Public speaking. To many the very mention of this practice is enough to get the hairs raising at the back of their necks. Presentation. Another word that conjures to mind the image of ourselves in a high-stakes situation, vulnerable before a grim-faced panel of judges.
Why is it that we feel apprehension, or at the least, nervous-excitement, about the prospect of standing before others and talking?
It might have something to do with the fact that people are, inherently, social creatures. We have hierarchies in the social order. Our reputations and egos can define our sense of worth. Public speaking can therefore be seen as a tremendous threat. Thrust out alone in front of peers, we are singled out as the individual and inherently tasked with engaging other people. Winning respect, or expecting ridicule.
Whilst the psychology behind it is best left for another topic, this article endeavours to offer some key tips and tricks for engaging your audience – to reframe your way of thinking from them versus me, to us.
Look At Your Audience
The first and most commonly known piece of advice when speaking with others is to maintain eye-contact. Now, that is not to say stare at them! That has its own problems. Maintaining eye-contact is about wordlessly telling another that you are giving them attention. You are acknowledging them.
When addressing an audience, this is a tremendous tool for singling people out. People are individuals, and you are reminding them of that each time you are looking at them. That fellow in the front row, that looks a little bored? Look at him. Suddenly, he realises he is being noticed, and feels the need to be perceived as engaged, as not to present himself as callous.
Vary Your Delivery
Words are actually quite funny. They have a strange effect. We identify patterns within them. Anticipating patterns leads to expectation. Expecting something can be comfortable. We feel we can switch off. After all it keeps going. Unvaried in its consistent delivery.
You probably noticed the above paragraph was entirely made-up of five-word sentences, right? It was getting a little tedious to read by the end, no doubt.
The unexpected is exciting. The expected is not. Just like elevator music is created to be background noise, so can a person’s delivery spoken with the same manner and consistency, become background buzz.
Find ways to change things up! Try to talk to the audience like you are talking to one person. Avoid dumping information upon them in a drone! Show your passion.
Humour Is Your Friend
Have you ever noticed that, during a long presentation, a technical difficulty, or a gaff, can bring zombified viewers to life again? Those who were lulling in the middle-rows suddenly sit up, and a sense of community starts to build amidst the crowd?
Humour helps. Even if it is a corny joke that gets people smiling, it establishes a connection with the audience; subtly changing the dynamic to something more personal.
Show and Tell
Half of a magician’s act is in his use of props. Just as half of a presenter’s act is in their material. On one hand this means the subject matter. Just as you should avoid stagnancy in your delivery, you should also avoid overloading the listener with too much of the same topic.
Can you imagine sitting and listening to an hour of someone reciting taxation processes? (Perhaps the Accountants out there can!) It is rough! However, imagine that same hour-long presentation but, to contextualise the importance of each piece of information, the speaker tells an engaging story that gives meaning to it! “Now, before I tell you about corporation tax, I want to share an example that happened several years ago with a big name brand who did NOT do what I am about to tell you TO do.” – Suddenly, more engaging!
Similarly, if you are using slides, make sure they are varied up! Don’t have three slides in a row with walls of text. Instead, use pictures to convey information, bullet-points, but never too much of the same.
People Believe in You! So Believe in Yourself!
Last but not least, the most important thing to remember is that any misgivings you have about your audience are more than likely unfounded! People tend to think the best of speakers. The very act that you are in a position to speak to them imbues with immediate credibility. Remember that. We tend to believe ourselves at the mercy of other people’s judgement, when the truth is? They are a lot less scary than they appear. They respect you for standing up there. So, respect yourself!