There's a reason why the ability to give a quality speech is referred to as having presentation skills rather than having presentation talent. It's not an innate capability you can inherit from your ancestors. It takes practice, forethought and real preparation. If you've found yourself getting nervous before a speech in front of your peers, or found yourself at the podium with an audience whose attention has wandered, you may want to read up on these seven tips to get on top of your exposition game.
Know Your Audience
You can infer a lot from the average age of an audience, from their professions and from the venue at which they've taken time out of their lives to hear you speak. Are they students? Managers? Do they speak legalese, slang or any other kind of niche jargon? Are they going into town to a major venue, or seeing you speak in the basement of a church? All of this will help you craft your message to appeal to them. A well-received message is tailored to the audience and the space in which it's delivered.
Know Your Time
There are circumstances when a speech ending a bit early will be considered a good thing (like at a lunch meeting) and times when going under your time will make your audience feel slighted (like if they've paid to hear you speak). Be aware of the time frame you have and know that going over that time, even by a minute is akin to forfeiting the success of everything you've said until that point. An audience has a collective mind that wanders the second they see you've gone over, your credibility is shot. How do you make sure you've got it right? Practice the whole thing from beginning to end, more than once.
I just said practice, right? Though it may seem daunting, practicing in front of someone else can be a huge help. When I was in college, I found out that I tend to say the word "um" during speeches — a lot. I had no idea and thought I was quite perfectly eloquent before I was aware of my mistake. If you have any similar tendencies, best to find out before you go in front of your intended audience.
Know Your Topic
The best public speakers sound and look confident and at ease. While you can practice your body language and tone of voice, the best way to act confident is to be confident. And the best way to feel it is to become as much of an expert on your topic as possible. That little bit of extra research will go a long way during Q&A time. When people see you as an expert, they want you back and that's how consulting careers get started.
Having a point to your speech is half the battle of getting there. You want to make sure your message is concise, entertaining and avoids redundancy. Do this by creating an outline for you and your audience to follow. Start your speech by telling them some key take-aways they'll have at the end of your speech. When you provide value up front, it'll keep them listening throughout to make sure they're getting what you've promised.
Speech coming off a little dry? Consider using the basic format of a story. Create a beginning, a middle and an end. People love stories, especially ones with a "moral" that outlines a lesson. If you can find a story to tell that clearly sounds out any of your points and keeps you within your allotted time, tell it.
Double and Triple Check Your Materials
You would be surprised how many spelling and grammar errors make their way into final handouts, slideshows and infographics. It's understandable why: you're working all night long, totally burned out and only focused on finishing. That's why you need to prepare a first draft in advance and then take a break from it before checking it over with a fresh outlook for a second draft. Step away again before finalizing it.
Your visuals aren't the only materials you have to check. Your wardrobe needs to be cleaned and pressed. Move in it, make sure it's professional, yet comfortable. Don't walk around the stage with a Venti from Starbucks in your hand, keep it classy by bringing a simple pitcher and water glass. Even a practice round with your makeup will help you save on time and stress the day of the big presentation. It goes without saying that you should arrive early when using microphones, headsets or other electronic equipment.
Finally, just breathe and be yourself!