The first few minutes of a presentation are when speakers are the most apprehensive. They are also some of the most important minutes of your presentation. People will form an impression of you very quickly so your introduction must be strong. Prepare your introduction in advance and practice it so that your first few minutes of the presentation are strong ones.
I, personally, discourage people from opening a presentation with a joke because jokes can be risky on many fronts. There are some obvious risks such as the joke can offend a person or a group of people. Beyond being offensive, if the joke isn’t related to the topic or isn’t funny to the entire group, your credibility may be damaged – a high risk to take early in a presentation.
In your introduction, you have two main goals:
1. Set the tone for your presentation by developing rapport and establishing credibility. Rapport is developed by making a connection with your listeners. This can be done through offering a sincere compliment to the audience and/or sharing something about yourself that the audience can relate to.
2. Share your objective. When you state your objective for the presentation, it helps your audience understand the purpose of the presentation and how they are going to be investing their time.
The following are examples of several types of presentation openings.
Overview: State the subject area in general terms. For example, in a report on sales in a specific state, you might start with an overview of the region.
Start Small: Start with a specific part of the subject. You might begin by discussing sales of pencils and then broaden to sales of all office supplies.
Stage-setter: Discuss the background for your topic. For example, to oppose tearing down an important monument, you might begin by talking about why it was put there originally.
Importance: Use the reason for your message as your beginning. This kind of beginning answers such questions as, “Why this message?” “Why this audience?” “Why this occasion?”
Comparison: Compare an unrelated topic with your subject. This is useful when your audience members know little about your subject, but might understand it better if you compare it with something they do understand. For instance, you might teach racquetball to people by comparing it with tennis if they play that sport.
The following are some questions to think about as you are developing your opening:
- What sincere compliment can you pay to your audience, their profession or their organization?
- What can you share about yourself that your audience can relate to?
- What can you say to establish your credibility with this audience?
- What will you say to establish the objective for your audience?
- What will you say to explain to the audience how the time will be spent?
- What visual aid can you use to grab audience attention?
- What technique for engaging the audience can you use to get audience attention and interest?
Remember, Ralph Waldo Emerson once said “All the great speakers were bad speakers at first.” If you follow my advice and utilize these tips, you will be on your way to becoming a great speaker!
For more information on how you can perfect your presentation skills, contact Treva at www.trevagraves.com
Rowena Crosbie, an Entrepreneurs’ Organization (EO) member from Iowa, is president of Tero International, Inc., a premier interpersonal skills research and corporate training company. We asked for her thoughts on presentations and how you can perfect your next one.
For thousands of men and women, speaking in front of a group is an experience that is feared. More than a fear of heights, spiders or even dying, if you can believe it! The statistics indeed support Jerry Seinfeld’s humorous claim that most people at a funeral would rather be the corpse than the person delivering the eulogy. But, it is the ability to communicate effectively with individuals and groups that is cited as the primary factor contributing to the success of the highest-paid managers. So it’s definitely a fear worth overcoming and a skill worth nurturing.
Like overcoming any fear, the solution lies in education, understanding and repetition. Here are some of the common myths surrounding presentation skills and the reality behind them:
Myth #1: Start out with a joke– it gets the audience warmed up.
Reality: Although it’s certainly true that the release of adrenaline and endorphins into the system heightens learning and interest, a joke is seldom, if ever, appropriate. Too many speakers confuse comedy with humor. Humor is the relating of funny, relevant and non-offensive stories, cartoons or anecdotes to support the message. When they fail in their purpose, you don’t. Leave the comedy to the professional comedians.
Myth #2: Write your speech out so the most powerful words are used.
Reality: Written communication and spoken communication are two distinctly different mediums. Taking one mode of communication (written) and translating it directly to another (spoken) without any modification is dangerous. The words, phrases and stories we all enjoy reading in our favorite novels are too windy when communicated word for word in a presentation.
