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Two Essential Ingredients of Splendid Presentations

Aug 17, 2007
With practice, you'll feel much more positively about your audience and in turn, more confident about presenting to them. With each public presentation, you'll begin to know and to accept more that your audience is simply made up of individual human beings much like you. Each person in the audience expects your best and hopes that you deliver your best.

And their expectations are like a silent beam of positive energy beaming from the centre of their being into you.

Genuine rapport is based on empathy. Confident public presentations are made by people who respect their audience and who use their entire repertoire of communication skills to really connect with their audience.

1. Vocal tone:
That's where the dreaded word monotonous comes in. If you detect that Mother Nature made your voice mono-toned, please consider hiring a speech coach.

2. Facial expressions:
Rehearse your facial expressions using a mirror, or better still, a video. Check that your facial expressions are appropriate and varied. Using the mirror or a video, please check that you have minimised or eliminated any nervous facial gestures you make. Some people emphasise the end of each sentence by opening their eyes just a bit wider, or they draw their mouth back in a grimace. You can't sort out problems like that, if you don't even know you have them.

3. Hand gestures:
I'm notorious for speaking with my hands, so I've had to tame them a bit. Make sure you don't look too wooden or too distracting.

4. Pacing:
In my e-program Public Speaking Success e-Program, I outline the proper pace for optimum comprehension by your audience. Worldwide, there is an accepted proper pace for optimum comprehension by your audience. In America, when speaking English, a pace of about 155 words per minute is fine. The pace of American English tends to vary from State to State. If you have a strong accent, it's always good to slow down just a trifle. In Australia where we tend to mumble, the pace per minute shouldn't be more than 150 words. You can record yourself reading out three minutes of your presentation at your normal pace. If in three minutes you were able to cover more than 480 words, you're speaking way too quickly. If in three minutes, you only covered 420, the snoring in your audience will let you know that you're speaking way too sloooooow.

5. Pitch:
Please don't commit the terrible crime of ending your sentences by going up in pitch - unless you are in fact, asking a question. It's a trend I've noticed among young Australians and there should be a law against it, it's so irritating. Rule of public speaking, if you really want to emphasise a point, a piece of information, lower your pitch for the last couple of words in your sentence. Above all, make sure you establish plenty of eye contact.

The next ingredient in absolutely memorable presentations is to be able to generate real interaction with the audience. Of course, if you're just proposing a quick Toast at work to welcome someone new, or to farewell a colleague, interaction isn't appropriate. In most presentations, particularly keynote addresses, it is a winner.

To fulfil that part of truly splendid presenting, you'll need to practise your public speaking skills in order to develop the confidence needed to carry this off.

One of the best ways to impress your audience is to take them out of their comfort zone by inviting them to be speakers as well as just passive listeners.

If your presentation has an element of true interaction between you and your audience, you will make a lasting impression - on the people with whom you directly communicate, and also with the people listening to the way in which you handle questions.

One thing that I have learned from giving lectures, keynote addresses and everything in between is this: People in audiences are often too intimidated to ask questions.

So, to make my presentations truly interactive, I ask the audience questions which initially just require a show of hands. After a few general questions I then lead gently into a series of questions to which I require verbal answers. Pretty soon, I know that we've relaxed our way into a discussion. We (the audience and I ) have come to a point where I can ask: "does anyone here have a question they'd like to ask, or a point of view they'd like to share with us?"

It should come as no surprise to you to know that many people feel shy or intimidated about asking questions in public. Except the audience in those talk shows like Oprah. Generally, it's almost as difficult to frame a relevant and interesting question in a succinct way as it is to frame the entire presentation. If you do want genuine interaction between you and your audience, begin that part of your presentation by asking them some general, non-threatening questions. And please make your questions thought-provoking, stimulating, and open-ended.

A tangent: in my e-program Calming Words which allows you to overcome more general anxiety and attacks of panic, I advise that you must be kind to yourself. Please don't expect to be great before you're even mediocre.

I know that sounds harsh, because so many people these days are constantly telling you that you're great. At this stage in your acquisition of public presentation skills, I want to tell you the truth. You're not great. Yet. You will be as great as you can be, but you may never be as great a public presenter as JFK.

There are many, many presenters who are so much better than me. That's fine. For some, it's their true vocation, their calling in life. I earn a great living making presentations, so I know that I am a thousand times better now than I was twenty years ago. However, if I went around comparing myself with others, I might never open my mouth again.

UNREALISTIC EXPECTATIONS ARE A HUGE STUMBLING BLOCK TO SUCCESS. It will take you time to be as great as you can become. Even then, you may not be as compelling, entertaining and informative as I am. Or vice versa. So, along the way to your true potential, judge yourself kindly. If in the early stages, you make a couple of mistakes or you're just not confident enough to orchestrate the flow between you and the audience.... Fine. You still need to practise your skills, to finetune your approach, to feel comfortable with your style.

How long will it take? It might take twenty talks for some people, two presentations for others and eighty-three for someone else. Again, that's fine. You'll get there. When you're really confident, you'll increase the extent to which you interact with your audience - but always to an appropriate level. Audiences love it. As always, to your continued happiness and success.
About the Author
Based in Melbourne, Australia Dr Jeannette Kavanagh is a solution-oriented counsellor helping people overcome anxiety and panic attacks, particularly when speaking or performing in public. Sign up for her FREE ezine Public Speaking Success
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