The Key To a Great Presentation: Knowing Your Audience

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The success of every speech and presentation is down to answering one simple question:

Who is it for?

How you answer this question will determine the success of your presentation and the key to giving a great presentation is to be able to answer the one question that every audience member wants answered – what’s in it for me? i.e. why should they listen to you? How will they benefit from your presentation? How are you going to change their lives? You need to make sure that each and every presentation that you give is focused completely on your audience, it’s not about you, it’s about them.

In order to do this effectively you need to learn about the people who will be listening to you:

  • Who are they? What is their age range, gender, profession, cultural background etc.
  • What do they know about your subject? It’s important to pitch your presentation at the right level for the audience, too technical and they’ll be confused, too easy and they’ll get irritable. It’s also likely that you will get a mixed level audience and you will need to cater your presentation for all levels.
  • What are their expectations? Do they expect to be trained, informed, persuaded, motivated or entertained?
  • What is their language ability? Are you speaking to people whose first language isn’t English? Knowing the language level allows you to choose the right words to get your ideas across, you may also need to speak slower and this might mean that you will have to cut down the information you will be covering as it will take longer to say…

Before you write your presentation, ask yourself, who am I speaking to? The more you know, the better your presentation is going to be.

 

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image: PopTech (Flickr)

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Four Ways to Calm Your Presentation Anxiety

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One of the first things that we like to tell our new members when they give their first speech is that its okay to be nervous when speaking in public. In fact, nervousness can actually be quite helpful, it helps us think about all the possible problems and allows us to work out how to deal with those problems in advance.

It’s only when those nerves threaten to overwhelm us that the problems start. Here are four ways of thinking that will make you feel more confident in front of an audience and help you calm those presentation jitters:

1. You Are The Expert

Usually when you’re asked to speak it’s going to be about something that you’re working on or knowledgeable about, this gives you a natural advantage – you’re the expert, your role is to educate your audience about your area of experience. Not only that, there’s less chance of going blank because you’re talking in your comfort zone, this will also help to give you the confidence to stand up and share a topic that excites you.

If it’s a topic where you’re not an expert then learn more, get to know the subject so that if you’re asked questions about your topic you are ready to answer.

Remember: knowledge is power, knowledge is confidence.

2. You Can Train Your Brain

All the experts say that the more you give speeches to groups, the easier it gets. Unfortunately this is a bit of a chicken and an egg scenario – how can you get over your speaking nerves by giving more speeches if your nerves stop you from giving speeches?

The secret is practice. Practice is about eliminating reasons for you to be nervous or scared. Practice gives you the chance to find out what parts of the presentation are the hardest to remember, practice shows you the words or phrases that trip you up and practice shows you the areas where you know your stuff which allows you to concentrate on the weaker areas of your presentation.

Above all practice is training your brain to put aside your fears, the more you practice in the days or weeks coming up to your presentation, the more your brain gets used to you giving a presentation without problems so by the time you stand up to give the actual presentation your brain already knows that it’s going to go well because it went well in the practice sessions.

Practice early, practice often.

3. You Have Backup

Even if you have practiced your presentation until you can recite it forwards and backwards, sometimes there can still be a niggling worry in your head about going blank and forgetting what to say next. Don’t worry, you have a backup plan – your notes.

Write your notes on small cards, small enough to put in your jacket pocket. The key to effective notecards is not to write the whole speech onto them, instead write on them the main points, key words or phrases and difficult to remember facts or statistics.

Have a notecard for each section of your presentation, this keeps it simple, you will know which section you’re on so you will be able to find the section quickly. Write on the cards in big clear writing so that if you do need to use them you can read them quickly and easily.

4. You Have Support In The Audience

One mistake that nervous speakers make is that they don’t make eye contact with the audience, they look at their notes and by doing this you are missing out on one of the best confidence boosters that you can find, your audience.

Your audience want you to succeed, they want you to educate them and learn about your ideas and even better than that, there’s always some friendly encouraging people in your audience.

It can definitely be scary to see all those people looking at you and listening to you but the first step to feeling confident in front of any audience is to find the friendly faces and talk to them. Then once you get over the initial nerves and start to feel more confidant, find more people in the audience to talk to and share your ideas with them as well until you’ve brought in the whole group.

An easy way to help calm your nerves and find those friendly faces is when you get up to speak, pause before speaking and follow these simple steps – Breathe, Smile, Begin

Look at the audience and breathe in, breathe deeply, allow the oxygen to fill your lungs, to stimulate your mind and to relax you.

Smile and let the smile spread through your whole body because you’re the expert, you’ve practiced, you’ve got your backup notes, there is nothing to worry about, it’s going to be great. Smiling will also make you look confident and feel more confident. While you’re smiling look around the room, look for the people who smile back, these will be your first friendly faces. Talk to them.

