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7 tips you should've known before your last presentation

Today I would like to write about one of my favorite topics which is public speaking and self presentation. I believe in people being their own brands and like reflecting about how you can improve your brand.

This post is about:

  1. What is communication and public speaking?

  2. How to behave when on stage?

  3. Why is your voice so important?

  4. The audience

  5. How to structure the content of your presentation?

  6. The dress code

  7. Practical tips

1. The theory bit

Public speaking and self presentation is about communication.

What is communication

Communication is the act of transmitting information from one place to another, like getting something from A to B. A message, for example. What is a message? A message is a communication containing information transmitted in writing, by words, signals or other means.

So when speaking in public you are transmitting your message by words and your personal appearance, often supported by a Power Point presentation. Your dress code, your smile, what is written on your slides and how it is written, the way you behave and the pace of your speech all this influences the way your message is perceived by the public.

Think ahead what you want your audience to do / feel /say / think after your presentation? Repeat this one thing all over your talk.

Communication: What should your audience remember?

In the sender-receiver-model below you see that there are a lot of elements that affect your message while it is being delivered to the receiver. The way you encode it (what words you chose, what format you pack it) and the way the receiver decodes it, influences your message.

You should be consciously aware of the fact that none of us exits within a vacuum: there is noise surrounding you when you compile your message and there is noise when the receiver is decoding your message.

What noise, you might ask? Well, first of all this could be real noise (loud music in the background, trains passing by) or anything that distracts you from concentrating on your message (an incoming phone call, a thought crossing your mind, the smell of freshly baked croissants).

Also the communication channel you chose to transmit your message influences how well your message is understood and processed: are you transmitting information via WhatsApp, email, a phone call, a panel talk or a public presentation. There is always one channel that fits better than another, depending on your message. You wouldn't want to ask for a pay rise via a Whatsapp message, would you?

Communication: Sender-Receiver-Model

What is public speaking?

Public speaking is the process or act of performing a speech to a live audience. Public speaking has three general purposes:

  1. to inform (think Steve Jobs product launches)

  2. to persuade (think political speech) and

  3. to entertain (think stand up)

Today about 70% of all jobs involve some form of public speaking and this is also the reason why recently so many posts are being written and so much attention is given to public speaking and self presentation.

2. How to behave when on stage?

So you are on stage. Now what? How to behave? Where to look, what to do, where to place those hands which suddenly seem so superfluous...

The way the audience perceives you depends on your appearance, behavior and your voice. The proportion to what extent your appearance, your voice and your content (your message) affects your audience can be viewed in the scheme below.

Communication: How to behave on stage

It seems that your content (what you have to say) only accounts for about 10% of how people will think about you afterwards. And much more attention is given to what they see (the way your are dressed, your slides and how they are composed), meaning information coming in through the visual channel.

Stand in the moment

When on stage, a good exercise is to stand in the moment, acknowledging who you are (a manager, an expert) what you are about to do (share insights about a topic you are confident in) and why these people have gathered in this room looking at you (because value and respect what you have to say). This little exercise will help you to cast away stress and to bring you back into the context of your presentation.

When on stage, keep moving.

Movement captures attention, stimulates our visual senses and helps you to mange the attention of your audience. Don't overdo do, though.

Unless you are geographically separated from your audience, try to move closer to them by physically approaching your audience. This helps to reinforce an important point of your speech. Careful again: don't overdo it by entering into their private zone which is usually about 1,5 m for strangers.

Think Italian

Just like movement, gestures and poses are very powerful when speaking in public. Four types of gestures can be identified and classified into the following categories:

  • emotional

  • function

  • structural

  • emphasizing

It is important to control your gestures, because just as much as they can help bringing your message across, they can also distract from what you have to say, if they are repeated too often or are employed in the wrong manner.

3. Why is your voice so important?

We have already learnt that 1/3 of the impact you make on your audience is defined by your voice.

Your voice is a powerful tool, as it adds meaning and significance to your words. Just image in in how many ways one can say "Well, this is great news." Your voice also expresses feelings and temper on an emotional level.

It all depends

This is why speeches, discussions, negotiations and client services require a conscious use of voice and intonation. The way you speak during the day can greatly differ and depends on the role you are in: you speak in a different manner to your boss than you address your friend in and yet in a different one when communicating you your parents.

The voice has always been a part of self presentation and a part of study, already in ancient times (remember Cicero, the Roman philosopher, politician and orator).

There are three signals your voice transmits:

  • it defines meaning (and can change it)

  • it creates doubling (enforces meaning)

  • it makes conclusions about the character of a person (is he shy, open, competent, hysterical, ...)

Our voice accounts for 30% of the public speaking performance.

4. Your audience

Public speaking is no public speaking without an audience. Anything from three people up can be considered a audience. Before walking into your presentation, it pays off to understand:

  • Who is your audience?

Are they experts in the field you are about to address or are they are just generally interested in this topic?

  • What questions might they have?

Imagine concrete questions and develop good answers. Think: what would you ask if you wouldn't know the topic? Is everything clear or might you have missed something?

  • What is the one thing you want them to remember after they walk out of your presentation?

Repeat this over and over again. Say "when you walk out of that door, I want you to remember this one thing (and then say what you want them to remember)". According to one of TED's great orators people only hear about half of what you say and then they filter this through their own perspective. Repetition is the key to make clear what is your most important point.

