5 Tips to Help You Present with Confidence

Overcoming Presentation Challenges Part 2 (of 3): Delivering Confidently

(click below to view the video or read on if you’d prefer!)

In this second article, I am continuing to focus on presentation challenges. The first article was concerned with overcoming presentation jitters by understanding the three sources of presentation anxiety. If you missed it, you can read it by clicking here.

In this second instalment, I am turning to presentation delivery techniques with five tips to help you stand up and speak confidently. But before I list those, let me make a fundamental point: your audience has come to listen to a person. You and they may have forgotten this truth so remind both of you. Indeed, your audience hasn’t come to hear about derivatives pricing or how to sell more widgets. They’ve come to hear YOUR MESSAGE about derivatives pricing and increasing widget sales.

Would you agree with me that a boring topic can be brought to life by a gifted speaker? If so, then the most important part of your presentation is how YOU bring it to life. While your slides can help (and we will look at this in the third and final part of this series on presentation challenges), even the most dazzling slides will fade if the speaker is unable to do them justice. Whereas a good speaker will be able to rescue a set of mediocre slides. For that reason, the tips I am about to share with are all about bringing yourself into the room in a way which will engage the audience.

Tip #1: the 3 E’s of building rapport with your audience

The 3 E’s stand for Energy, Enthusiasm and Excitement. And you bring them into the room when you have an open body language, a comfortable posture and a relaxed and confident stance. So arrive early and mingle with your audience as they come in. Once speaking, engage with your audience by owning the stage: don’t hesitate to move about. Leave the lectern. Don’t hide behind the podium. Don’t hang on to it either!

And, of course look at your audience. So many of us turn our backs on our audience so that we can read out loud the text on our slides. There are two problems with this. First, your audience reads faster in their minds than you read out loud so they’ll be done before you are and then have time to get bored and start playing with their Blackberries. The second problem is that, if you need to read your slides, you are admitting that you are not on top of your presentation. If you need reminders, use notes or cue cards or even a teleprompter but do not write up your slides so that they can serve as speaker notes.

Tip #2: make an eye connection

If you are not turning your back on your audience to read your slides, then you will be looking at them. I advocate that you make eye contact with as many people in the audience as you can. To do that, fix your gaze on one person for five or six seconds at a time. And when you do that, you are making more than eye contact actually: you are making an eye connection.  Eye connection means spending time with each person so that the person feels like you’re talking just to them. It also means you really see the people. The audience is no longer just a blur of faces. When you really look at people, you will notice their facial expressions, their reactions to what you’re saying. This will tell you if they’re engaged, if their attention is dipping: this is useful feedback if you need to make adjustments.

Tip #3: don’t forget to speak!

There’s a third problem with reading your slides. Your voice, as you read out the bullet points on the slide, will naturally go flat. Soon you’re droning on. So be sure to vary your pitch as well as the speed at which you’re speaking. The best way to do that is to imagine you’re having a one-to-one conversation. When you speak to just one person, your speech varies naturally. This is easier than to try and remember to vary your tone and speed while you are presenting. A last word on speaking: you need to project your voice so that even those on the back row can hear you. To do that, just think that you are addressing yourself to a slightly deaf aunt!

Tip #4: gesture

Let me ask you to think again about how you are when you speak one-on-one. Not only does your voice’s tone and speed vary naturally, but you also gesture naturally. Gesturing naturally means using your hands with purpose and intention. It also means leaving your hands at your side when not gesturing. If you are an introvert, I’d like to suggest you imagine yourself having an animated conversation. The point here is for your gestures to come unconsciously as this will ensure that they complement well what you’re saying and give your message more persuasive power. You’ll look and feel more confident as well. There’s even evidence that natural gesturing makes you more fluent.

Tip #5: pause

Have you heard the public speaking advice that pausing is good? If not, let me back up and give you the reason why pausing is good. Think of a continuous flow of water out of a hose. Just as it’s difficult to drink all the water flowing out of a hose, it’s difficult to process a continuous flow of words. Just as we need gaps to swallow water, we need gaps to process words.

Consider written information. There are phrases, commas, sentences, full-stops, bulleted lists, and paragraphs. They break up the information into discrete chunks. Now imagine a page full of a continuous flow of words. You’d throw up your hands in horror.

So too for a verbal message: for your audience, it’s better if the words come in discrete chunks. This technique is called “chunking”. Chunking means talking in a rhythm which has you deliver chunks of words with short silences in between the chunks of words.
There is actual scientific proof that audiences like pauses because during that pause they can process what you’ve just said. Studies of people listening to classical music while having their brains scanned in MRI machines show that their brains light up during the silences between movements. That indicates that their brains are actively processing during those silences.

There you have it. To make your presentation delivery a great success, you just need to be yourself – an animated version of yourself. The person you are when you enjoy the conversation you’re having: someone with energy, enthusiasm and excitement, someone who looks at their interlocutor, someone whose voice flows with their message, someone who hands conveys their meaning and, finally, someone who pauses naturally, to let their story sink in.

I’d love to hear what you thought of these tips. Do you already use some of them? Any others you’d care to share?

If this article resonated with you, don’t hesitate to contact me for a chat where we would explore what is going on for you and what you would like to have happen. Contact me here.

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