Public speaking and presenting research: the difference between dull and dynamic

I recentpublic speakingly delivered a speech at a conference of one of the Big 4 consulting firms. It was a very senior audience, and I had a lot of detailed information to deliver to a very senior audience.

The speech was a great success. After the speech someone approached me saying I was a ‘role model for female presenters’. I’ve been overwhelmed with the positive feedback and wanted to share some of the advice that led to the presentation being so well received.

  1. Practice out loud, repeatedly. This one is an absolute must and is non-negotiable for a great presentation. I’ve been told to practice in front of a mirror, which is good if you think you might be fidgety, but also I recommend practicing looking at a poster or around the room. Make sure you practice while not looking at the computer screen.
  2. You don’t have to memorize it all. After rehearsing 5-6 times, the key phrases you want to make sure you say, and the key transitions should be clear. I would recommend memorizing the first minute or two, so if nerves do get the better of you, you can still introduce yourself and the topic at hand clearly and concisely. If you have some key phrases and transition points, know those word-for-word. However if you are presenting on detailed data, you may not be able to remember the stats accurately, so that’s when you can lean on the slides. Be sure to know your information well enough that you aren’t surprised by the slides. Know your speech well enough to know what is coming up next.
  3. Build in some drama. I had four key data points to cover, so I introduced that section saying I had four points to make, and that we would be counting backwards from 4, building up from smaller issues to bigger issues. Having a count-down keeps people focused and interested in what is coming next.
  4. Make it clear that you are finished. Toward the end of the presentation, be sure to use some words that indicate you are wrapping up, then know how you are going to end your speech. Are you taking questions directly, or are you handing back over to the chair? Know before hand and end your speech confidently.
  5. Keep your head up and smile (if appropriate). If you’ve taken my advice, you should only be looking down at the screen occasionally for the key data or details. You should be looking at the audience with your head held high, and ideally smiling (depending on the subject at hand of course. There are some dark subjects where smiling might not be appropriate).
  6. Keep water and a tissue nearby. Your mouth will likely dry up after 15 or 20 minutes of talking. And if your nose starts running, the last thing you want to do is be wiping your nose with your sleeve onstage.
  7. Be comfortable in your own skin. Wear something that makes you feel comfortable. Even when I’m confident, stressful situations make me blush in my chest and neck, so wearing clothes with a high neck take that element of anxiety out of the question. Be sure your clothes and appearance reflect the best in you and are appropriate for the occasion.
  8. Breathe. Be sure to take a deep breath before your presentation, and pause between sessions to make sure you are comfortable with your pace and not going too quickly.
  9. Own it. This is your time to shine. You’ve been invited to speak because you know your stuff, you have great experience, and the world needs to hear it. Take the time to practice, to make sure you really shine.

Plenty of more tips on how to structure presentations to come. But for any questions on how I can help, email sarah@redstartmarketing.com

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