Then, and only then – Begin.

It’s mainly the first few minutes of a speech that you need to contol your nerves, once you get through those first few minutes, you’ve very little to worry about.

 

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image: Symphony of Love (Flickr)

How to Recover From Going Blank During a Presentation

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I’m going to let you in on a secret: even the most experienced speakers have gone blank in the middle of a presentation. The difference between you and them is how they handle that moment of blankness. Experienced speakers use the following four simple tricks to deal with going blank and the self-doubt that comes with it:

  1. Don’t Panic
  2. Retrace your steps
  3. Check  your notecards
  4. Move on to the next section

 

1. Don’t Panic

This is both the hardest and the most important tactic available to you. Yes, you are going to want to freak out and yes, you will have the urge to run away and hide in the toilets but what you need to do is pause and take a deep breath, a really deep breath. Then take another, this will get oxygen into your brain and help you relax and allow your brain to do its work. Now that you’re starting to relax move on to step 2.

2. Retrace your steps

Think back. What were you talking about before you went blank? Go over what you just said in your brain, usually going over the words again will trigger your memory of what comes next, this should get you through most situations. If not then try steps 3 or 4.

3. Notecards

This is the emergency situation. Calmly take out your notecards and look through them to find what you should be saying next (and only check the notecards, not your script, checking your script may take too long). You could casually explain the notecards by saying something like “this is important so I really want to get this right”. If the notecards don’t help them then try step 4

4. Move on to the next section

If you have learnt your presentation in chunks then you are in a great place because you can keep going, you can move to the next chunk of your presentation and continue. This is why we recommend that you learn your presentation in chunks as each “chunk” is a mini-speech in its own right so forgetting part of the speech doesn’t mean that you can’t go on. Also what you will find happening is that as you continue through the rest of the speech, you’ll remember the important points that you forgot and you can cover them at a later  point in the presentation.

 

To solidify these 4 steps in your mind then as you’re practicing your presentation, make note of the areas that you have difficulty with or that you keep forgetting and ask yourself “If I go blank during this section, what will I do?” The answer naturally is to follow the four steps and if you forget things during rehearsal then practice the 4 steps so that they will naturally come to you if you go blank during the actual presentation.

 

 

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Image: Het Nieuwe Instituut (Flickr)

Improve Your Presentations with the Ten TED Commandments

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For anyone interested in speaking and listening to interesting speakers, TED is always a great place to visit. Each TED speaker is given the “TED Commandments” to help them create a talk to suit a typical TED audience.

These commandments are useful not just for TED speakers but for anyone who has to stand up and speak in front of an audience. They’re filled with guidelines that, if followed, will make your speech entertaining and interesting for the audience while at the same time allowing you the chance to enjoy yourself.

The TED Commandments are:

  1. Dream Big. Strive to create the best talk you have ever given. Reveal something never seen before. Do something the audience will remember forever. Share an idea that could change the world.
  2. Show Us The Real You. Share your passions, your dreams … and also your fears. Be vulnerable. Speak of failure as well as success.
  3. Make The Complex Plain. Don’t try to dazzle intellectually. Don’t speak in abstractions. Explain! Give examples. Tell stories. Be specific.
  4. Connect With People’s Emotions. Make us laugh! Make us cry!
  5. Don’t Flaunt Your Ego. Don’t boast. It’s the surest way to switch everyone off.
  6. No Selling From The Stage! Unless we have specifically asked you to, do not talk about your company or organization. And don’t even think about pitching your products or services or asking for funding from stage.
  7. Feel free to comment on other speakers’ talks, to praise or to criticize. Controversy energizes! Enthusiastic endorsement is powerful!
  8. Don’t Read Your Talk. Notes are fine. But if the choice is between reading or rambling, then read!
  9. End Your Talk On Time. Doing otherwise is to steal time from the people that follow you. We won’t allow it.
  10. Rehearse your talk in front of a trusted friend … for timing, for clarity, for impact.

 

 

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image: Steve Jurvetson (Flickr)

The Key to Reducing Your Presenting Nerves

bart-everson-8498618484_53507fcbb6_bEvery experienced speaker will tell you that the more you stand up and give speeches in front of an audience groups, the easier it gets but there’s a problem with this: if your fear of speaking in public prevents you from giving speeches then how can you get enough experience speaking to reduce your presentation nerves?

The solution is Practice.

The more you practice the easier it gets. That doesn’t mean that it won’t be scary or you won’t be nervous but practising can give you the confidence to know that despite the nerves you know your presentation.

