Presentation Skills - whether you love speaking in public or hate it, doing it better will help your career.

Posted: 23/01/2013 1:27:29 PM by WorkInCulture editor | with 0 comments

Fear of public-speaking is the number one fear for most people – even greater than the fear of snakes.

I can remember the first time I ever had to speak in front of a group. It was in Grade 8 and ‘the topic on which I had chosen to speak’ was Justin Morgan, the sire of the Morgan breed of horses (what can I say, I was a 13 year old girl and horse crazy). I stumbled and mumbled my way through my one sweaty page of notes reading word for word, avoiding the eyes of my classmates and praying none of the boys would snicker. They didn’t, I survived and prayed I would never have to do that again.

Time passed and I managed to avoid a repeat performance until I was in my 20s and working for a dynamic, fearless woman who seemed perfectly comfortable talking to any number of people at anytime. I was very impressed. I remarked on it one day and she told me she had originally been just as fearful as the rest of us but had taken a public speaking course and now embraced opportunities to speak in order to get practice.I had never thought that speaking in public was a skill you could learn and get better at.  I just thought those who were good at it were born that way. With this new perspective, I accepted the next time I was asked to say something to a small group. I talked to my fearless colleague and got some pointers, I wrote out my presentation in point form on note cards (this was pre-PP), I practiced delivering to my husband until he started avoiding me, and finally I gave my presentation to its intended audience.

Was I great?  Not so much - but the audience didn’t seem to mind. Since they didn’t know what I intended to say, they didn’t notice when I missed a bit at the beginning and brought it in at the end. They seemed appreciative and asked appropriate questions. By that point it had become a discussion and I was quite relaxed and even sort of enjoying myself (in a ‘I did it and didn’t drool or otherwise embarrass myself’ sort of way).

Since then presenting has become part of what I do. And the more I do it, the easier it becomes. So let me share a few tips.

  • Prepare and practice – and I mean talking out loud not just in your head. Use a mirror if you don’t have a live person or animal to listen to you. Visualize the setting in which you will be speaking and act out accordingly (e.g. sitting down, standing up, with podium or without). Do it so often that you know it back to front, even without notes, and won’t be thrown if you get things out of order or forget a bit.
  • Start out with a small, friendly audience – you might begin by just speaking up in a meeting with colleagues or delivering a report on something you have been working on. As you become more confident, spread your wings and tackle larger groups.
  • Accept that you will be nervous (I still am) and work out techniques to deal with the symptoms. Momentary blanking out? (sip of water to cover and find your place) Hands shaking? (hold them together or grip that podium). Voice quavering? (pause, cough, look at the audience, breath in, smile in a friendly fashion, and launch in)

If any of you have tips that have worked for you, please share.

Diane Davy

Executive Director


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