Myth #3: Put your hands in your pockets. It will make you feel relaxed and makes the atmosphere casual.
Reality: Studies have shown the critical importance of the visual element in presentations. This includes eye contact, attire, stance, grooming and gestures. When a speaker’s hands are buried in their pockets (or behind their back), effectively one-third of the ability to communicate is eliminated. Supportive gestures enhance the message and facilitate learning.
Myth #4: Scan your audience; everyone will think you’re looking at them. That’s important.
Reality: Our brains take in information through our eyes in the form of movement, shape, light and color. Our brain has to process information very quickly when the eyes are scanning the room, allowing little time for thinking about this important presentation. Talk to one person at a time, holding your focus for several seconds and slowing the input to your already very busy brain cells.
Myth #5: An alcoholic beverage prior to presenting will relax you and make you sharper– just one!
Reality: Alcohol dulls the senses. Aren’t you glad your airline pilot or surgeon doesn’t have just one to relax them before they approach their job? Other no-no’s in the food and beverage category prior to presenting include caffeine, dairy products, drugs and over-eating.
Myth #6: It doesn’t matter if you run a few minutes long in your presentation. The topic is an interesting one, and after all, they invited you to speak.
Reality: People dislike a speaker running over their time. Even if the presentation is very interesting, it’s not appropriate to run long. In fact, it’s better to not even finish on time. Plan to finish early– five minutes early.
Myth #7: Share all of the background information and factors affecting the topic. It’s very technical but necessary.
Reality: Your audience only needs to know enough to understand your premise. Allow for a Q&A period at the end of your talk to answer those questions the audience is most interested in. Provide detailed information in a handout.
Myth #8: You’re there to inform the audience of progress–not persuade them–so why worry about presentation techniques?
Reality: Many people say there are two types of presentations; one to inform and one to persuade. Wrong. There is only one type of presentation– the one to persuade. Whether you’re selling a product, a service, an idea or your own credibility, you’re persuading, and you need to know how people are persuaded.
Myth #9: Take questions during your presentation to be certain everyone is with you at all times.
Reality: Unless your presentation is several hours long or modular, this practice can be deadly. Questions from the audience can be hostile, get you off track or, at best, be time-consuming. Allow time at the end of the presentation for questions.
Myth #10: Practice makes perfect.
Reality: Practice makes permanent. Practicing the wrong techniques makes for bad habits that are difficult to break. Learn the techniques that work and practice those.
Myth #11: Use the techniques you’ve seen used by the late-night talk-show hosts. It’s effective for them, so it must be right.
Reality: Many factors affect our success in a presentation. I wouldn’t want to assume my audience attaches the credibility and charisma to me that they do to the accomplished entertainer. Neither should you. Learn the techniques that work and then use them.
Myth #12: Don’t worry about using visual aids. They distract the audience.
Reality: When you use visual aids, you are perceived as more professional, more credible, more persuasive and better prepared. In addition, research on the subject shows that when you support your presentation with relevant, interesting, colorful and multi-sensory visuals, learning is improved by 200%, retention by 38% and the time to explain complex subjects is reduced by 25% to 40%.
Myth #13: If you use the latest and greatest presentation technologies, you won’t have to worry about your presentation skills.
Reality: A quick recipe for disaster is to be lulled into thinking that all you need is the latest technology and your problems are over. That idea is unfortunately becoming more prevalent with the introduction of more and more innovative methods of incorporating visuals into presentations. Your visual aids are just that– aids. They are intended to enhance your presentation, not make it for you. Presenters must remember to focus on the human side. Regardless of how flashy or impressive your visuals may be, you are still the most important visual for your listeners.
Myth #14: If you don’t speak to groups often, don’t waste time and money attending a development program on the subject.
Reality: The skills for effectively speaking to groups are the same skills effective for speaking one on one. If you speak to anyone during the day–your clients, boss, co-workers, employees, spouse, kids–you need to develop these important skills.
