I'm not a public speaker by trade, but I've done my fair share of speaking gigs at conferences and business events. While it used to make me very, very nervous, I've come into my own, so to speak. I now enjoy it more than just about any other activity at live events!
While I will always have room to grow, the feedback I've gotten from my audience has assured me that I am indeed doing something right. Here are five tips for making sure your experience is awesome, and that your audience enjoys it, too!
1. Prepare, but don't over-prepare. I'm not a fan of notecards. Yes, it's OK to jot down a few details that correspond to your slides, but don't go overboard. If you write a script that you have to depend on, it can be very easy to derail your whole presentation if any little thing goes wrong. It's also impossible to adjust your talk to the needs of the audience.
Instead, do a little exploration the night before to write down a few personal stories or anecdotes you can include - if appropriate. But never, write your speech down word for word. It keeps you from getting to know your audience and makes you look very stiff.
2. Arrive (very) early. I like to get to where I'm going to speak at least 45 minutes early. I don't mean the city, hotel, or even the floor where my presentation will take place. I am referring to the actual room. Even if there is a presenter in there before you, get there in plenty of time to scan the room, get to know where the camera and lights are, and be certain your A/V equipment is up and running. It also doesn't hurt to get to know the camera crew, if there is one. I was able to get the guy at my last even to open up a bit about his work, and even tell me about some recent health issues.
Now that's warming up a room before you even get started!
3. Bring a fan club. I would get very nervous if my family was in the room, but having a colleague or two that you trust sit in on the session can be very comforting and helpful, as well. In my last engagement, a trusted writer friend of mine attended, and it made it very easy to personalize a few tips by inserting her name into the speech. Something like "Now, we all know professionals like Donna have been using this trick for years" will perk up the audience and help you connect. It also lets people know that you really do have a handle on how to work a room.
4. Make lot and lots of eye contact. Remember those note cards? Now that you don't need them, you can focus fully on your audience. Scan the room constantly, stopping every minute or so to talk one-on-one with various audience members. If you are a professional with a service or product to sell, this helps to ensure that they stay engaged throughout the entire talk, and that they will feel a "pull" toward you and your business. You don't even have to ever pitch what you are selling; just the conversation you have initiated through your eye contact is enough to turn a cold contact into a warm lead.
5. Continue the Q & A. If your talk went well, there should be a good number of folks wanting to ask you extra questions, or at least drop a business card. If you find that your Q&A time runs out too quickly, offer to meet with anyone who wants to chat further in the hallway or the hotel lobby. And, if logistics prevent this from happening, your presentation materials should always have a way for them to reach you directly; I prefer a direct email and my Twitter handle.
While this isn't exactly a tip, it's a very important rule: Only talk about things you know well and clearly define them before you pitch a topic. My first year, I did a talk on community management that I just wasn't "feeling." I knew the area well, but my talking points were fuzzy. The next years, I picked teachable topics that I lived and breathed and built processes around. I could have chatted about them to any ol' Joe in the elevator and had been fine. This made these talks an easy way to talk to the audience without notes or jitters. I was just being me!
Are you afraid of speaking in public? Dale Carnegie's tips have lasted the test of time! Snag one of the most effective guides to getting you through your next speaking gig.....
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