Published - 13th August 2010
Many of us are asked to address an audience at some point, be that as part of a presentation or as part of a business pitch. Unless we’re seasoned performers, we all get apprehensive beforehand – and nerves can either make or break our performance.
Alongside my role as PR Director for Harris Associates, I also have the dubious honour of presenting West Yorkshire’s most listened to radio programme (BBC Radio Leeds, Sunday mornings, 9am – 12 noon, seeing as you ask…). So, here are a few pointers on public speaking I have learned over the years.
You need to appear confident right from the start. That’s why it’s important you know exactly how you are going to open your speech – what you are going to say, and how you are going to say it. Get off to a good start, and know where you are heading and the rest will flow.
Just as important as the start, you must be confident about how you intend to wrap things up. First impressions are important, but be sure you have a clear and concise ending in mind, too. It can be serious or light hearted – that’s up to you. But make sure it’s polished because last impressions often make lasting impressions.
There may be a few or many people in the audience assembled before you, and this latter scenario can be particularly daunting. However, don’t speak to ‘the crowd’ – address what you have to say to an individual. That one person might (indeed, should) change during the course of what you have to say. Engage your eyes with a different person each sentence and make sure what you say is addressed to them personally, not the entire roomful.
Yes, yes, I know it’s easier said than done! However, it’s very important – don’t script your speech and read from it. If you do, it will sound unnatural and stunted, rather than delivered with passion and warmth. Very few people can get away with delivering a fully pre-written presentation, and doing so precludes ad-hoc comments which add light and shade or texture to your delivery.
Instead, list some bullet points that will remind you of the content and direction of your speech… and, by all means, jot down facts and figures. Use these to shape what you have to say, rather than reading it all word-for-word.
Give your speech room to breathe! Nerves could lead you to ramble through what you have to say, but try to retain control. Don’t be afraid of a second’s silence here and there – pauses can be used to allow information to sink in, or humorous quips to register.
The problem with technology is that often, right at the critical moment, it can break down or makes strange noises. Either can ruin your confidence and spoil what you’d planned to be a polished performance.
So beforehand, check, check and double check that the microphone in front of you works as it should and that your voice can be clearly heard in all directions. (Please don’t start your speech with those immortal words “Can you all hear me at the back…” Argghh!)
Then during your speech, remember the microphone will only work as it should if you speak into it. If your delivery technique is to turn your head from side to side, please be sure the mic goes with you!