The Perils of Public Speaking
Presentations can be daunting. Exactly what is said and how it is put matters.
At worst, people go on too long, their explanation explains nothing and where they are going is wholly unclear. Some fidget endlessly, others remain stock still gripping the lectern in front of them until their knuckles go white, fear rising from them like a mist. Their slides can only be read from the back of the room with a telescope, something made worse by their asking brightly “Can you see that alright?” though there is precious little they can do if the answer is “no”. They barely pause for breath, rushing from Err to Um, many words inappropriately chosen and many more too long. Indeed, the only long word of which some presenters appear ignorant is rehearsal.
Of course, a lucky few believe that making presentation is second nature. They know they can excel just by winging it, and that for people to actually understand anything of their impenetrable gobbledegook, some care is needed. So, they talk v-e-r-y s-l-o-w-l-y; use simple words, and generally proceed assuming the audience have the brains of a retarded dormouse. They spell out complicated bits in CAPITAL LETTERS, speaking louder as they do so. Though they are always careful not to upset people by being condescending (you do know what condescending means don’t you?).
For such speakers, presenting is to be savoured. They need only the briefest introduction and they are away, moving blindly past the first slide - displayed upside down - with the audience hanging on their every repetitive mannerism while thinking “If they scratch their ear whilst stood on one leg again, I’m walking out”. It makes lesser mortals feel all too sadly inadequate – even the famous: it was Mark Twain who said, “It normally takes me three weeks to prepare a good impromptu speech”. Poor man; lucky he was a good writer.
Standing up before an important audience knowing that they would rather chew off their own fingers than sit and listen to someone who cannot make the simplest point clear, is rather like being pushed into a lion’s den. Without an understanding of how to go about it, you will be in deep, deep trouble. No audience will warm to an ill-prepared speaker who flounders through in a tedious, confusing and poorly delivered way. Furthermore, such people are unlikely to magically acquire the requisite skills in the few seconds between being introduced and rising to their feet to speak.
So, if you are not in fact a natural, and few people are, you need to give presenting some thought. Once you are actually in the lion’s den it’s a little late to discover that salvation is not guaranteed by saying “Nice pussycat”.
There is a real opportunity here and often a great deal hanging on it. It may be one that demands some preparation, but it can pay dividends.
Key points to boost confidence
• Always prepare thoroughly
• List fears and think through what causes them and seek solutions
• Think positive (remember you are actively dealing with fears)
• Focus on what to say and how to say it
• Understand the techniques you can use
• Check and organise the speaking environment
• Analysis your presentations and make changes to ensure you learn from experience
• Remember the audience want it to go well
• Overall, regard it as an opportunity (a good presentation can achieve so much).
By Patrick Forsyth of Touchstone Training & Consultancy. Patrick is the author of numerous books on subjects such public speaking and making presentations.