13 Ways to Overcome Your Fear of Public Speaking and Win the Room
President Barack Obama answers a question during a town hall. | Saul Loeb | AFP | Getty Images
More Americans are terrified of public speaking than are afraid of earthquakes, floods, hurricanes, blizzards, loneliness, dying, theft, volcanoes, aging, needles, mass shootings, kidnappings and ghosts.
“Glossophobia,” the medical term for stage fright, makes 28.4 percent of the adults in the U.S. either afraid or very afraid, according to The Chapman University Survey of American Fears. Meanwhile, volcanoes scare 19.7 percent of American adults and 8.5 percent of adults are afraid of zombies,according to the report.
Despite the fact that public speaking often induces terror, it’s a vital skill for potential entrepreneurs and business owners who must be able to have to get up in front of a crowd to make a pitch, present an idea, or close a deal.
Here are 13 great secrets from professional speakers, experts, and coaches to help you overcome stage fright and give an ace presentation.
1. Speak from the heart
Talk about your own experiences. “Telling personal, true stories is the best way to impart information and inspire others. And it is easy to remember our own stories!” says Gary Schmidt, Past International President ofToastmasters International, a nonprofit organization that helps members improve their public speaking skills.
And avoid overly complicated language. It loses the audience. “You don’t need jargon to sound like you know what you’re talking about; bring in your own personal stories and experiences to build a persuasive case for why you are passionate about what you do. Your enthusiasm is your best sales tool,” says Allison Shapira, founder and CEO of Global Public Speaking.
2. Picture yourself as a winner
“There are many who prepare mentally minutes before speaking or maybe on the same day. One of the strongest factors is to prepare mentally from the instant that a speaking engagement is confirmed,” says Mohammed Murad, Past International President of Toastmasters. “Visualizing the venue and audience contributes greatly to the build up of confidence.”
Being aware of your breath gives you control of your nerves. “Deep breathing before and during your presentation or pitch calms your nerves and adds power and strength to your voice,” says Shapira, who has been a Harvard lecturer, opera singer and TEDx speaker and has launched her own communication consulting firm. “Deep breathing also keeps your voice centered and prevents dangerous uptalk which undermines your credibility and confidence.”
Source: David Hume Kennerly
Rochelle Rice, an accredited Toastmasters International speaker, recommends standing with your feet in a wide parallel stance and your arms up before speaking in front of a crowd and then taking five deep breaths in through the nose and out through the mouth. It’s also helpful to lift your right arm up and stretch to the right and vice versa, she says. “Lower your arms, bring your legs together and feel the sensation of the breath and the circulation in your body,” she says.
4. Ditch the power point
Powerpoint is a gentle lullaby to your audience. “People will invest in you because of your energy, confidence, and enthusiasm, not because of your slides,” says Shapira. “Make you and your business the focus of your presentation instead of spending hours on the perfect pitch deck.”
5. Don’t practice in your PJs
Simulate the experience of speaking to an audience in your rehearsals, saysSims Wyeth, an executive coach, business writer, author, and speaker. Wyeth started his career as an actor and has previously taught theater, and voice & speech at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts, the Michael Chekhov Studio, the Actors’ and Directors’ Lab, and the University of New Orleans.
“Be well rehearsed, which means you should rehearse under performance-like pressure,” says Wyeth. “Rehearsal is the work, performance is the play, and rehearsing under performance-like pressure acclimates you to the demands of public speaking.”
Source: Sims Wyeth
There are neurological changes that occur when you practice. “Rehearsal transfers your words and ideas from the cerebral cortex, which is responsible for higher order conscious thought, to your cerebellum, which orchestrates the lightning fast motor activation needed to perform complex actions, like speaking to crowds, teaching your fingers to play a new piece of music, or learning your lines for a play,” says Wyeth, who is also the author of The Essentials of Persuasive Public Speaking.
