Public Speaking: Worse Than Death! Really?

by Guest Blogger Michael Harrison

One of the best ways to market services and many other products is through seminars or presentations. They are an easy way to maximise your time and build credibility.

Study after study reveals that people are more afraid of speaking in front of a group than of death itself. I understand it, but because public speaking is a big part of my work, I’m not afraid of getting on stage and tackling the topic of the day in front of a large group of men and women.

In fact, I enjoy it, and you will, too, if you recognise that fear of public speaking can not only be controlled, you can eliminate it completely by following some simple ground rules.

First, know what the heck you’re talking about. Is there an agenda? If not, create one. If there is a list of talking points, do your research and develop the expertise to speak eloquently about a company change, industry trend, or a national economic issue with ease and authority.

Use charts and graphs. I can stand in front of a group and talk about a pile of statistics. Some in the audience may even listen, if not totally understand.

A simple pie chart conveys a great deal of information at a glance. Explain it in words and your audience may drift away despite your powerful insights. Give them graphics that deliver a lot of information visually and you maintain listener’s attention and they aren’t looking at you. Audience members are looking at your PowerPoint deck and learning the hard stuff quickly.

Rehearse. Sure, you may know the topic but can you express it clearly, succinctly, within the context of your presentation? Prepare notes of key points on index cards.

Stand in front of the mirror and deliver your presentation. It’s the easiest way to discover holes in your presentation that you can fill now, rather than in the Q & A after your presentation.

Make it interesting. I don’t care how serious the subject, how dire the outcomes, you can engage audience members and pull them in. Skip the balloon animals, handfuls of glitter, and lame jokes.

Respect your listeners, their experience and opinions. Build your presentation to be industry specific. With public speaking, within the company, or at the latest industry trade show, one size does not fit all.

The more specific you are to the topic or issues, the more engaging you’ll be to listeners who want specific answers from you – the expert, or at least the moderator of the meeting.

Ask for audience input. If you stand up there for two hours talking about whatever, attendees doze off about half way through your presentation.

Ask the audience questions and encourage group discussion. Just set parameters before opening the floor to keep the talk on target.

Get there early. I always get to speaking events well ahead of the time I’m scheduled to take the stage. This gives me time to check the facilities, make sure I have all necessary equipment (and it works), and that the microphone level is set. I’m ready to go.

This also gives me the opportunity to meet some of the attendees and get to know them by name, company, position – I’m not speaking to a room full of strangers. I’ve met these men and women and they’ve met me before the presentation.

Leave plenty of time for questions. I love questions from the audience. (1) First, that’s how you know what’s important to attendees, (2) other audience members often have solutions to share, and (3) as the main speaker, you control the flow of the discussion.

Direct the questions to solutions to problems others have brought up. You may not have the highly specific answer to a highly specific question, but another member of the audience just might.

The Q & A session that follows a presentation is often the most informative.

Expect to be asked questions at follow up events. In some cases, people are shy about asking in front of a peer group. In other cases, the attendee didn’t think of the question until later. In either case, as a public speaker there is no time clock to punch. In fact…

…make sure attendees have your contact information. You may get a call with a question months after your presentation.

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