Learning to communicate effectively is extremely important, whether our audience is right in front of us or separated from us by a computer screen. The necessity of online communication, such as webinars, allows small speech errors to slip through unnoticed. Alternatively, it’s more difficult to hide mistakes with the scrutiny of a live audience, such as during a conference. Nevertheless, public speaking is still one of the greatest fears of our society. According to Adrem Center , up to 25% of the population reports such fears.
This is anything but surprising. The way we present says a lot about the skills of the presenter, as well as significantly influences the image of our company, in both positive and negative ways. How then should one prepare his presentation, so it makes the best impression possible?
You only get one shot at making a good first impression. The key to not wasting it is to prepare accordingly. The whole image we present consists of many tiny details that might sometimes be easily overlooked. However, awareness of their existence and good usage of them allows for presenting yourself as professional and self-confident. So, how do you prepare? What should you wear? Is there anything you should avoid or try to keep in mind?
Meet your viewers
Before we begin our preparations, it is important to think about one often overlooked element. To whom are we going to speak? Will it be a business presentation? Maybe a presentation of your company’s latest product that aims to convince potential customers that your product or service is worth trying out? Even Andrzej Drzycimski (a press spokesperson for the president of Poland Lech Wałęsa between 1990 and 1994) pointed out that “situation and circumstances” are key elements to consider while preparing to speak in public.
Knowing your audience influences how we prepare. Though this may seem obvious, if we don’t consider who we’ll be speaking to, we might give the impression that they are not the intended audience.
Take, for example, the presentation of our company’s latest smartphone. When talking about it to the potential investors, we pay much less attention to the technical aspects of the device. Such an audience would be much more interested in business aspects, like the return of investment rate. But if we present the exact same smartphone to potential customers, paying attention to the little details of functionality might make our product stand out from the crowd. When we do it the other way around our clients could find us boring, and investors think of us as a person in the wrong position. Getting to know your audience is absolutely a fundamental foundation for everything we say to our listeners.
Public speaking: what to prepare?
Now that we know our audience, it’s time to prepare the main part of the presentation. The most important thing we can do in this area is expanded on the main idea. This means collecting as much information about our topic as possible. Besides the obvious facts, data, and so on, there might be other details that your listeners might find interesting. Maybe there is some anniversary on the day of the talk that, by mentioning, might improve our presentation. The possibilities are infinite.
It is important to remember that these small details are only icing on the cake. The objective is to get our main point across to the audience. Prepare detailed information about your topic and try to organize it. This doesn’t mean learning it all by heart, just like in school. Nor does it mean preparing 15 pages of notes. Obviously, everyone has their own style, and if it works, then we do not necessarily need to change it.
The safest approach is the use of simple, succinct notes. Using this approach, we can write down an outline of our talk, and not be overwhelmed with information overload that might cause chaos.
If our talk includes a visual presentation, prepare it well ahead of time. A good presentation should not have too much text. Including interesting pictures and infographics will draw the attention of the audience without distracting us from our speech.
Remember that the visual presentation is more of an aid to the presenter because it outlines the talk’s agenda and “imposes” its course by showing us what we should talk about next. The presentation should be consistent in graphics and aesthetics and not be too long. Another good practice is to show our presentation to someone we trust so as to check the impression it makes.
While we have a listening ear, it’s a good idea to practice the entire talk. It’s not necessary to follow the script exactly. What is important is that we feel calm with what we have to say. Thanks to that, we will feel more confident, and that is a key to professional public speaking.
How to dress for public speaking?
The best answer to this question is simple – comfortably. It is confirmed by the words of one of the most recognizable Australian speakers, Jeremy Donovan: “An absolutely most important rule of choosing an outfit that will guarantee you a stage success is to dress in something that is simply comfortable”. Even the greatest stylization or the most expensive suit will not give you an advantage if it obstructs your freedom of movement.
Of course, it does not mean that we should hit the stage in sweatpants and a worn-out sweater. As we have mentioned in the beginning, the most important thing is to know your audience. It means that you should dress differently for a presentation to investors than you would for a meeting with people from your department. If we were to look for any rules on this field, then we should treat a smart casual style as the default one.
This style will maintain freedom of movement, while at the same time making us look neat and elegant. Of course, as with every rule, we should not be afraid to make some small exceptions.
The last thing that we should prepare for are the technical aspects of the speech. There are some practices that will allow us to minimize the risk of possible technical issues and thus give us much-needed psychological assurance. By that, we mean taking care of your own equipment (never assume that a given place has all the connectors and other gear), as well as checking the equipment available on location.
If you want to use a laser pointer or a text pad, then you should take care of those before the presentation. If we are talking about the equipment available at the location, then you should carefully check every part of it. This means playing the presentation in advance to check that it displays correctly, as well as testing the microphones and the lights.
Thanks to our careful preparation, we will know if there is a risk of tangling the microphone cable at any place on the stage, or if there is not enough light. Of course, we should keep in mind that technical issues cannot fully be avoided. However, by checking the equipment we gain a much-needed psychological reassurance and thus gain comfort from knowing that any eventual issues are beyond our control.
Once we enter the stage
Everything we’ve done so far leads to this moment. Silence falls and the reflector’s beams point exactly to the place where you are standing. At this moment, there are two important things: calmness and self-confidence. If we prepared properly and practiced our speech, then there’s nothing to fear. At this point, as long as you follow the steps you’ve prepared, your speech will turn out fine.
However, there’s more to our talk than what we have to say. Our behavior during the talk is critical. Mehrabian’s rule says that 55% of our talk’s quality is influenced by nonverbal communication. How can we prepare ourselves for this?
Public speaking: nonverbal communication
Let’s start with the hands. It is best to find a position in which they feel comfortable without hanging loosely beside your body or pressing tightly across your chest. If you’d like, stand with your hands together, bending your elbows so that your hands are in front of your belly.
The use of gestures is very beneficial. It’s important to remember not to overdo it. Your objective is to inform the audience, not distract them.
It is also very important to maintain eye contact with the audience. This might seem like a very difficult thing to do, but here’s a tip: Divide the audience into three sections. Choose one individual from each section. During your presentation, occasionally scan the audience and focus on one of the three selected individuals.
Due to the distance between us and our listeners, this trick gives the impression that we are looking at the entire group in each section. That way, every person in the audience might feel that we have made eye contact with them, even for a brief moment.
This advice might seem simple. But the truth is, paying attention to those details makes the difference between a professional speaker and a beginner.
Public speaking: what else?
There are two more things that are worth mentioning before we wrap it up. First, let’s address controversial topics. This includes issues on which there’s no general consensus, as well as distasteful jokes. Although avoiding viewpoint issues seems obvious, it is our sense of humor we tend to forget about. You should think over every single joke before it is spoken out loud. Is it possible that a joke that seemed harmless might hurt someone? The last thing we would want to do is shock or offend the audience. That’s why you should think twice before you use humor to enrich your talk.
The second issue is how we react to our mistakes. Many people, especially beginners, try to excuse themselves for every shortcoming or to make up for them. If it is just a minor mistake, we should not pay much attention to it. Everybody makes mistakes, and if we are determined and self-confident then probably no one will notice that. Unless we point it out. Of course, this applies to minor mistakes that do not influence the overall quality of the presentation. However, if the mistake is significant, we should correct it quickly – making sure to present everything we prepared precisely.
There is no golden recipe for the best speech possible. Experience is gained systematically – and this process can be significantly enhanced. To save time and avoid ruining your company’s image, leave this task in the experienced hands of trusted professionals. If you want to learn more about our services, reach out to us! We know that you care about first impressions, and we want to help you make it exceptional.