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.
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.
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.
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.
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!