Public speaking is among the most dreaded activities for most people. Up to 75% of business professionals suffer from glossophobia, the fear of public speaking. PR and marketing pros are no exception. Most get the heebie-jeebies before presentations to clients, superiors, community groups, industry groups and the press.
Fortunately, speakers can mitigate or even eliminate the jitters with preparation and practice. PR and marketing leaders who are superb public speakers offer these recommendations to control the willies and deliver outstanding presentations.
Stick to what you know. “As long as you stick to your personal experience and expertise, you can have the confidence to go up and talk about your insights,” advises Gary Vaynerchuk, who runs the digital marketing agency VaynerMedia. “So long as you’re a practitioner of what you preach, you’ll be able to voice your opinion eloquently because it’s backed up by your executions.”
Prepare and rehearse. Comedians are the ultimate presenters. They practice their routines endlessly – refining their shtick with every practice. Every presenter should mimic comedians’ practice routines. Practicing as much as feasible in a location that’s similar to where you’ll be presenting will help calm your nerves. Extensive preparation — including research, anticipating difficult questions, and practicing your delivery – can help calm your nerves and decrease chances for an unexpected event. Memorizing your presentation is not a good idea; it can make you appear stiff. “Memorizing is a mistake, but familiarizing is essential,” Dan Roam, author of Show and Tell: How Everybody Can Make Extraordinary Presentations, tells Forbes.
Personalize presentations. Preparing and including asides – comments that seem like a real-time thought – or remarks about the specific audience can make the presentation more personalized and engaging. Gentle or self-deprecating humor always works well.
Pause. Rather than starting to speak the instant you reach the stage, pausing to smile and glance around the room reassures the audience and indicates your poise and control.
Say it with visuals. Long bullet lists bore listeners. The best slides contain a strong image and no more than one piece of text. Vary your images among photographs diagrams, maps, and charts and perhaps even hand drawings, Roam says. Presentations by Apple executives – you should watch them for the presentation techniques – use slides with only one data point and minimal words. That makes the slides more memorable.
Integrate your Q&A into your presentation by continually fielding questions. Q&A sessions at the end of presentations typically prompt little interest from listeners eager for the exits. “People should build their presentations around Q&A,” Joey Asher, president of Speechworks, tells Forbes.
Do what’s comfortable for you. Deliver the presentation in the way that’s most comfortable to you with the tools and communication style that feels most natural. Stay behind a podium if that’s what makes you comfortable. Wander the stage if you feel comfortable doing that. Vaynerchuck never uses cue cards or slides. He’s simply not comfortable reading, but if you feel comfortable with cue cards, use them.
Visualize yourself. Imagine yourself giving a great presentation. The brain sometimes has trouble distinguishing actual experiences from imagined ones. Use that to your advantage. “Picture every minute of the presentation in great detail. Imagine having the meeting turned over to you or being introduced on stage,” suggests author and presentation expert Nancy Duarte in Harvard Business Review.
Look at them. Eye contact engages an audience. Even if you are reading from note cards, make it a point to look up at the audience after every other sentence or so. Try making a mark in your notes to indicate where you should look up. Focus on individuals and small groups around the room. You’ll seem confident and help the audience connect with you. By avoiding eye contact or continually scanning the room, you will fail to gain trust.
Smile. When you look up, smile. Smiling shows that you are comfortable and friendly and just that can endear you to the audience. Remaining stiff can bore an audience.
Move. Exaggerated hand movements show confidence and openness. To notice your hand movements and body language, videotape a practice presentation and play it back on mute.
Keep it simple. Avoid TMI. Providing too much information can overwhelm listeners. Instead, focus on three major points. Try to include a big, ORIGINAL insight or idea – or two. Eliminating less significant points from presentations is as important as making and repeating key points. Think about what you might tell your partner about at the dinner table after work and what holds their interest, “Focus on what really matters and the one really interesting thing that you have done,” Helen Walters, TED’s head of curation, tells Fast Company.
Tell a story. Telling a story makes a message memorable. Stories help people process and explain information. The story, of course, should illustrate a key point in the presentation. Ideally, listeners will repeat the story.
View outstanding public speakers. Studying some of the best-known public speakers can help you understand effective presentation techniques. Popular presentations at TED Conferences, especially presentations by Amy Cutty, Dan Gilbert and Steve Jobs, are particularly informative and inspiring. They are available at TED.com.
Speak at smaller gatherings. Speaking at smaller, more lowkey events can help you gain confidence and experience as well as help refine your ideas. In addition, appearing at smaller venues may lead to invitations to speak at larger events.
Bottom Line: Public speaking is a vital skill for PR and marketing pros wishing to advance their careers. If you cringe at public speaking, you are not alone. With preparation, practice, and visualizing success, you can overcome fear and harness your nervous energy to deliver presentations that impress and persuade.
This article was first published on May 4, 2016, and updated on Aug. 8, 2019.
William J. Comcowich founded and served as CEO of CyberAlert LLC, the predecessor of Glean.info. He is currently serving as Interim CEO and member of the Board of Directors. Glean.info provides customized media monitoring, media measurement and analytics solutions across all types of traditional and social media.