  • Motivate them to ask questions

Don't be afraid of questions, embrace them. These are the moments when you can prove that you really know your stuff and convince the your audience who are silently doubting your skills (trust me, you will find those doubters in any audience).

Once they have addressed their question to you, you are in control of what they think about you, because you get a chance to eliminate any blanks. When they walk off with a blurred feeling, unsatisfied, guess what they are going to say about you. You don't want that.

For the sake of your self presentation you want to control as much as you possibly can. Questions are a great instrument to do so.

L'enfant terrible

Why so many of us are afraid to actively ask for questions, is because we are afraid that we won't know the answer. And it's true, in almost any audience you can find L'enfant terrible who is waiting for you to commit a mistake and fail.

One tip a TED speaker gave once, was to ask a question the audience can't answer. When you understand that they can't answer it, you say "That's ok. I can't either". The fact that you don't - and are willing to admit it - not only humanize a you but makes the audience pay greater attention to what you do know.

According to there are 5 different types of l'enfant terrible:

  • The clown

  • The sniper

  • The snowman

  • The black cloud

  • The unwanted panelists.

In a different blog post I will explain these different types in detail and also comment on how to best deal with them so that you don't turn the stage in to a battle field.

Keep in touch

In general it is important to stay in touch with your audience. It is your job to make them want to listen and not drift off and dive into their mobile phones. Contact is as important at the beginning of your presentation as it is at its close.

There are two ways you can stay in touch: verbally and non-verbally.

How to stay in touch verbally:

  • Make compliments

  • Speak about the audience ("Your are so energized, this makes me feel good.")

  • Repeat their names

  • Use "we", "us" ("Let us explore this topic together.")

  • Quote them ("As Anna just said, ...")

  • Point out what they get after your presentation ("You will walk away knowing three ways how to increase traffic to your website.")

How to stay in touch with your audience in a non-verbal manner:

  • By moving (creates dynamic and makes your audience follow you visually)

  • By using appropriate gestures (we spoke about this earlier on in this blog post)

  • By using objects (you can ask to borrow a pen from someone from the audience and use it to explain something. This will make the pen's owner feel like he personally contributed to the presentation and the learning process of the others).

5. About your content

Even if we learned that only 10% of how your are being perceived by your audience is based on your content, on what you have to say, it is the content they have come to listen to.

It goes without saying that you should be confident in the topic you are about to address during your public presentation.

Make it clear, competent and consistent.

Best practices include:

  • Have only one point per slide

  • Keep it relevant (do they really need to know this? What if I cross it out?)

  • Have it brief and clear

  • Make it meaningful (Why should they know this?)

  • Use graphics and schemes instead of text (where possible, and it is more often possible than you would have thought)

  • Prepare hand outs

  • Use humor (everyone loves a good laugh)

The worst that can happen to any public speaking performance is lack of prep. If you don't prepare well enough, guess what is going to happen once stress comes rolling?

Even the best speakers rehearse every time before they speak in public. Another question is how the rehearse: some do it sitting in front of the computer, clicking their way through the slides, others imagine their public talk when taking a shower and go though the content in their mind.

Communication. Be knowledgeable and rehearse.

Don't forget to consider your main idea, work on the structure and the design of your presentation. When your talk is related to youth, nature or health consider predominantly using the color green in your slides.

6. The dress code

Earlier we learned that about 60% of the impact you make on other people depends on what the see from you. Your dress code plays an essential role here.

When holding a public presentation dress and look professionally, i.e. appropriate to your target audience. Remember that fashion directors would expect you to be dressed in a different way than a CEO from a consulting company would. Always keep in mind how professionalism looks like your target audience.

In most cases the following rules are true:

  • Hair: it should be neat, tamed, clean and have a mild smell

  • Shoes: you should consider conservative colors like black, brown, navy

  • Adornments: they should be small, simple and of good quality

  • Make up: it should be light, in neutral and classic colors

  • Scents: don't wear heavy scents, better smell fresh

Public Speaking Dress Code: Keep it professional.

7. Practical tips

There are a few more tips I would like to give you about public speaking and a good self presentation.

  1. Work out the day before and eat proteins. Proteins contain tyrosine and they help to regulate your mental alertness during your speech. An good workout the night before brings your cortisol level down and you feel relaxed and confident.

  2. Use pauses. When you pause for three seconds during your talk, most people will think that you have lost your pace. In case of pause for for 5 seconds, they will think that you do this intentionally, because only confident speakers feel secure with silence.

  3. Share a genuinely emotional story. When you share genuine in feelings you create a immediate and lasting connection with the audience. Emotion trumps speaking skills every time.

  4. Don't ever read your slides. The audience should be able to almost instantly scan your slides.

  5. Always run short. Finish eager,h and ask if anyone has questions. The audience will be thankful for the extra free time you gave them, as time is a scarce resource and they will be impressed by your time management skills.

  6. Imaging that you are the king. The audience should feel trust in your assertive position. Walk around the stage and ask a few of them whether the sound is OK for them, whether it's not too cold and whether they see everything. Give them the feeling that you care about their well-being and make them feel comfortable. Just like a good-hearted King.

I hope these recommendations and insights will help you to feel more comfortable when preparing your next public presentation. As with many things, practice makes you become better and better, so take any opportunity you get to present and speak in public. You will become better every time.

I am eager to hear your thoughts and other insights I might have missed on this topic and am looking forward to receiving your stories about when you had had a great experience presenting in public.

Never stop learning! See you around :)

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