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11 Paradoxes of Being a Better Public Speaker

11 Paradoxes of Being a Better Public Speaker

    We’ve all heard how frightened nearly everyone is of public speaking. Maybe that’s understandable, but it creates the potential for lots of misinformed conventional wisdom spread by people who have to make presentations but haven’t had the opportunity to learn what really works.

    To help correct some misperceptions about what creates better presenters and presentations, here are eleven public speaking paradoxes for reluctant presenters to accept, embrace, and follow:

    1. Minimize your public speaking nerves by looking for as big an audience as possible.

    My theory on nerves and speaking? We all have a certain amount of nerves getting up in front of a crowd: the more people in the audience, the smaller the amount of your nervousness each audience member has to absorb. The theory may sound silly, but with more people in the audience, there’s a greater likelihood of spotting individuals who get your message and show it in their eyes – always a comforting sign for a speaker. The more people, the more likely someone will find your jokes funny and start laughing or be moved by your remarks and start applauding (and trust me, it takes somebody being the first to applaud). These nerve-settlers all benefit from having a bigger crowd.

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    2. If you’re concerned about forgetting what you’ll say, take all the words off your slides.

    The typical crutch to avoid forgetting your presentation is to put every word on your slides so you can turn around and read them aloud – which always makes for a deadly presentation. Putting everything on-screen also allows the audience to stop paying attention to you since they can more efficiently read your slides themselves. With only images (or at least very few words) displayed, however, if you forget your remarks or cover something different from what was originally written, nobody knows because the audience has no visual reference to spot the variation. You enjoy all kinds of freedom to change up what you say and how you say it, making it much easier to cover your forgetful moments.

    3. To compare more favorably to the great motivational speaker on the agenda, ask to speak right after them.

    Unsure speakers try valiantly to stay as far away as possible on the agenda from exciting speakers because they think they’ll seem worse by immediately following a keynoter. That’s simply a bad strategy. There’s invariably a buzz among the audience after an exciting, engaging speaker, and it’s wonderful to bask in it as the agenda’s next presenter. Not only do you get a free pass to lunch off the audience love the previous speaker created, you can always refer back to a point your predecessor made to refresh the audience’s glow while you’re onstage.

    4. To satisfy audience requests for presentation materials, refuse to provide slide print outs.

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    Handing out your slides before the presentation creates a distraction as audience members are tempted to look at them and ignore you. Plus if you’ve taken the advice to primarily use graphics on your slides, having them won’t be of much learning value anyway. Instead, write an article with your presentation’s key points and invite the audience to visit your blog to review it. If you don’t have a blog, write your presentation summary to share with the event organizer for its blog or website. You’ll expand your reach, providing both your in-person audience and others interested in your topic the opportunity to learn from what you have to say.

    5. When you want the whole presenting experience to just be over as quickly as possible, show up way early and make a day of it.

    One of the best things you can do as a nervous presenter is to arrive early since it provides several advantages. You can see where you’ll be speaking, determine where to stand, and figure out solutions to challenges the equipment or conference venue create. You’ll also be able to arrange the setup so your computer will be in front of you – serving as a monitor – eliminating the tendency to turn away from the audience to see what’s on the screen. Being there early allows you to meet and interact with audience members, learning what interests them. Finally, you can watch other presenters so you can amplify or avoid points they’ve made, as appropriate. All these benefits will help make your presenting time seem to pass much more quickly.

    6. If answering questions makes you nervous, encourage lots of them.

    Questions are a giant opportunity to customize your content to what’s most relevant to the audience. They also provide a chance to catch your breath and drink some water as you turn the attention over to the audience momentarily. To get questions started, plant a few with people you’ve met before the talk so you begin with ones you are ready to address.  Plus always remember: if you’re stumped for an answer, ask other audience members to share their perspectives on the challenging question.

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    7. If you have a really loud voice, demand a microphone.

    So many people, especially self-conscious men, try to avoid using microphones because they talk loud. Use the microphone. With a microphone, you can speak at your normal volume while also raising and lowering your voice as you’d like to create continued interest in what you’re saying and how you’re delivering the message.

