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YOU as a Public Speaker!

Sep 12, 2007
Preparing for a presentation with the use of visual aids can often overlook the obvious visual, You. That's right! The speaker. Other forms of visual aids are just that, aids to help interpret your presentation. It is important that you are the main visual. Image is everything!

Focusing on the following areas will prepare you to be the main attraction.

Mental and Physical Preparation

Physical and mental preparation goes hand-in-hand. When you are nervous, your mind is usually racing, causing your words to jumble as they try to keep up with your thoughts. Physically slowing down your mind by relaxing your body helps eliminate this problem. Gather your thoughts through deep breathing and stretching to calm your nervousness. Mental imagery is a tool for a speaker to minimize or eliminate any negative thoughts or fears about speaking. Visualize that you are a dynamic and confident speaker who has valuable information to give.

Proper Attire

What is the first thing your audience will notice about you? Most likely it will be what you are wearing. Pay close attention to how your dress is representing you. Check with the event organizers to be sure that you won't under or over dress. Do not wear anything that takes away from your presentation such as big jewelry, loud colors, or excessive makeup unless it is part of your presentation.

Body Language

1. Eye communication

The best way to use eye contact is to make eye contact! Do not overlook your audience when you are nervous. Find friendly faces and connect with the audience. This builds confidence in you as the audience senses your sincerity. You can use eye contact to seek feedback from your audience. Are they attentive and interested?

Too little eye contact is interpreted as being impolite and disinterested. Too much makes someone feel uncomfortable and victimized. Try to focus on connecting with your audience and eye contact will become comfortable.

2. Gestures

Gestures should be natural and represent what you are feeling and thinking at that moment. If you are excited, and grand gestures are natural for you, go for it! Your audience appreciates sincerity verses a rehearsed robotic gesture. Although different countries and cultures define gestures differently, there are general gestures which convey a certain message to the audience.

Negative or closed gestures:

- Hands on the hips can be perceived as judgmental and authoritative.

- Hands in pockets show that you are nervous or complacent.

- Hands clasped behind you (reverse fig leaf or regal position) infer that you are hiding something, may cause distrust. This may also show nervousness.

- Hands clasped in front (fig leaf) convey tension.

- Crossed-arms may portray you as defensive and unopened.

Positive or open gestures:

- "At ease stance" (feet about shoulder width apart with toes pointed forward).

- Gestures should be appropriate and flowing, not quickly and jerky.

- Vary your gestures so that you do not bore the audience.

- Palms open show that you are non-threatening.

- Appear natural by matching your words, thoughts, and feelings to your gesture.

3. Posture and Movement

- Proximity and orientation.

- The social norm in North America is about one-and-one-half feet to four feet between two people. Standing too close to someone can cause them to feel uncomfortable and infringed on. Standing too far can cause them to feel disconnected and disinterested.

- Stances/movement - a neutral stance is usually best. Feet slightly shoulder width apart and toes forward. Movement is dependent on your situation. Pacing is distracting however, showing a visual by moving back and forth may be warranted.

- Head nodding can be perceived positively showing your audience that you are interested in them. It can also be perceived negatively if you are shaking your head in a disapproving or demeaning manner.

4. Facial expressions

Be extremely aware of your facial expressions. Do your facial expressions convey a different meaning than what you are thinking or feeling? Or, are they conveying exactly what you are thinking or feeling (i.e. tiredness, boredom)? Always remember to smile at the audience. A good time to do this is when people are first coming into your session. Greet them with a smile. This helps relax you and helps the audience warm up to you before your formal presentation. It is easier to give a presentation in front of a relaxed and inviting crowd rather than a cold and judgmental one.

Remember, you may have the most dynamic presentation slide show with the latest technology, however, all that hard work will be discarded if you do not prepare yourself and the main visual. Make your next presentation a high-impact one with a lasting impression of YOU.
About the Author
Dr. John E. Neyman, Jr. has been speaking everyweek for the last 21 years. He is writing a book called Designing Speeches.
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