Anyone who has seen me give a speech in the last few years might think that I am a ‘natural’. However, they might also be surprised to discover that until the age of thirty nine, I was so terrified of speaking in public that I would do almost anything to avoid it; even deliberately refusing business invitations if there was any chance of my being asked to stand up and say something in public. So how did the turn-around occur?

In 1996, some colleagues of mine were giving a presentation to a potential client. Their presentations were very technical and dare I say boring, that I just felt I had to step up and say something if we were to have any chance of closing a deal. So, with all the inner emotional strength I could muster, I stood up and gave my first ever business presentation: a 100% improvised summary of the key points my colleagues were trying to make told in the style of a story.

I still to this day, do not know where the story idea came from but luckily it did and we retained the client.  Over the last twenty years I have tried to consistently improve on my first presentation and as I reach higher levels of both delivery and content, I find that the deep satisfaction I feel when people personally thank me for a good job done, somehow outweighs all the hours of effort and stress that goes into building the perfect speech.

So what have I learnt over the last twenty years?  Here is just a quick list of some of things that spring to mind.

  1. To begin my preparation by thinking about what the audience needs to hear and why.
  2. Not to try and force things by thinking about the content early on, to let the ideas come naturally over time
  3. To imagine giving the presentation, visualizing the audience, how they are likely to react
    1. If I can see it all clearly in my head, then I can feel if it will work or not
  4. To constantly develop my speaking skills, speaking slower, using simple words that everyone is likely to understand.
  5. To talk to everyone in the room. Looking out for dissenters and to try to win them round with eye contact. You need everyone engaged and onside.
  6. To realize that the space between the words, is as important as the words themselves.
    1. Watch any great public speaker or comedian, notice how, after delivering a key message or joke, they give their audience time to let the message sink in before moving on.
  7. That visual images need to be powerful, clear and memorable. That they support your script and not compete with it
  8. That audience participation is massively important.
    1. Give them things to think about
    2. Give them things to do
    3. Engage them intellectually and emotionally
  9. Rehearse, rehearse, and rehearse.  Think of the cost per hour of all the people in the room added together and you’ll calculate the true value of the time you are filling.
  10. You cannot please everyone, all of the time, but you should aim to delight at least 85% or more of your audience. Anything less should be considered a failure.
  11. Keep to time – never, ever, run over.
  12. Follow up afterwards.
  13. If you are not a little nervous beforehand, then you’re probably not taking it seriously enough
  14. Learn from your mistakes and constantly look for improvement
    1. Feedback is the most precious gift you can receive, both good and bad
  15. Think about what you are going to wear, how you feel is very important
  16. Prepare well, have quiet time before you go on stage.

That’s all I can think of for now. I hope it helps?

Have a good week,