    8. Stand up while you present on a conference call or webinar because no one can see you.

    Suppose you’re doing a webinar or other phone-based presentation. The natural tendency is to sit at your desk since the audience isn’t watching. True, but the wrong move nonetheless. Standing up and “presenting” your comments gives your voice more energy, which translates to a better phone-based talk. Bonus tip: don’t speak in the same volume you normally would for a phone conversation. Instead, over-emote since the phone dampens your delivery style. Delivering your message in this manner creates a much more engaging audience experience.

    9. Since presentation mistakes are embarrassing when they’re noticed, point them out and have fun with them.

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    Some speaking mistakes are small and go unnoticed. Others (the computer or projector fails, a video doesn’t play) are apparent to the audience. Rather than dreading them, here are two things to do. First, anticipate what might go wrong and have a funny (ideally self-deprecating) comment to share for each one. Secondly, have a backup plan for each of the potential disasters. When you handle presentation adversity with a laugh and a quick recovery, you’ll win an audience over even faster than by delivering a seamless speech.

    10. If you don’t like the sound of your voice, record it and listen to it over and over.

    The single best investment I’ve made as a speaker has been a digital audio recorder to capture every presentation I do. While it can be tough to listen to yourself if you’re uncomfortable speaking, the gaffes you’ll hear quickly pinpoint areas to improve your skills. Another advantage? Next time you’re speaking on the same topic, you can review your previous presentation while rehearsing to remind yourself of what parts worked best and effective ad-libs that weren’t planned in your original remarks.

    11. Deal with your anxieties about audience reactions by rewarding them for immediately sharing opinions.

    While most conferences survey attendees, it’s often weeks later, and speakers frequently never receive results. That’s why the second best investment you can make in becoming a better presenter is creating your own simple evaluation form. Offer audience members a chance to win a book or give-away relevant to your presentation for sharing one thing they liked, didn’t like, found interesting, and would recommend about your talk. These four points from each presentation provide incredible feedback and reactions you never could have anticipated. The total cost of the books I’ve given away has paled in comparison to the improvement opportunities this strategy has yielded – especially from things people didn’t like.

    There you have it. If you don’t enjoy speaking, these eleven paradoxes may seem very unnatural, but using them to your advantage will allow you to make dramatic improvements in your abilities as a public communicator!

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    Last Updated on May 22, 2020

    What Makes a Good Leader: 9 Critical Leadership Qualities

    What Makes a Good Leader: 9 Critical Leadership Qualities

    The word “leader” makes you think of people in charge, high-ranking people: your boss, politicians, presidents, CEOs…

    But leadership really isn’t about a particular position or a person’s seniority. Just because someone has worked for many years doesn’t mean s/he has gained the qualities and skills to lead a team.

    Getting promoted to a managerial position doesn’t automatically turn you into a leader either. CEOs and other high-ranking officials don’t always have great leadership skills.

    So what makes a good leader? What are the characteristics of a leader?

    Good leadership is about acquiring and honing specific skills. Leadership skills enable you to be a role model for a team in any environment. With great leadership qualities, successful leaders come in all shapes and sizes: in the home, at school, or in the workplace.

    The following are some of the many characteristics great leaders exhibit.

    1. A Positive Attitude

    Great leaders know that they won’t have a happy and motivated team unless they themselves exhibit a positive attitude. This can be done by remaining positive when things go wrong and by creating a relaxed and happy atmosphere in the workplace.

    Even some simple things like providing snacks or organizing a team Happy Hour can make a world of difference. An added perk is that team members are likely to work harder and do overtime when needed if they’re happy and appreciated.

    Even in the worst situations, such as experiencing low team morale or team members having made a big mistake at work, a great leader stays positive and figures out ways to keep the team motivated to solve the problems.

    Walt Disney had his share of hardships and challenges, and like any great leader, he managed to stay positive and find new opportunities. In 1928, Disney found that his film producer, Charles Mintz, wanted to reduce his payments for the Oswald series. Mintz threatened to cut ties entirely if Disney didn’t accept his terms, and Disney chose to part ways. But in leaving Oswald, Disney decided to create something new: the iconic Mickey Mouse[1].

    The key is to break down huge challenges into smaller ones and find ways to tackle them one by one.

