4 More Things To Make You a Better Speaker
As a speaker I can’t tell you the number of times I was in the middle of a presentation and wished I would have done something different in either my preparation for it, or during my speech itself.
There was a time I was speaking in Saskatoon when I realized I was going to finish much earlier than I was supposed to. I was hoping there would be a lot of questions to fill the gap, but there weren’t. It was still several minutes before coffee was going to be served. That was a feeling I made sure never happened again.
In Savannah, Georgia I had a ten-minute break between my presentation and the panel discussion before it. It sounded ok, but all four of the panelists wanted to chat with their buddies on the stage after they were done and it took a lot of convincing to get them to talk off the stage so crew members could do their work and reset the stage. Then the audio guy left without giving me a wireless microphone as requested. Nice.
Last week I wrote about four things that speakers could do better before they hit the stage and today I’ll get into what you can do to be a better presenter when your speech starts.
Talk To Me, Don’t Read To Me
The biggest single mistake that people make when they do public presentation is they write their entire speech in advance and they try to sound as though they’re not reading it. It doesn’t work. People can clearly tell what’s happening.
To me, the best presentations are ones where people plan what they want to say in advance, build their slide deck to match and then practice what they plan to talk about before hitting the stage. I talked about this in last week’s blog.
What I typically find though are people writing speeches so know what they’ll say next, or they won’t miss something they planned to talk about, or they’re worried about saying something that will embarrass them if they ad lib.
Drop the safety blanket of the prepared speech, allow your slides to guide you through the presentation, practice in advance and you’ll do just fine. You’ll also get better with every presentation. You’ll become more natural and professional. If you know what you plan to say when each slide in your slide deck comes up, you won’t be at a loss for words and if you stumble a little it won’t really matter because stumbles when you’re not reading from a script aren’t as noticeable.
If there are a couple of items during a speech that you want to get right, put the words into your slide, or if that doesn’t work then on those occasions you can refer to prepared notes.
If They Offer a Microphone Take It
That’s my simple advice when it comes to microphones. When in doubt use one. If you’re speaking in a small room you won’t need one and obviously in a large room you will, so the question then becomes should you use a mic in a medium-sized room? Don’t fall into the trap of raising your voice and asking people at the back of the room if they can hear you when you start your speech. Chances are your voice won’t get that loud again during your entire presentation and those same people won’t be able to hear you two minutes into your speech, so use the mic.
Try to get a wireless lav microphone that clips to your collar, or a wireless headset works just as well. A wireless handheld mic is fine, but if you have a presentation device (wireless remote) in one hand and a mic in the other, both your hands are tied up and you should use your hands during the presentation to help convey your message. That’s hard to do when they’re full.
You might be wondering about the microphone on the podium and are asking why you can’t use that one? You really want to get away from the podium and speak to your audience without a big box of wood in between. For somebody who’s serving as an emcee for an event a podium works fine. But for most speakers it’s something that separates you from your audience.
Look at Your Audience, Not the Screen
When you get to the room where you’ll be speaking, one of the first things you need to do is decide where you’ll be standing most of the time. Keep in mind it’s good to move to different positions during your speech because it gives you different angles to look at your audience and gives your audience different angles on you. However there’s usually a good spot that you should stand for most of your presentation. Once you find it then see if there’s a way to put your laptop somewhere between you and your audience, even if you have to get a small table to put it on. You can use the laptop almost like a teleprompter.
In many cases you’ll discover the VGA connection that you’ll connect your laptop to is anchored tighter than a drum to the podium. That’s because many speakers still put their laptops on top of the podium and manually advance their slides. You won’t be doing that though because you’ll have a wireless remote for that.
The reason it’s important to get your laptop in the right position is because it keeps you from looking back at the screen to determine exactly where you are in your presentation. There’s nothing worse than a speaker continually looking at the screen instead of the audience. I’m not sure why so many speakers do this. I understand the need to look at the screen once in awhile to figure out where they are in the presentation, but I find many people do it far too often, likely because it’s less threatening to look at the screen when they aren’t sure what to say next than at the audience. Glance at your laptop instead because whatever is on your laptop will be on the screen behind you. If it’s in the right spot there’s no reason to look at the screen unless you want to bring the audience’s attention to a specific point.
Smile, Project and Have Energy
Ok that’s really three things, not just one, but they are similar.
People like it when others smile. It makes them feel better and lightens the mood. I’m not suggesting anyone making a presentation should smile like a Cheshire cat (whatever that is), but during any presentation there are opportunities to smile. It’s important to do this because smiling generally helps you and your audience relax.
When you do a presentation you need to speak loud enough for everyone in the back of the room to hear you. With a microphone this is obviously much easier, but projecting your voice is about more than just being loud. It gives you more presence and adds a touch of professionalism, but don’t overdo it because that can hurt you far more if you do.
Finally, energy is critically important. It makes your presentation easier to listen to and helps avoid a monotone sound, but just like projecting your voice, too much of it isn’t a good thing.
Above all prepare as much as you can. There are few speakers who have finished a successful speech and remarked “I practiced far too much; I wish I would have goofed off more.”
The 4 Things To Make You a Better Speaker
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