Are you one of those people who think they’re afraid of public speaking, or are you really more concerned of being judged? We all want to fit in and when we step in front of a group of our peers, it means that we are suddenly on display. The real “fear” of public speaking is simply pressure to be accepted by the audience.
Most of us think of presentations as standing up in front of other people in a room. But today, with technology, there are lots of opportunities for us to do presentations online. Video presentations using teleconferencing and Skyping are becoming more and more prevalent in today’s business place, as are audio conferences using web conferencing and conference calls. And while we know that we have to prepare for a conference presentation in front of a room full of people, it may not be as obvious that you still have to prepare when you’re sitting at home in front of your computer.
Lisa Braithwaite is a public speaking mentor and gives advice on better public speaking with her blog
“…people are afraid of speaking because they don’t prepare properly,” says Braithwaite. A lot of speakers feel like thirty minutes to an hour before a presentation is adequate time to prepare. “They don’t take enough time to develop [their presentation] and then they don’t practice it.” To Lisa, the lack of preparation is a cause for much of our “fear” of public speaking. Here are some tips, straight from Lisa, to better prepare for your presentation and improve your overall success.
Braithwaite says it’s okay to script speeches, but make sure it’s written in a casual tone. This improves the cadence, inflection, and likeability of the speech. As part of your preparation, read the speech out loud and make sure that you can read through it without having to stop and think about the words on the page. Any stumbles need to be rewritten or removed to make sure that part of the speech doesn’t sound forced.
The problem with using technology like audio conference calls or webinars is that it gives the speaker something to hide behind. The movement to online meetings has freed up time and money, sure, but it’s also perpetuated the idea that preparation begins thirty minutes before the meeting. “The truth is that some aspects of your presentation, you have to work harder at, because [with audio conferencing] now it’s all in your voice,” Braithwaite advised.
It’s vital to practice enunciation and maintaining a natural cadence throughout the call. Enunciation is important because on conference calls, all body language signals are lost and it can be a barrier in communication. Enunciation is also important because participants aren’t able to see your lips moving, which can hinder their ability to understand what you’re saying. A monotone voice will put participants to sleep. Lisa suggests that a great way to practice your inflection and speech pattern is to read a children’s book out loud. “You can’t read a children’s book without acting it out,” Braithwaite says. Consider the children’s book Jack & the Beanstalk and try reading it without a deep voice when the giant says, “Fee Fi Fo Fum.”
To prepare for presentations that will include web conferencing capabilities, be sure part of your preparation is to get familiar with the program. You’ll want to be able to take advantage of extras like chatting with participants or getting feedback with a survey. While technology is a great way to cut costs and make it easier for people to meet, it’s also harder to get and keep your audience’s attention.
Here are some methods to keep your participants attention. Take a look at some of these blog posts and try them on your next conference.
- Quote, Anecdote, Rhetorical Question – These are some of the most common ways to hook your audience. You must be sure to use a quote, anecdote, or rhetorical question that segues nicely into your material. If, for example, you were talking about the current recession, you could give an anecdote about the Great Depression and use it to underlie the point of your message. Or you could ask the rhetorical question: Just how similar is our current economic crisis to that of the 1930s? These types of lead-ins will get people wondering, and help them tune in to what it is you’re saying.
- New Twist on the Familiar – Take a common story, quote, saying, or anecdote and change it. This will give your audience a new perspective on the familiar as well as grab their attention. If you handle the twist skillfully enough, you can actually make quite an impression. Let’s say you were giving a presentation on nutrition in America. You could say something like, “To eat, or not to eat. That is the question.” The bolder the twist, the better the reaction will be. However, you must make sure it makes sense and fits into your material. One of the best ways is to simply find popular aphorisms online and try switching the wording around.
- Personal Story – This will help introduce you as a speaker and gives a personal take on the material. Part of what gives you credibility as a speaker is the authority you have to talk about a subject. A good way to do this, for example, could be to lead into your presentation with a personal story about how you got involved in the field, started your business, or became an expert on the subject. The key is to be either funny or endearing so people will trust you.
- Audience Participation Exercise – This is useful as an icebreaker, but typically only works in small settings. The simplest example is to have everyone introduce themselves. However, you can get creative, depending on the setting. Often in classrooms teachers will have people work in pairs and find out 5 interesting facts.
Some quick question ideas are:
- What’s your middle name and how did you get it?
- How was your house heated when you were ten years old?
- Who (and why) would you invite to dinner if you could choose anyone in history?
- What one place on earth (or in the universe) would you like to visit, that you haven’t been to already?
- The screening question – Also known as the “Show-of-hands Question,” this gets the audience to participate, engages them in the material, and gives you, the speaker, an idea of how much the audience already knows.
Some quick question ideas for this are:
- Who had to travel for more than 30 minutes (30 miles) to get here today (keep increasing the time to find the person who travelled the longest (farthest)
- You’re here today because (give them several options…)
- How many years’ experience do people have in this field (keep counting up and hands go down…)
- Whose had time to peruse the material we sent out before the meeting?
With all of these options and a dash of creativity, you should be able to think of a good way to grab your audience’s attention quickly.
