polished, suit pressed and clean fingernails"
- Dress appropriately, whether the attire is business or casual, but slightly more formal than the audience.
- The selection of the clothing should not be by chance. They should proclaim your professionalism.
- Adopt a style that suits you and that is consistent with the way the audience thinks you should dress.
There are a number of schools of thought regarding the colors that presenters should wear. The conservative view espoused by the editors of the Executive Guide to Successful Presentation suggests that grey and blue are the most appropriate suit colors for presenters while Dorothy Sarnoff of Speech Dynamics suggests that her clients wear standout colors. "When you are presenting why not be the center of attention? Have your color enter the room and claim attention with you."
The quality of your voice is nearly as important as your message. If a voice is irritating, offensive, high-pitched, nasal, whining, or strongly accented in any way it will distract the audience from the key points of the presentation. A voice that is forced or too loud will sound strident, even aggressive. If a voice is too soft, the audience won't get the point of the presentation because they may not even hear it.
Even though a voice coach is not a necessity, every speaker should spend time listening to their own voice. This may include recording your daily conversations and then playing those back at the end of the day. Many presenters have not heard their own voice, or not as the audience will.
John Connell, a voice-over actor heard on many commercials, says
"It all comes out in the voice. Joy, nervousness, anticipation, authority, boredom. The voice gives the audience its first real clue about you. Yet the voice is often neglected."
There are several books on this subject, including Voice Power by Renee Grant-Williams that can provide assistance in this area.
Number 1: Showtime! Take a deep breath and smile
"Never bend you head. Always hold it high.
Look the world straight in the eye"
- Helen Keller
Here are some of our final tips to help you make a great first impression.
- Release tension by loosening your muscles, especially your jaw and neck.
- Breathe deeply but naturally. Don't hyperventilate.
- If you have butterflies in your stomach, have them fly in formation - (Author unknown)
Say some words out loud, such as "Let's go" - to make sure that your voice is working. What you say should be enthusiastic and get your adrenalin going as well
- Slowly, but confidently, walk up to the front of the room with your shoulders back and head up.
- Stand tall.
- Scan your audience, finding a few friendly faces and establish eye contact.
- Repeat your opening sentence to yourself. Each second you pause strengthens your opening words.
- Channel your nervousness into enthusiasm and passion.
- Go for it!!
"Nothing great was ever achieved without enthusiasm."
- Ralph Waldo Emerson
"Eighty percent of success is showing up!"
- Woody Allen
Don't forget to leave your comments below.
Steve and Greta Blash are frequent speakers world-wide at conferences and seminars. They have spoken on topics including business analysis, project management, business re-engineering/process improvement, sytems development, and business intelligence.
A version of this article was published in allPM.com newsletter in Feb 29, 2008 and presented at a PMI-SN chapter meeting in July 2008.