As a corporate trainer, I often hear from people who tell me how worried they are about their upcoming presentation. In some instances, they seem almost terrified by the prospect of standing in front of an audience and having to talk about a specific topic, even if it is only for a few minutes. At one time or another, most of us have probably experienced some of the sensations which go with that. The throat becomes dry, the palms feel sweaty and, for no obvious reason, the mind goes totally blank.
In fact, this anxiety has special name: glossophobia, or the fear of public speaking. And according to a 2017 study in the USA, it affects more than 70 per sent of the population. However, if you are looking to move up the corporate ladder or have plans to be an entrepreneur or run your own business, you’d better forget statistics like that. In the corporate world, public speaking and being able to make effective presentations is an essential skill, and failing to master it will almost certainly hold you back.
So, here are a few points to help you conquer the usual worries and stress and develop the poise and self-confidence to make a real impact.
1. Focus on the main purpose
Whatever the forum, there are usually three distinct reasons for having to stand up and speak. The first is to inform, to let other people know what is happening and why. In essence, to keep them up to date and in the loop. The second is to convince or persuade. You may have an idea or proposal which needs to be outlined and explained. Putting it across clearly is a key step to winning support, changing perceptions, and getting agreement. The third is the call to action, when you want the audience to do something definite. It might be to buy a new product, invest in a fund, or switch to a different operation system. What they hear in the presentation has to convince.
2. Assess the audience
There are all sorts of tests available now to discern different personality types and preferred style of communication. But I’m not referring to anything like that. The only thing you need here is a more general appreciation of the group you will be talking to – perhaps directors, in-house teams, target customers or potential investors – and what they will want to know. Do some basic research on they functions and responsibilities. And consider carefully whether they will more interested in hearing about data, statics, trends and numbers or if a storytelling approach, with a few anecdotes include, would work better.
3. Have a clear structure
Every speech or presentation is different, but the good ones generally follow a fairly standard structure. As part of the introduction, the speaker briefly mentions the main topic or purpose. He or she then acknowledges the audience, possibly including one or two lighthearted remarks along the way. And then it is into the body of the speech, which is generally built around three or four key points. Of course, these should be set out in a sensible, logical sequence, and it always helps to have some examples to hand in order to vary the flow or to help in answering any questions that may be raised.
4. Choose your words carefully
Any presentation is automatically a slightly formal occasion because people have been asked to come together at a specific time and place. In turn, the speaker, above all, should respect the conventions by making particular effort to enunciate clearly, avoid slang, and rein in verbal tics such as inserting the word “like” several times in every sentence. Also, while slides and clips can help to explain a concept or make a point, don’t fall into the trap of relying on them too heavily.
Finally, if there is one golden rule, it is to practice as much as possible. This is the surest way of ensuring your presentation has impact.