The secret to practising your speech or presentation is to start practising early. If you only start practising the night before your presentation then you don’t need me to tell you how successful it’s going to be.

Once you have your first draft written then start practising. Practice often and every chance you get, practice everywhere you can because nowhere is a bad place to practice.

At home talk to the walls, to the chairs, to the kettle and to the toaster, get used to speaking your presentation out loud with no-one else hearing. When driving to work give your speech to the driver in front of you, everyone talks to themselves or sings in the car, you won’t look any different to anyone else. Talk to your cat, dog or hamster, see if you can get them excited about your topic.

Then when you’re ready to take your practice to the next level, give the talk to a friend or family member, someone that you feel comfortable with and don’t just give it one time, give it as many times as you can. Ask other friends, speak to more than one at a time. In order words practice, practice, practice until you’re sure that you know your presentation and you’ve become confident giving the presentation to people that you know. If possible try to practice in the room where you will be giving the presentation, this will make the environment familiar to you and so speaking there won’t be that scary either.

Practice is about eliminating reasons for you to be nervous or scared so if you want to reduce your speaking nerves and help guarantee that you will give a winning presentation then all you need to do is practice.

 

If you enjoyed this post then why not try more of our presentation tips:

 

image: Bart Everson (Flickr)

The Secret to Learning a Speech or Presentation

daniel-novta-5336855585_97a1ba3837_bFor most people when they learn a speech or presentation they learn it as they expect to say it,  i. e.  beginning at the start and reading through it to the end.  This is definitely a good way to learn a speech but there is one big problem with this method. You usually end up knowing the first half of the speech better than the second half. This is because when we make a mistakes we typically go back to the beginning of the speech and start again. The other problem with learning it in such a linear way is that if you go blank in the middle of the actual presentation,  it can be difficult to work out what to say next.

The way to solve this is called “Chunking” and it involves breaking your speech or presentation into smaller chunks of text. The trick is to learn each chunk of text individually i.e. as if each is a mini-speech and you don’t even have to learn them in any particular order, the key is to ensure that you know each chunk equally well  before learning all the chunks together.

There are a number of advantages to this method:

  1. Your delivery is consistent – you know every part of your presentation equally well thus you can present each chunk with passion and confidence.
  2. End with impact – Audiences don’t really remember most of what you say but they usually remember what you say last so it’s important to end strongly and with impact. By learning your speech in chunks then you know your ending as well as your opening, this gives you the extra confidence to punch home your message with a strong authoritative conclusion.
  3. Going blank – if for some reason you do go blank in the middle of  your presentation then it’s not a disaster, because you won’t have to go back to the start, there’s no need to panic, all you need to do is calmly move on to the next chunk and continue the presentation.

 

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Image: Daniel Novta

3 Steps to Writing a Great Speech

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Step 1: Your Audience

Before you start to write your speech or presentation think about who you will be speaking to, do they know anything about your topic? How do they feel about it? Do they even care?

It’s important to remember that giving a speech or presentation is not about you, it’s about your audience. You must be able to pitch your presentation at the right level for them, too technical and they’ll be confused, too easy and they’ll get bored.

To get an audience to listen to you you need to be able to answer the questions they’ll be asking in their heads:

  • Why should I care?
  • How will this affect me?
  • How will it benefit me?

Once you can answer these questions in your speech then every audience will love you.

 

 

Step 2: First Draft

With all this in mind write your first draft.

This is not about perfection. This is simply about getting all your ideas down on paper and this achieves two things:

  1. You’ve moved from the state of inaction where you are agonising over the right way to begin to a state of action and progress, this is a great place to be.
  2. No matter what else you do, you have achieved something and more than that it gives you something to work on and improve.

Once you’ve finished writing the first draft done say it out loud.

This helps greatly because what looks good written down doesn’t always sound good when you say it. For instance your sentences could be too long, there may be some words or sentences that are hard to say or sound wrong.

As you’re speaking it out loud, you will also notice parts of your speech that you will want to change, make quick notes of the changes as you find them and continue saying the speech.

Once you’ve finished, start on draft 2.

 

Step 3: Drafts 2 to X

Continue the cycle of writing the speech and then speaking it out loud. Each draft will require less and less changes. Keep this cycle going until you either reach a version that you are happy with or it is time to give the presentation.

Another advantage of this cycle of writing and speaking is that it’s also a form of practising, it gives you the chance to learn the flow and language of your speech

It’s important that as you write each draft to keep checking that your speech is still being pitched at the audience’s level and addressing their needs. As you write always ask: “Will my audience get this?”

 

Following these three steps will ensure that you always write a speech that people will want to listen to.

 

If you enjoyed this post then why not try more of our presentation tips:

 

Image: EcoVirtual (Flickr)