I remember how difficult it used to be for me to recite a poem or take part in extempore speech making in front of the class and the narrative remained the same not just throughout the school life but in my initial service career too. I was found wanting even during simple introduction sessions which normally take place when you join a new organisation. I was ok with one on one discussions but facing an audience, the feel of their sharp eyes piercing through my persona nearly always made me suffer from short term memory loss and I normally just managed to stammer through my presentation; just managing to finish it but without any finesse. Handmade slides with no computers to assist added to the problems.
In school I could avoid getting on to the stage with ease but now it was impossible hence I had no option but to get my act together and improve my public speaking skills. Fortunately, I had the support of good seniors and subordinates who gave the required support in my learning journey.
Once I had been through my learning curve, I realised that being on the stage was the easiest part, what mattered more was the content. I had all these years feared the presentations for no reasons as my content was always authentic. I am sharing some basics which helped me improve my presentation skill.
Authenticity of Content
Google has made it so simple today to research any topic. Just type a subject and it gives you hundreds of options to get the details from. Use it to max, read as much as you can to make yourself aware of the subject. Unfortunately, google also has scores of readymade presentations available which tempt the mind to just cut, copy, paste instead of getting into details, avoid falling in the trap at all costs. Read what is there, relate it to your own experience and discuss with others who have through similar situations and then prepare your own presentation. Authenticity and ownership of the presentation is of utmost importance, it not only gives the speaker the confidence of delivery but also the ability to handle the pointed questions which follow.
Do not wait for the target audience to reach the presentation hall to introduce the subject. The process should start well in advance through social media being used as a curtain raiser. In professional presentations done for a smaller audience a small brief can be made available to the boss some time before the scheduled presentation to help him come prepared.
Understand the Audience
The mind and the awareness level of the target audience must be well understood before the content is finalised. Many a speaker fail even after burning loads of midnight oil as they end up either over or underestimating the audience. The content must be pitched at the right level, you do not have to convey whatever is available but rather what is required. Remember people have come to listen to you, to understand your uniqueness, whatever is available online they already know, old wine in new bottle is not relished anymore. You have to give them enough reasons not to just remain seated during the presentation but listen to you too.
Preparing the Slides
A presenter has the option of using himself or the slides to convey the point; ‘Me’ certainly matters more than the slides but the importance of slides as an excellent presentation aid cannot be negated. Hence, an equitable distribution of responsibility between the slides and ‘Me’ is normally the right approach with the presenter depending more on his skills than the slides. The content on the slides must be as brief as possible giving leeway to the speaker to convey the way he chooses to and maintain eye contact with the audience.
Mistakes and grammatical errors on slides are like committing hara-kiri, even the colour and the font size must be chosen carefully. It always makes sense to have a run through of slides on the actual or similar venue before the main presentation, what appears good on computer does not have the same effect on the big screen.
Engaging the Audience
No doubt that the authenticity of the content goes a long way in keeping the audience glued to the seat and attentive but what also matters is the style of the speaker. Develop your own unique style of narrating the story, yes, it is storytelling which catches the imagination of the listeners. The story should be free flowing and develop naturally. Do not let the anxiety get the better of you, remember you are not on stage to perform but to converse and engage.
Do not use the rostrum as a cover, entire stage is yours, use it to the fullest. The diction must be perfect and language simple which can be easily understood by the audience. The use of body language especially the hand gestures, facial expressions and the way of delivery all go to make the presentation worth sitting through.
There is no human who does not love humour, but it should not appear to be forced. The jokes and the funny expressions should flow naturally and gel with the script.
It is not bad to have a bit of professional swag which comes from the quality of speaker’s preparation and knowledge.
Remember that you are interacting with people and not just talking to the mike or conversing with the walls, keep the audience engaged through eye contact or by drawing vocal responses.
Do not keep repeating yourself and choose the examples for conveying lessons with utmost care. The examples must be relevant and as far as possible contemporary to which the audience can relate easily.
I have seen speakers getting carried away and overshooting the time limit and there are others who do not know what to do with the allotted time. Time your presentation to perfection, if need be multiple rehearsals can be carried out to work out the timings.
Q & A Sessions
The Q & A sessions can get quite tricky and people can ask awkward questions or make some nasty observations which on any other occasion might just put you off but you cannot allow that to happen here. Listen carefully, even repeating the question is not a bad idea as it makes extra time available to think over. Keep calm and answer intelligently.
The conclusion is as important as the introduction, one should know when and how to stop; the last sip of the tea should taste as good or maybe better than the first.
These are some of the lessons I had learnt during my journey of polishing the public speaking skills. I must admit perfection is yet a considerable distance away, the quest to achieve excellence is going on. The lessons I have referred to are as good for a written document as they are for a live presentation; personal touch remaining prime in both cases.