- Fact or Fiction: Have everyone at the table write down three surprising things about themselves, two of which are true and one of which is made up. Each person, in turn, reads their list and then the rest of the group votes on which “fact” they feel is the “false” one. If the table does not correctly pick a person’s made up “fact”, then that person wins. A table can have more than one winner. If you have more than one table full of people, have a competition between the tables and have each table decide which of their “winners” they want to use to compete in the “finals”. The selected finalists get up and present their “facts” to the whole group and each table, but the one the winner is from, has one vote to decide which of the “facts” is false. At the end, the whole group votes on which of the “winners” of the final round, had the most deceiving “fact”. This helps people get to know and remember their colleagues.
- Same/Different: Divide the group into teams of 3 or 4 and give them a large sheet of paper and give each person a different colored marker. Have each person draw a large oval such that each oval overlaps with the other ovals in the center of the piece of paper. Give the group, or groups if there is more than one cluster, a theme that pertains to the meeting objectives. Tell people they have to write down at least five or more entries in the non-overlapping and mutually overlapping areas of their ovals. Give them five minutes, no more than that, to talk about their similarities and differences and write them in their ovals. If there is more than one group, compare results and identify common themes in both parts of the diagram and what light these similarities and differences shed on the purpose of the meeting. This helps team members develop an understanding of shared objectives and understand in a non-confrontational way how their views differ from others on the team.
- Brainstorm!: Break the group into teams of four or five. Give them a topic. Pick one that is fun and simple like, “What would you take on a trip to the jungle?” or “List words that are commonly misspelled”. Give your teams 2 minutes, no more, and tell them “This is a contest and the team with the most items on their list wins.” Tell the teams to write down as many things as they can and not to discuss anything, just list things. At the end of time, the team with the most items on their list wins! This helps people to share ideas without fearing what other people will think.
- Free Association: The object of this ice breaker is to have small groups or the team generate as many words or phrases as they can that are related to a particular topic that relates to the objective of your meeting. Give the group(s) a key word you want them to associate and then give them 2 minutes to list, as quickly as possible, as many words or thoughts that pop into their heads. For example, if your company is trying to decide on whether to reduce travel and increase the use of teleconferencing, you might use the word “teleconferencing” and have people list as many words/phrases as they can that they associate with the word. For example they might say: “saves money”, “saves time”, “impersonal”, “need to see other people”, “get distracted”, “sound quality”…. This reveals what people are thinking, similarities in viewpoints, and possible problem areas/topics that need addressing or discussion.
- Nametags: Prepare nametags for each person and put them in a box. As people walk into the room, each person picks a nametag (not their own). When everyone is present, participants are told to find the person whose nametag they drew and introduce themselves and say a few interesting things about them. When everyone has their own nametag, they introduce the person whose nametag they were initially given. This helps people get to know and remember each other.
- Desert Island: Group people in teams of 5 or 6 and tell them they will be marooned on a desert island and give them 30 seconds to list all the things they think they want to take and each person has to contribute at least 3 things. At the end of the time, tell the teams they can only take three things. Have the person who suggested each item tell why they suggested it and defend why it should be chosen. This helps the team learn about how each of them thinks, get to know each other’s values, and how they solve problems.
At the end of a presentation, you expect there to be rapid fire questions coming from every point of the audience. What happens when you wrap up the presentation, ask anyone if they have questions, and there is nothing but silence? Are you shocked? Uncomfortable? Do no questions mean people didn’t enjoy your presentation or learn anything from it?
- Come Prepared: Before stepping out on the stage to make your presentation, you should be prepared for the event that no one is going to have a question at the end. Have a list prepared with a couple of additional notes to your presentation that you can offer if no one has any questions.
- Ask Friends Beforehand: One of the things about asking questions on a conference call or face to face is that there is a hesitation to being the first person to speak up. Before the presentation, find a friend or co-worker and ask them if they would be willing to offer up a question if no one jumps in, just to get the ball rolling. You’d be surprised how many people will chime in once someone starts the Q&A off.
- Wrap it Up: Not having any questions after a presentation might signal a need to wrap things up and hand the stage over to the next speaker. If their truly are no questions, it will be very awkward for you and the audience if you just hang around onstage. If you don’t want to wrap up you presentation early, open a dialogue with your participants and see if you can’t get them talking to you, instead of the other way around.
- Provide Another Way to Ask: Maybe the presentation you’re making is on a sensitive subject or everyone has simply succumbed to shyness that day. Either way, you should give your participants a different way to ask questions. Some people are comfortable asking questions in a conference call, others are not. Allow people to email you questions (provide your email address in advance if you’re doing this).
When you open the floor for questions and all you hear are the crickets and papers shuffling – it doesn’t always mean you didn’t do a great job. Q&A sessions are very helpful for both you and the participants listening in so when things don’t go your way at Q&A time, it doesn’t mean you have to disconnect or leave the stage feeling like a failure. What do you do at the end of your presentation and there is nothing but silence?
As Braithwaite said, being afraid of speaking isn’t so much “fear” as it is a lack of preparation that stresses us out and means we won’t enjoy ourselves. Preparation goes much deeper than running over a couple of points right before it’s ‘go time’. Preparation is the number one tool in your arsenal against public speaking anxiety.
Adapted from an article at http://www.accuconference.com/newsletter/062012.html, An Interview with Lisa Braithwaite.
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