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.
- To begin my preparation by thinking about what the audience needs to hear and why.
- Not to try and force things by thinking about the content early on, to let the ideas come naturally over time
- To imagine giving the presentation, visualizing the audience, how they are likely to react
- If I can see it all clearly in my head, then I can feel if it will work or not
- To constantly develop my speaking skills, speaking slower, using simple words that everyone is likely to understand.
- 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.
- To realize that the space between the words, is as important as the words themselves.
- 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.
- That visual images need to be powerful, clear and memorable. That they support your script and not compete with it
- That audience participation is massively important.
- Give them things to think about
- Give them things to do
- Engage them intellectually and emotionally
- 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.
- 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.
- Keep to time – never, ever, run over.
- Follow up afterwards.
- If you are not a little nervous beforehand, then you’re probably not taking it seriously enough
- Learn from your mistakes and constantly look for improvement
- Feedback is the most precious gift you can receive, both good and bad
- Think about what you are going to wear, how you feel is very important
- 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,