By Perminus Wainaina
Last week, I was invited to give a talk to professionals in a networking event. Caroline, who is an HR professional with five years’ experience, had also been invited to speak at the event.
When it was Caroline’s turn to speak, she hesitantly went to the stage. Throughout her presentation, she was shaky, her voice was cracking, and she looked nervous.
When I looked at some of the professionals, I noticed their attention had gone away from the speaker.
After the event, Caroline approached me. She wanted to know how she could improve her public speaking skills.
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When you think of public speaking, you might only consider one form of it –being at the stage addressing a group of people. But there are different forms of public speaking.
For example, when you’re in a meeting at your workplace, that is a form of public speaking. At a social ceremony too –such as a wedding, funeral and birthday party, is a form of public speaking. Even talking with your colleagues and friends, can all be considered as public speaking.
Public speaking is a skill like any other. What this means is with practice and targeted training, you can become an effective speaker.
To approach the question Caroline asked, let’s break it down to two stages. There’s what you do as you’re preparing, and then there’s what you do when you are addressing the audience.
Let’s start with the before part. What do you do to while you’re preparing for a public speaking event?
1. Prepare your notes
To be effective at public speaking, you have to prepare ahead of time. Go through your subject, research as much as you can, and make notes on the topic.
However, the notes you take should be brief pointers of what you’ll talk about. If you write everything you intend to talk about, you’ll likely spend the whole presentation focused on your notes and not the presentation itself.
2. Internalize your points
After you’ve written down your points, try and understand each of them. There’s a huge difference when you just read down what is written, and what you’ve taken time to internalize. When you know your points well, it’ll be easy to talk about them when you’re presenting.
3. Know your audience
Understating your audience will help you to adequately prepare for the presentation.
For example, if you’re presenting to a young audience, you’ll use simple words, and a lot more graphics. On the other hand, when presenting to the board of directors, you’ll use industry words in your area of specialization. Additionally, you’ll also use more data and facts than graphics.
After you’ve already prepared everything, you get to a key bit of your preparation, practice!
When practicing, do so as you intend to during the presentation. This will help you see mistakes or areas of improvement.
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When it comes to delivering the actual presentation, there are a few more tips and tricks to help you deliver an effective speech. These are;
While it may sound like an easy tip, you’d be surprised to see how often professionals forget it.
I was conducting an interview a while back. When I asked the professional the first question, she started talking hastily. I could tell she was not breathing and was rushing through her presentation. This made it hard to understand what she was saying.
When you’re addressing the audience, take time to pause and catch your breath. This will help you compose yourself. It will also give you a chance to look at your note pointers.
2. Maintain eye contact
Every so often, you’ll see a speaker addressing a crowd, but they do not maintain eye contact. When you don’t look at your audience, you’ll miss a key chance of engaging with them.
When you look at your audience, you make them feel you’re together in the presentation.
3. Engage your audience
Last year, I attended a ceremony I had been invited for. When one of the speakers stood to give his speech, he delivered the presentation looking down at his notes the whole time, at no point did he engage us, the audience.
When you want to have an effective presentation, you have to involve the audience. Ask them questions and give them a chance to voice their opinions.
At the end of the day, irrespective of the reason, great communication skills will help you grow your career. For instance, you’ll be able to express your ideas better in a meeting, you’ll also be able to convince your colleagues and bosses.
I have seen professionals who have worked on their communication and public speaking skills boost their career. I have witnessed job seekers who have great presentation skills get picked for a job over those who do not have.
The good news is, despite how wanting your presentation skills are, you can always work on them and build. You’ll be surprised to see some of the greatest and most prominent people have grown in their careers because of improving their communication skills.
To grow your public speaking skills, enroll in a public speaking short course.
What other tips can help you become a better presenter? Share with me in the comments section below.
Perminus Wainaina is the C.E.O and Managing Partner at Corporate Staffing Services, a leading HR & Recruitment consultancy firm based in Westlands. Through personalized career coaching he assists mid-level and senior professionals get solutions to complex and challenging career issues that they are facing. Click here for more on career coaching.