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    Think about the lessons you can learn from the mistake and jot them down because sometimes you win, and sometimes you learn.

    2. Confidence

    All great leaders have to exhibit an air of confidence if they’re going to succeed. Please don’t confuse this with self-satisfaction and arrogance. You want people to look up to you for inspiration, not so they can punch you in the face.

    Confidence is important because people will be looking to you on how to behave, particularly if things aren’t going 100% right. If you remain calm and poised, team members are far more likely to as well. As a result, morale and productivity will remain high, and the problem will be solved more quickly.

    If you panic and give up, they will know immediately and things will simply go downhill from there.

    Elon Musk is a great example of a leader with confidence. He truly believes that Tesla will be successful, which he has shown many times through his actions. He converted 532,000 stock options at $6.63 each, their value on Dec. 4, 2009, before Tesla went public. It was a hefty bargain considering Tesla’s stock price stood at around $195 per share at that time. He doesn’t apologize for his beliefs and has drawn fire from just about everyone for his political actions.

    You can’t instantly become a very confident person, but all the small things you do every day will gradually make you more confident:

    • List 5 things you like about yourself every day (something different every day), and you’ll appreciate yourself more.
    • Work on your strengths and do your best to enhance them.

    3. A Sense of Humor

    It’s imperative for any kind of leader to have a sense of humor, particularly when things go wrong. And they will.

    Your team members are going to be looking to you for how to react in a seemingly dire situation. It would probably be best if you weren’t stringing up a noose for yourself in the corner. You need to be able to laugh things off because if staff morale goes down, so will productivity.

    Establish this environment prior to any kind of meltdown by encouraging humor and personal discussions in the workplace.

    As a president, Barack Obama exuded confidence and calm during stressful situations. But he was also known for his “dad jokes,”[2] his genuinely funny speeches at the White House Correspondents’ Dinner, and appearing on Zack Galifianakis’s Between Two Ferns.[3] Obama’s sense of humor made him grounded, realistic, and honest, which no doubt helped during some tense moments in the White House!

    Learn to laugh at yourself. Confident people laugh about their own silly mistakes, and when you do this, others will also trust you more because you’re willing to share your experiences.

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    Be observant and learn from the jokes others make. You can also get a lot of inspiration from the internet.

    4. Ability to Embrace Failure

    No matter how hard you try to avoid it, failures will happen; that’s okay. You just need to know how to deal with them.

    Great leaders take them in strides. They remain calm and logically think through the situation and utilize their resources. What they don’t do is fall apart and reveal to their team how worried they are, which leads to negative morale, fear, and binge-drinking under desks.

    Great leaders do, in fact, lead, even when they’re faced with setbacks.

    Henry Ford experienced a major setback after designing and improving the Ford Quadricycle. He founded the Detroit Automobile Company in 1899, but the resulting cars they produced did not live up to his standards and were too expensive. The company dissolved in 1901. Ford took this in stride and formed the Henry Ford Company. The sales were slow and the company had financial problems; it wasn’t until 1903 that the Ford Motor Company was successful and put the Ford on the map.

    Get to the root cause of any problem so you can prevent it from happening again and learn from the mistake.

    By asking “why” 5 times (or more) on why something happened, you can find out the key factor that caused the problem and can find the best solution to tackle the problem.

    You’ll also learn how to prevent this from happening again in the future after finding out a problem’s root cause.

    5. Careful Listening and Feedback

    This is far more complex than it actually sounds. Good communication skills are essential for a great leader. You may very well understand the cave of crazy that is your brain, but that doesn’t mean that you can adequately take the ideas out of it and explain them to someone else.

    The best leaders need to be able to communicate clearly with the people around them. They also need to be able to interpret other people properly and not take what they say personally.

    The Dalai Lama, as a symbol of the unification of the state of Tibet, represents and practices Buddhist values. The Dalai Lama’s leadership is benevolent and aims toward truth and understanding, alongside the other Buddhist precepts. This is a great example for all leaders: if you want to give good directions to others, you have to get feedback from others to understand the situation properly.

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    Encourage communication between team members and establish an open door policy.

