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Strategies for Successful Presentations

Did you know that human beings fear speaking in public more than death? Hard to believe, but true! During the years I have been observing and educating speakers, I have come to a few conclusions about this perplexing issue.

Giving speeches or presentations is loaded with myths, especially the following:

  • Since most of us have all the equipment—voice, mouth, lips, tongue, breath, etc. — presenting should come naturally.
  • Speaking is our main method of communication, so we all get lots of practice.
  • Presenting or selling to clients is the same as all the other types of speaking we do — what we call private speaking.

But, speaking or selling to the public is not the same as private speaking. It is performing. When you get out there to speak before a group, you are putting on a show and you have the starring role.

Once you begin to think about presenting in this new way, some new ideas come to mind. Like training and preparation and rehearsal. And — uh-oh — stage fright.

If you have been very lucky, you knew early on that you had a knack for performing and got lots of experience and training in high school or college. Then when you went to work, you transferred those skills to the business world.

However, if you’re like most people you did not get much assistance during your education…no theater groups, music training, debate teams or speech classes to hone your skills. So, making presentations is a new frontier and one which most of us avoid like the plague until we just can’t anymore. It is well-known in business circles that at some point in everyone’s career, delivering presentations is a necessity. So, there is sound reason behind the fuss we mention above.

Still, chances are you did learn to write. Consequently, when you get an invitation or assignment to speak, you sit down to draft it and then you read to your audience. And, that’s when the nodding off begins.

There is some good news here. It is never too late to learn to become a dynamic and effective speaker.

The first thing to remember is that when you speak, 93% of your message is communicated nonverbally, how you look and sound. And, if you’re communicating on the phone, fully 86% of your message is communicated through your voice. In other words it’s how you look and sound that has the greatest impact on whether your words will be believed.

Nonverbal communication includes the following: body language, posture, hand gestures, facial expression/animation, eye communication, voice and dress and adornment. Think about it for a moment. Let’s say you go to hear a speaker whose topic is — well — presentation skills. Now, let’s say that speaker says words in which he claims to be a public speaking expert, but his nonverbal communication is low energy, unenthusiastic, boring. What would you do? You might sit there just to be polite, but you might get up and leave because you wouldn’t believe that he could keep his promise of teaching you anything about presentation skills. In either case, you would not be happy. And it doesn’t matter what the topic is, a person has to look like she believes what she is saying or else no one else will believer her.

Now, a lot of people take this to mean that content doesn’t matter. But nothing could be further from the truth. The fact is that you have to know your stuff. Coupled with a great delivery, it’s an unbeatable combination.

The ability to project a commanding presence is key and it comes at a price. Part of that price is stage fright. Stage fright goes with the territory. Everyone gets it, even professional speakers. The difference between them and you is that they know how to manage it. Most people, when stage fright kicks in, ruminate about how awful it feels, how much they wish it wasn’t there and how they can’t wait for the day when it will go away. Experienced speakers, however, embrace stage fright – they know it gives them an edge, makes them more exciting to watch, gives them that presence I just mentioned and helps them to appear believable.

And that’s where managing the stage fright comes in — in the form of rehearsal. It’s actually quite logical. Stage fright is fight or flight, that wonderful, automatic response that helps us when we are confronted by danger. Now, a person who is physically fit is going to be much better able to fight off or flee from danger than someone who is not because that first person is prepared. By the same token, someone who has rehearsed for a presentation will be much better able to manage the inevitable glitches that arise, than someone who has not because that first person is, again, prepared.

Rehearsals are a way of preparing for speaking and are key in delivering an effective presentation. There is simply no substitute for saying it out loud a number of times. Unfortunately, it’s the one area people tend to dispense with because it is very time consuming and time is so scarce for most people these days. Still, if you want to succeed as a speaker, you have to practice and the more, the better. You can’t over-rehearse. My rule of thumb is 6:1; for every presentation, you have to rehearse 6 times. In addition, you should use tools such as a video camera, practice audiences and even mirrors to help things along.

Mastering these three areas: nonverbal communication, managing stage fright and careful rehearsing guarantee a successful presentation. Good presenters are scarce. If you want to make your mark, get out there and let me know how you’re doing!

Copyright 2007 Ruth Sherman. All Rights Reserved.

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