Public speaking is often referred to as the most commonly held fear in America – beyond such terrors as heights, snakes and spiders. In fact, some studies say it’s even more common a fear than death. As Jerry Seinfeld famously joked, “This means, to the average person, if you have to go to a funeral, you’re better off in the casket than doing the eulogy.”
Alas for the fearful, public speaking remains an integral part of most business operations, including and especially our own here at CooperKatz. Though most of us engage in some sort of presentation delivery on a weekly – if not daily – basis, we understand that even seasoned public speakers have room to improve. Thus, in recent weeks, many members of our team took part in a presentation skills workshop with Timothy Cage, a Burson-Marsteller veteran who has provided communication training for more than 25 years.
When workshop day arrived, some of us were excited and some of us – myself included – were a bit scared. But in the end, we all were able to learn useful tools to help us improve as public speakers. Here is a list of some of the best pieces of advice we received:
1. Record yourself and watch it back: During the presentation skills workshop, Mr. Cage and video producer Bryan Killian recorded each of us delivering a brief presentation, and then we watched the recordings back as a group. Having a camera on us was probably the most nerve-wracking aspect of the experience, but watching the recordings proved to be extremely beneficial. In doing so, we were able to observe many opportunities for improvement – be it a rapid speaking pace or a distracting hand gesture – which we otherwise wouldn’t notice.
2. Be yourself: In preparing for business presentations, many people feel the need to conform to a perceived norm of controlled professionalism. However, while there certainly are some hard-and-fast rules when it comes to delivering presentations, shielding your personality is not one of them. In fact, you’ll probably be a more successful public speaker if you stay true to who you are. For instance, if you’re a person who makes jokes, make a joke. Just make sure your personality doesn’t distract from your message.
3. Channel and redirect nervous energy: Getting nervous before and as you begin to deliver a presentation is extremely common, but thinking rationally about the prevalence of nerves almost never serves to eliminate them. In delivering presentations, however, the goal shouldn’t be to get rid of nerves, but rather – as Mr. Cage says – to “harness the butterflies.” Letting nervous energy flow out of you via distracting hand gestures or pacing will ultimately drain you and could lead to a lackluster performance. But by being both conscious of, and intentional with, your movements, you can transform nervous energy into confidence and exuberance.
4. Practice, practice, practice: Memorizing a presentation down to each breath you plan on taking can be problematic, especially if something unexpected occurs during your delivery. However, that does not mean you shouldn’t prepare thoroughly before a public speaking event. If possible, practice out loud and try out different approaches – be it surveying the audience or utilizing a prop, such as a toy or a gadget – to see how comfortable you feel with each. Also, if possible, practice answering follow-up questions with a peer.
5. Expand your definition of “presentation”: When you think of the word “presentation,” you probably picture an individual standing in front of a group of silently seated people, speaking about a topic, perhaps with a visual aid. While this may be the most common form of public speaking for most of us, it is by no means the only way we speak publically. Everything from leaving a voicemail to writing an email can be included in the realm of public speaking, and so you should treat them as such. For instance, if you’re able to listen back to a voicemail before it’s delivered, do so and rerecord if you hear any opportunities for improvement.
Those are only a few of the useful tips we learned from our presentation skills workshop. Have additional public speaking advice we didn’t touch upon? Please share with us in the comments!