6. Public speaking is a skill, not a talent
“Don’t assume you need to be born a natural public speaker; recognize that it’s a learnable (and vital) skill for promoting your business to investors, customers, and partners. Put aside time for practice and get feedback from colleagues and friends,” says Shapira.
“You can’t outsource public speaking; as an entrepreneur, it’s up to you to be the face of your business.”-Allison Shapira, founder and CEO of Global Public Speaking
And if you are the head of a business, you are the one who is going to have to be on stage. “You can’t outsource public speaking; as an entrepreneur, it’s up to you to be the face of your business,” she says.
7. Nail the beginning and the ending
Your opening sets the tone for your speech and your closing is what you will leave your audience with. Since entrepreneurs have only eight words to get the attention of a venture capitalist in a pitch, skip the “So, Yeah,” at the start, says Shapira. Jump right in. And in your conclusion, leave your audience with a call to action or some other way for people to get involved.
“The most important parts of a speech are the opening and the conclusion,” says Shapira. “Rather than expecting those sentences to happen spontaneously in the moment; write and practice them in advance.”
Even better: memorize. Have the opening, and closing nailed down and then have a bullet point version of the rest of your speech memorized, suggests Rochelle Rice, one of the 69 Accredited Speaker with Toastmasters International and a board member of the National Speakers Association.
8. Avoid improv
Practice, practice, practice. “Don’t wing it, no matter how good you think you are at thinking on your feet,” says Schmidt. “Mark Twain said it best: ‘It usually takes me more than three weeks to prepare a good impromptu speech.'”
9. Be yourself and have a good time
If you put on a front, the audience will pick up on it. “Speaking is not acting,” says Murad. “People usually sense the personality, and it becomes apparent that the speaker is acting by trying to be someone else. There is no harm in researching other speaker styles, but a speaker needs to develop a style distinct to their personality, never imitate styles.”
Enthusiasm and boredom are contagious. “If you are passionate about your topic and are excited to present to others, it will be infectious,” says Schmidt. “If you are having fun as a speaker, your audience will have fun observing your speech.”
“Speaking is not acting.”-Mohammed Murad, Past International President of Toastmasters
10. Tailor the speech to the audience
Even if you have given the speech before, be sure to make tweaks to engage the specific audience.
Source: Mohammed Murad
“Without exception, audience, venue, and setting are all different each time. We can never be over-prepared,” says Murad.
11. Choose a one word mantra
Your brain gets slowed down by complicated instructions, says Wyeth. “Psychologists have established that one-word instruction to yourself when you’re under pressure generates the best performance. Sports psychologists encourage professional golfers to pick one word as they get ready to putt. ‘Smooth,’ is a good one,” he says.
“Mark Twain said it best: ‘It usually takes me more than three weeks to prepare a good impromptu speech.’”-Gary Schmidt, Past International President of Toastmasters International
“Instructing your brain to remember to breathe, smile, stand up straight, slow down, and look at the audience will result in a disaster. Choose one word to be your North Star, something like, ‘Relax,’ or ‘Fun,’ or ‘Easy.'”
12. Be patient with yourself
You probably won’t be Tony Robbins on your first try. “Public speaking is not easy. It takes time, practice and patience to hone your skills,” says Rice.
13. Finally: don’t overthink
As counter-intuitive as it may sound, intense concentration will trip you up, says Wyeth. “The cerebellum is responsible for orchestrating lightning fast recollection of your words and ideas when you’re speaking, but it’s not reliable. It’s not consciously accessible. You can’t knock on its door and say, ‘Ok, cerebellum, I’m ready to speak.’ Open up and do your thing,” he says.
Source: Jowdy Photography
“The science is clear. If you don’t want to choke, don’t monitor your own performance. Be well-rehearsed, trust yourself, and get on with it. Well-meaning people will tell you to slow down and continuously assess yourself. Don’t do it. Dive in with both feet. It’ll keep your feet out of your mouth.”