I thought I knew a bunch about public speaking. But watching a recent recording of myself talking at an event showed me how much I still have to translate into practice.
Here’s my note to self for future speaking commitments, shared here in the hope it might be useful to you too.
Remember the basics
Speak clearly, make eye contact with people, don’t repeat yourself, don’t trail off….
And the important one for me: speak slowly! Speeding up leads to a multitude of umms and errs.
Even if you can’t prep everything, prep your intro. Whatever you do, you’ll set the energy/tone from your first few sentences – so make it intentional.
A consideration of the context really matters i.e. who are your audience? what’s the level of formality? who has spoken directly before and what have they primed the audience for?
And get straight into the good stuff – don’t bore them with lots of bumf about the organisation. If you do want to talk about that, do so nearer the end of the presentation once the audience have decided that you’re worth listening to.
Tell the audience why you are there so they can figure out why they are there! Why they might want to listen to you today? Who are you and why does your perspective matter to them? Part of proving this credibility is talking about what you know, with confidence. Don’t talk about something you’re not sure about, people can tell. If you need to, make it clear that it’s out of your comfort zone.
Something I’ve copied off another more proficient public speaker is to start by asking the audience who they are, by a show of hands for various professions. It helps me to get to know the people in the room, and better tailor what I say to them.
Your audience are a group of individuals, not some amorphous mass. So talk as if you are talking to individuals. This means no empty offers. “We’d love your feedback” + no contact details and/or explicit invite to do so = undermining your credibility and undervaluing your audience (as well as wasting a good opportunity to hear from them in future).
Consider the practicalities: Can the audience make out the diagrams you’re pointing to? Are there people with limited sight or hearing in the audience, and if so, how can you ensure their full participation? Will the content be shared afterwards? Before your slot, are the audience excited and energised or bored and sleepy, and how can you help them to be fully present?
Visual content, like a slide deck, can be fab. But our attention isn’t an infinite resource – if your audience are reading your slides, they’re no longer listening to what you’re saying. So don’t assume visual aids are necessary, or just a nice background, and don’t use them as prompt to read off the screen.
The most important one of all. Create a narrative rather than stating a bunch of facts/assertions/findings. What did this project mean?, not what did you do? Share your wisdom, not your methodology.