Public speaking in a business environment can be extremely challenging. More people would rather avoid public speaking, regardless of the incentive to do so. Nearly every job description, in any industry or role states, you must have outstanding communication and speaking skills. Why? It’s simple. Nobody wants to speak in public so they hire others to do so.
In my career as a consultant and director of learning, I’ve had more than my share of speaking engagements. Some of these were formal business presentations such as offering a proposal, while others were training classes, and still others were one-on-one or small group meetings. In over 15 years of doing this, I’ve learned some very practical tips. These will help you prepare for your presentation, but more importantly, help you manage your speaking engagement and the anxiety that comes with it.
Tip 1: The First Five Minutes
Every public speaking trainer will tell you to rehearse and rehearse. That’s a given. What I recommend is to memorize the first five minutes of your speaking engagement. The start of any speaking engagement is extremely important. It establishes, control and rapport with the audience. It is the launching pad for your engagement to be great or drop into the abyss. Memorize the first five minutes. Nobody in your audience will likely interrupt you in that time as they are waiting for you to speak to them.
Tip 2: Set the Framework
Regardless of the engagement, you must set the framework. The easiest way to do this is to provide an agenda. But also give your audience relevant information. For example, if the engagement is a daylong workshop, let them know up front when the breaks are scheduled and where the restrooms are located. Establish your ground rules early. Ground rules can tell the audience to turn off their electronic devices, how to ask you questions i.e. at the end of section or during the section, and what to do with issues that can’t be covered during your engagement, i.e. parking lot issues.
Tip 3: Research Adult Learning Theory
In my experience as a trainer, you have about 8 seconds to capture an adult’s attention and keep it. That’s not a long time. As a consultant, that number drops to about 4 seconds, as most audiences are very wary of consultants. Most public speaking trainers will advise you to research your audience. Know their professional levels, interests, and relevant stake in the speaking engagement. What I recommend is to understand adult learning theory. There is a ton of information on adult learning online. But as an example, adults don’t like to be talked to; they want to participate in the conversation. Adults only want to know what is relevant to their specific area. Adults want to learn from each other and share their experiences. Know and understand adult learning theory. Even if you are only doing a five minute proposal presentation, it will help you understand how to manage the interactions between people in the meeting room.
Tip 4: Work the Room
For some reason, people seem to think that standing still in front of a room and speaking is standard practice for great presentations. It’s not. Learn about gesturing and how to work a room. It can be tricky as you don’t want to be a distraction to the content. Often times, I will go into a meeting room before the session begins and visualize where the people will be sitting. Then, I find spots throughout the room where I feel most comfortable speaking from. Sometimes this is off to the side or even in the rear of the room. With the use of PowerPoint as a standard in most professional environments, you have the opportunity to move around as it is projected on screen.
Tip 5: IT Help!
In especially large sessions, it is a good idea to have an IT professional meet you at the speaking engagement location about fifteen minutes before the start so as to make sure all technology is working. Nothing will fluster you more than having a computer crash during a session or having the lamp on a projector go out. When IT professionals are available, use them. They will save you a ton of anxiety and nervousness when you walk through the presentation technology with them.
I’ve learned through trial and error, failure and success. One year after presenting to a group of high level c-suite executives, approximately 300 of them in one room, I had 7 of them come talk to me after my public speaking engagement. Each one complimented me on my style and approach. One of them asked, “What’s your secret for doing great presentations?” I looked at him and said, “When I go up there and look out at the audience, I realize that nobody in that audience wants to be where I am right now. That empowers me to move forward and lead the discussion.”
Public speaking, especially in business, is difficult. But with practice and these practical tips your anxiety and nervousness will be reduced. Your audience may be as nervous as you, so the more comfortable you become, the better the interaction will be with them. Good luck.