Some folk fear death less than they fear the potential humiliation of public speaking and therefore deprive themselves and others of so many opportunities to share and enjoy worthwhile knowledge and experiences.
If those folk understood three simple secrets, their lives – and the lives of those with whom they might share – would be transformed.
Three Simple Secrets
These three simple secrets, when understood and then applied, can give anyone the consistent ability to effectively communicate with, share with and entertain any group of people, regardless of its size:
- It’s not about YOU – it’s about THEM;
- Preparation and skill honor your topic and your audience;
- No one cares how much you know, until they know how much you care.
Here’s a little bad news to start with: If you are worried about how you will look and sound to your audience, about what they will think of you, about how they will talk about you afterwards, then your ego is running things – and you WILL fail!
You will look self-conscious and self-absorbed; you will sound nervous and unsure; they will think you are posing, boring, embarrassing; and they will talk negatively about having their time stolen by someone trying to look good who offered them little of value. And that’s a ‘F’ in public speaking.
So, here’s the good news: The cure is simple:
a. You must have a message to share that has potential value for your audience;
b. You must love and respect your audience and appreciate them for allowing you to share.
- Relevance: Must be relevant and potentially valuable to your audience (entertainment is ‘valued’ so your topic can be trivial provided your purpose is to entertain with it). One essential to presenting ‘relevance’ is to think through and then present the topic from your audience’s ‘WIIFM’ (What’s In It For Me?) perspective.
- Love: You must consciously choose to love your audience while they are your audience. Fail to do this and your body language will let them know you are holding back a piece of yourself from them – and they’ll rightly do likewise. Impact intensity will drop, along with your audience’s willingness to participate with you in the journey on which you are wanting to take them.
- Understanding: The deeper your understanding of your audience’s circumstances, challenges and interests the more relevant and on-target will be your words, examples, questions and content, and the more accurate your WIIFM approach to your topic. It’s about them – remember?
- Gratitude: Each person in your audience has gifted you a piece of a finite resource – their time. Acknowledge to yourself (first) and them (next) your gratitude for that gift – then set out to repay them, to make their time with you worth their while.
2. Preparation & Skill
Nothing comes close to preparation and skill for optimizing the chances of conveying a message clearly and of having it understood. Passion won’t make up for a lack of clarity, accuracy or relevance, but add passion to a clear and structured presentation and you can transform even an otherwise ordinary topic.
Many skilled public speakers share the fact that they spend from 2 to 4 times the delivery time of their presentations in their preparation. They cut, slice and dice a subject about which they probably know a huge amount, to select just the morsels that will have the highest value for their audience and which, together, will create an enduring impression and, hopefully, provide some workable knowledge.
Where does all that time go?
- Clarity: Clarifying what you want your audience to do after your presentation
- Simplicity: Einstein said, “Everything should be made as simple as possible, but no simpler.” Simplicity can be hard because it demands a deep understanding of your topic. Simple language works best even for technical subjects; there is nowhere to hide your ignorance or shallowness among its words. Your language and concepts must be pitched as a level understandable by your audience.
- Elegance: Achieving the maximum result with the minimum of resources. Most presentations are relatively short and your audience may be encountering your message or topic for the first time so give them enough so that they understand, but not enoughthat they are satiated – or worse, overwhelmed. Select a limited number of key items or concepts from a vast body of knowledge that are likely to impel them towards your desired outcome. Leave ‘em begging for more!
- Impact: Choosing the most relevant and impactful words, images, videos and/or exercises or actions with which to convey, enhance and reinforce your message and your chosen concepts.
o Do a little background on ‘death by Powerpoint’ to know what not to do;
o See Garr Reynolds’ Presentation Zen to know just what to do.
- Composition: Composing the whole (concepts, words, pictures, graphics, sound) into the most progressive, impactful, memorable and understandable order of presentation is your next step.
- Stagecraft: The number of times you’ve previously presented in public is irrelevant if you are just repeating what you’ve always done. Practice does not make perfect – it makes permanent. Keep doing it wrong and it will become habitual. Corrected practice makes perfect. So, video your practice sessions or have your next presentation videoed, then watch yourself as a disinterested bystander. Eliminate purposeless habitual gestures, non-words (um, but, y’know), negative posture, and note-reading (your preparation should have taken you beyond needing more than headings).
- Engagement: Deliberately set out to engage and interact with your audience. Increase your eye contact and communication with them. Ask them questions – even if you answer them immediately, you will have prompted an internal response that draws them in. Waiting for an answer would be even better!
- Management: Develop ‘handlers’ to enable you to stay on track and in control even while your audience interacts with you. Acknowledge and appreciate relevant questions – they show someone is listening. Answer them on the spot if that suits and advances your message. Ask to ‘park’ them until the end if you don’t have the answer or want to stay on your own track.
- Seek Feedback: If your schedule permits, round out with input from your audience. It will tell you the quality of the message they received (as distinct from the one you thought you conveyed); and it will draw them more deeply into the message. Some members will gain more from peer insights than your version of things. Look for and welcome this bonus level of learning.
- Support: Compile support notes (best to be given and used as a memory aid for their use after your audience has engaged and been present with you throughout your presentation).
o These may be distributed at the end of your event, or take the form of access or directions to relevant on-line resources, in some cases, assembled specifically for those who’ve first witnessed and participated in your presentation.
o If you are a professional presenter, these resources are likely to form the incentive for your audience to engage further with you.
Putting it all together: The better your preparation, the more relaxed you will be in sharing your message. The more relaxed you are in sharing your message, the more your audience’s attention will be focused on it – and the more appreciative they will be for your sharing it with them, and the more you will come to love public speaking.
Nobody cares how much you know, until they know how much you care – about them, and about what you have to share with them.
But there is a little more to being effective in presentations than just ‘caring’. It takes a certain amount of self-awareness to convert ‘caring’ into ‘caring for your audience’. It takes:
- Engagement: Engagement follows ‘hot tub rules’: If you’ve taken your ego off and dived into your topic, its safe for your audience to take their egos off, too, and join you. BUT, if you’re all ego-ed up, they’ll either stand around watching you, or bring their egos into the mix as well. Egos don’t get on, and there’s usually only room enough for one in each tub. Egos elicit other egos. Put yours to sleep and their’s will nod off too, leaving just the ‘real people’ to communicate and have fun.
- Enthusiasm: If you are not enthusiastic about your topic, your audience will be even less so. It’s not cool to be cool – it’s cool to be hot! Its cool – and engaging – to be absorbed in your subject, to see the real value it holds for your audience and to see the real value they could enjoy if only you can convey that to them.
- Appreciation: Thank your audience. Share your open-hearted appreciation of the opportunity they gave you to share something about which you care deeply, with a group of people whom you care for deeply. Genuinely praise something common to your audience, then tell them ‘where you want them to go from here’.
Prepare really well, relax in your presentation, and your audience will think you’re doing the whole thing ‘off the cuff’. You’ll look – and feel – entirely natural and professional.
For help – or even coaching – in becoming an impactful, appreciated and edu-taining public speaker get in touch.