Preparing to deliver
It is a myth that all good presenters are born with the ability to speak with eloquence, fluency and confidence. All of us can develop the ability to speak easily and confidently in a way that makes people want to listen to us and trust in what we have to say.
It is worth repeating that the secret lies in our planning, research and preparation. We don’t need to be a fantastic orator or a dynamic performer. In terms of delivery we just need to be ourselves. Let our own personality shine through. We will be much more believable and credible in the eyes of our audience if we can deliver our presentation with authority, empathy and honesty. When we do this, an increase in our confidence will automatically follow.
Unless they have a transcript in front of them, the members of your audience don’t know what you are going to say. What that means is, if you miss something or say something in a different way, it doesn’t really matter. The audience will just assume that you are saying what you intended to say. If you forget something, you can always include it later at an appropriate point in the presentation.
One thing that many people find challenging is that all eyes will be on them. Accept that you will be the centre of attention. Simple things like maintaining eye contact, your posture, projecting your voice, varying the tone and volume of your voice, the way you look, will all have an effect on the way you come across. For example, if you are looking down at your notes, you can’t have eye contact with your audience. If you are using slides with text, make the text large enough for the audience to read. Try not to read them out loud. You will again lose eye contact. We have to assume that the audience can read for themselves, unless you know that there is someone in the audience who can’t.
Anything you use as an exhibit should be used to enhance your presentation, not be a crutch for you. Your focus should be 100% on your audience and when you do, you will bridge the gap between you and your audience and be able to pick up signs of how the audience is feeling and how well your messages are being received.
Prepare the room and adjust it so that you are comfortable with the layout. Once the room is ready, look at it from different angles. Go and sit in a few seats and view it from the audience’s point of view. Don’t be afraid to adjust it if you are not happy. Check that the equipment is working and that everything that you need is in place. Make sure that there is water to hand. It is amazing how quickly your throat can dry up! If your audience will need any materials, make sure they are readily available.
Some other points to consider:
- Never memorise a presentation word for word. It is likely to sound robotic and it is more difficult for your own personality to shine through. There is also a danger that if you forget one part – you will forget the rest!
- Assemble and arrange your ideas in advance.
- Talk about something that you are qualified to talk about either through experience or study.
- Rehearse your presentation
- Lose yourself in your subject.
- Act confident – Action follows feeling – if you act confident you will be confident.
- Be excited about your subject – if you’re not excited, how can you expect your audience to be.
- Be eager to share what you know with your audience.
- Enthusiasm is infectious. Demonstrate through your actions how passionate you feel about your subject.
Encouraging and Handling Questions
It is important to be in control of the question and answer session. Questions are an opportunity to check for understanding and it is important for the audience to be able to express their reactions and ask for clarification of anything they might be unsure of. It is also an opportunity to reinforce your key messages. Sometimes individuals are reluctant to ask a question and an awkward silence can follow, so you could start it of by asking the audience – “Who has the first question?”. This serves two purposes. It shows that you want to encourage questions and that you expect there to be more than one. Equally when you want to end the Q&A session you can then ask, “Who has the final question?”. This gives a clear message that the session is coming to an end.
When you are asked a question, pause before answering. Don’t be defensive. Get your thoughts together before responding. What might seem like an age to you, is only a few seconds for the audience. If you don’t know the answer, don’t try to bluff your way out. Tell the questioner you will find out and get back to them. Don’t do this too often though, you will lose credibility!
Thank your audience for their questions and their participation.
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