As you’re no doubt aware by now, I do a fair share of presentations on mental health, and during the winter, cricket umpiring. I feel generally ok doing these presentations now, but 10 years ago, if I was asked to stand up and speak to people, I would have run away and hid. Anxiety ruled that part of my life. But not now. It now rules other areas! But beggars can’t be choosers.
I’m going to share with you the tips and skills I’ve picked up over the last four years of public speaking. They’ve certainly helped me; I hope they help you!
1. Be yourself
Sounds obvious, but don’t put on any airs and graces, don’t put on a posh accent; just be yourself and the audience will recognise that.
2. Beginning, middle and end
Always have a structure to the presentation. If you veer off onto different tangents, you’ll lose the audience, and the thread of what you’re talking about.
3. Practice, practice, practice
The more you do, like with most things in life, the better you’ll be and the more skilled you’ll be.
4. Early doors
Start with a humorous ice breaker to relax the audience into the presentation. They will engage and the rest should be a doddle!
5. Expect the unexpected
Though you always want things to go smoothly, there will be times when latecomers come into the room, and make a fuss out of sitting down quietly, or a mobile phone will go off. I try and make a joke out of it so it doesn’t affect what I’m trying to say.
6. Know your subject
It always helps to have a broad knowledge of your subject. This will impress audiences and will help them relate to what you’re saying, without sounding like a know all!
Be prepared to tell your story, be personal if circumstances allow. A dose of realism will make the audience sit up and take note, and be interested in the subject matter.
Try and engage your audience with an activity based on the subject matter. That will keep them interested and will help to give your voice a rest!
9. Don’t overdo statistics
Statistics are fine, up to a point. But don’t overload the presentation with them, otherwise it will be a long and tedious time and most of the audience will be asleep…
10. Try not to read off the screen
That’s something I still do, but I try and keep that to a minimum. The audience can read, putting your own perspectives on things will help the flow.
11. Give examples
Where possible, give examples of what you’re talking about, without waffling. Do it from a real world perspective so the audience are engaged with what you are saying.
12. Clock watching
Though I don’t like to clock watch, if you know you have a time limit, keep on eye on the clock and tailor the presentation around that. If running short of time, cut a few bits out and concentrate on the really important subject matter.
13. Try and keep still
This is one of my bad habits….walking around the stage to ease my nerves. It’s a bad habit, meaning the audience will lose focus on you trying to follow you around the stage. If you are nervous, try holding onto a copy of the script in your hands, or a pen, or an elastic band, for example, so that you can concentrate on your spiel without you having to go for a three mile walk.
14. Eye contact and clear voice
Not the best at maintaining eye contact myself, that’s all part of my autism diagnosis, but when giving a talk, I find that eye contact does improve. If you can, focus on a person or object in the room, without staring of course(!), and then you confidently do the job. Also, have a clear voice and don’t mumble. I’m lucky that I have a loud, booming voice. Some say too loud, but at least it’s coherent!
And that’s it.
There are just my tips and skills I’ve learnt over the last four years. Your audiences will vary. Some you will know, most you won’t know. You will be nervous, but once you get into your stride, it’s actually not too bad. It doesn’t hold the terrors for me like it once did, and that’s because I’ve been encouraged and trained by some excellent mentors and colleagues. If a guy like me with problems with anxiety, self esteem and liable to panic attacks can do this, well anyone can.