Just Say a Few Words
By Odette Pollar,
Nothing instills confidence like competence. Being competent means that you are comfortable with what you are going to say, fairly assured of how the audience is going to respond and are relatively relaxed. The best way to gain confidence is to practice, practice, and practice the presentation. Whether you write out your speech and try to learn it, or whether you work from a brief outline, 3 x 5 cards, or no notes at all, practicing in advance is critical. Rehearsing lets you experience the flow and the smoothness, or not, of your transitions. It helps you identify any tongue-twisting areas. Being knowledgeable about your facts and having well organized material goes a long way toward reducing nervousness.
Tip: The best way to practice is out loud: in the car, the shower, into a tape recorder, or before a friend. Practicing silently can help you memorize, but it is not until you actually hear the words spoken aloud that you can identify areas over which you stumble.
To avoid the "won't he/she ever stop talking" reaction, time the length of your presentation, and make sure that it fits within the allotted time. Your audience will appreciate it, and the meeting planner will love you for it.
Tip: Cut your comments so that they are 2-3 minutes shorter than your given time. It is a mystery of the universe but true, that when you get up in front of the group and give your speech, it will take 2-3 minutes longer.
Dress comfortably on the day of your presentation. Appropriate attire helps you and your audience feel comfortable. This is not the time to try out the new shoes or to wear a tie that you are not absolutely sure about. Looking good also helps radiate confidence.
Do not drink caffeine before you speak, and avoid heavy meals. If your body is trying to digest your food and giving you the "take a nap" message, it just makes your speech more difficult.<
Tip: Drinking lukewarm beverages is better than ice water, which makes your vocal chords contract.
Learn as much as possible about the group you will be facing beforehand. If you know something about their interests and educational level, it will help you personalize your speech. If this is not a group you are familiar with, there are a number of ways to gather that information: Ask the person who requested your presentation; speak with others who have previously addressed the group; or, get the names of a few attendees in advance and call them to discuss their issues or concerns. Which option you choose is determined by the type of presentation, the length and formality and, of course, appropriateness. The goal is to reduce your chances of being surprised by an unexpected situation.
Arrive at your presentation location early. Forty-five minutes to an hour early is a good rule, and if you are using any audiovisual equipment, test it. Be sure that the overhead projector has a spare bulb, the thumb drive works in your clients’ PC and the “clicker” is in working order.
During your presentation, remember to breathe deeply, look at the audience, and smile. Most groups also enjoy humor, and rather than saying that you are nervous try something like, "This must not be stress reduction week." The group is likely to chuckle along with you and be more receptive to what you have to say. In general, audiences want speakers to succeed. An agonizing ordeal is hard for both parties.
To help you connect with the audience, try not to stand behind the podium for the entire presentation. Walk out and toward the audience. Finding a friendly face to focus on is also helpful. If you use notes, feel free to refer to them, but don't read from them. With rare exceptions, a read speech is a boring speech.
Tip: If you are nervous, holding your notes will call attention to shaking hands. Ask for a table on which you can lay them down.
Remember that some nervousness is beneficial. It helps keep you alert. As Marilyn Snyder, of Snyder and Associates, a communications company based in Oakland, California, says: "If you can't get rid of the butterflies in your stomach, at least get them to fly in formation."
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