    Practice not interrupting team members when they’re talking. Instead, summarize what they say and ask for feedback after you have talked about your ideas.

    6. Knowing How and When to Delegate

    No matter how much you might want to, you can’t actually do everything yourself. Even if you could, in a team environment that would be a terrible idea anyway.

    Good leaders recognize that delegation does more than simply alleviate their own stress levels (although that’s obviously a nice perk). Delegating to others shows that you have confidence in their abilities, which subsequently results in higher morale in the workplace, as well as loyalty from your staff. They want to feel appreciated and trusted.

    Although Steve Jobs was known for focusing in on the smallest of details, he knew how to delegate. By finding, cultivating, and trusting capable team members, Jobs was able to make Apple run smoothly, even when he had to be absent for extended periods of time.

    To know when and how to delegate work to team members, you have to be very familiar with each of them:

    • List out all of their strengths, weaknesses, and personalities.
    • Talk with your team members more to know about their passion and interests.

    Take a look at this guide and learn more about delegation: How to Delegate Work Effectively (The Definitive Guide for Leaders)

    7. Growth Mindset

    Any good leader knows how important it is to develop the skills of those around them. The best can recognize those skills early on. Not only will development make work easier as they improve and grow, it will also foster morale. In addition, they may develop some skills that you don’t possess that will be beneficial to the workplace.

    Great leaders share their knowledge with the team and give them the opportunity to achieve. This is how leaders gain their respect and loyalty.

    Pope Francis has been unusually popular with many Catholics and many non-Catholics. His position isn’t totally traditional, which is part of his appeal, but he also has admirable leadership skills. Pope Francis’s TED talk[4] drew attention because he encouraged leaders to be humble and to demonstrate solidarity with others. This inclusive, kind, and respectful style of leadership is incredibly important for any situation.

    It’s important to spend time talking with other team members individually to understand them.

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    Find out team members’ current challenges and try to give feedback and encouragement so they will grow and do better.

    8. Responsibility

    Great leaders know that when it comes to their company, work place or whatever situation they’re in, they need to take personal responsibility for failure. How can they expect employees to hold themselves accountable if they themselves don’t?

    The best leaders don’t make excuses; they take the blame and then work out how to fix the problem as soon as possible. This proves that they’re trustworthy and possess integrity.

    Howard Gillman is the chancellor of UC Irvine. You might have heard of how the university rescinded a bunch of acceptances, and then changed its mind[5], This past spring, an unusually high number of accepted students decided to matriculate; the school initially responded by rescinding offers over things like missed deadlines. But the college realized this was a mistake and reversed its decision. Gillman and the university accepted responsibility and decided to move past their earlier bad decision.

    Always ask yourself what you can do better or what you should change. Take responsibility and think about what you can do better to prevent this from happening next time.

    9. A Desire to Learn

    It’s safe to say that all great leaders will have to enter unchartered waters at some point during their career. Because of this, they have to be able to trust their intuition and draw on past experiences to guide them.

    Great leaders know that there’s always something to learn from everything they have experienced before. They are able to connect the present challenges with the lessons learned in the past to make decisions and take actions promptly.

    You can either recall what you’ve learned from your memories or search your notes (ideally, a software that you can access anywhere with things well-organized).

    Warren Buffett, one of the richest people in the world, has mostly made the right calls. But in dealing with huge amounts of money, Buffett has also made several multi-million (and sometimes multi-billion) dollar mistakes. He has stated that buying the company Berkshire Hathaway was his biggest mistake[6]. From that poor choice, he realized that it was unwise to pursue “improvements” and “expansions” in the existing textile industry. Despite mistakes like this, Buffett has invested wisely, and it shows.

    To effectively learn from the past, write down lessons you’ve learned from any mistakes you’ve made. Have all the lessons well organized, and when similar things happen again in future, take these lessons as references.

    The Bottom Line

    Leadership traits are learnable. If you practice consistently, you can be a great leader, too.

    Make small changes to your habits when you work with your team, wherever that may be. Most of us aren’t presidents or CEOs, but we all work with other people, and our actions always impact others. This gives every person the chance to develop leadership skills and to stand out from the crowd.

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    Featured photo credit: Markus Spiske via unsplash.com

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