Few people are born presenters. Whether you hate the way your voice sounds on video, or you have no idea what to do with your hands, or you break out in a cold sweat just thinking about addressing a crowd, most of us could use a little help when it comes to public speaking.
If nerves are getting the best of you, you could picture the audience in their underwear, but if you want to become a more compelling presenter, check out these top tips from the people who make it look easy. (Hint: we got most of these from our favorite TED Talk presenters.)
Make a Good First Impression
Your audience will decide in the first 30 seconds of your presentation whether they’re going to remain on the edge of their seats or start scrolling through their Facebook newsfeeds. Your opening should be catchy, well-crafted and well-rehearsed. Consider opening with a good story, a shocking statistic or simply state what your audience will learn over the next 15, 30, 60 minutes. While it’s a good idea to mention what makes you an authority on the subject, be weary of droning on about your resume. Remember, your listeners want to know what’s in it for them.
It might seem obvious, but people prefer to watch a real person, as opposed to a perfectly scripted, impeccably styled robot. Being human means we don’t have to be perfect. Remember, you are likely speaking because you have knowledge of, or experience with, a topic that interests your audience. You are interesting, so let the real you come through. Be genuine, warm, casual and enthusiastic, and your audience will be compelled to listen.
You’ve probably heard that adding anecdotes to your speech will help your audience relate, but good storytelling goes beyond that. To really engage your audience, you need to use visual stories. Rather than just talking at your audience, a good presenter’s words will play like a movie in the minds of those listening. The key is to use descriptive words and vivid phrases. Imagine explaining the details to someone who is blindfolded. Your audience should feel like they are there.
This is a lot trickier than it sounds. We tend to become emotionally attached to anything we create, and that includes speeches. While you may think your one-liner is a hoot, if you run it by a friend or colleague and it doesn’t land well, then cut it out. Public speaking experts agree that most presentations can be trimmed by about 25%, making them just as good, if not better. Look for instances where you may be saying the same thing in a different way – essentially repeating yourself – and don’t waste time stating obvious facts that your audience may already know.
Even if you are one of those people who is comfortable addressing a crowd, do not underestimate the power of the dress rehearsal. Whether you prefer to practice in front of a mirror, trusted friends or a video camera, this is your chance to iron out any bumps in your presentation and get feedback, before opening night. If you’ll be using a slideshow, a mic or other technology and props, try to have them all handy for your run-through. Practice won’t ensure your big presentation goes off without a hitch, but it will help you feel prepared and confident.