5 Public Speaking Tips To Help You Ace Your Next Presentation

So much of what goes into public speaking happens way before you step up to the front of the room. Preparation and practice are key. Here’s what you can do in advance to make the actual speaking part as smooth as possible. 

1. Understand the Expectations and Learn the Details

“Gather all of the information regarding location, technical setup, time you’ll be speaking, dress, topics to include/avoid, type of presentation, etc.,” says Tara Goodfellow, a Muse career coach and owner of Athena Consultants. Having all of this information ahead of time will help you prepare a presentation that fits the occasion and resonates with your audience. 

It’ll also help you avoid technical or logistical snafus that can add unnecessary stress, Goodfellow says: “You don’t want any surprises as in realizing you were supposed to bring a laptop or handouts.”

2. Know Your Audience

It’s as important to understand your audience as it is to understand the subject you’ll be discussing in front of them. “Make sure you understand the level of knowledge,” Goodfellow says, and tailor your presentation accordingly. “You don’t want to bore them with details they already know nor do you want to overwhelm them.” 

Josephine Lee, third place winner in the 2016 Toastmasters World Championship of Public Speaking, emphasizes that even if she’s giving the same speech to two different audiences, she’ll take the time to customize it. She always asks herself, “What is the specific audience and why are they there?” 

So, for example, the toast you’d give at an engagement party among all your college friends might be pretty different from the speech you give at the same friend’s wedding in front of the whole extended family. 

Or in a professional context, imagine you’re giving a presentation about the future of your company. That would look really different depending on whether you’re talking to a group of executives from your own organization versus a room full of college students who are interested in getting into the industry. For one, you might dive into the nitty gritty of last quarter’s performance and share your insights about what changes your organization needs to make to remain competitive. For the other, you’d probably zoom out a bit more, give an intro to your industry, and sketch out what your company does and where it’s going. 

3. Plan and Structure Your Speech

So often the focus of advice about public speaking is about how you’re saying the words in front of an audience. Those things are unequivocally important (which is why we go into detail about them below!) but before you get there, you have to think about whatyou’re saying. 

“You can have great diction and you can have great presentation skills, but if your words and structure are all over the place then people are not going to remember what you said,” says Lee, who credits Toastmasters with teaching her how to write a speech. “It is 100% about simplicity, because when you’re giving a speech in front of a live audience it’s so fleeting that if you have multiple points and if you go off on tangents and if you don’t stay on one simple path then people won’t remember what you were speaking about.”

Lee always picks one central point when she’s preparing a talk—whether she’ll be speaking for five minutes or 45. She’ll present her central theme, give supporting evidence and examples, and keep circling back to that main message. “So even if the audience forgets 99% of your speech, which they will, they will go home with that 1%,” she says. 

Rajiv Nathan, a Muse career coach and founder and CEO of Startup Hypeman, takes a similar approach with a slightly different formula. His go-to structure for a talk is “inward, outward, forward.” He starts with a story that explains why he’s talking about this topic in the first place, zooms out to evidence that others are thinking about it as well, and ends with solutions. 

In a workplace setting, this might translate into laying out a challenge your team is facing, zooming out to examine how other teams and companies are thinking about and handling similar issues, and end by proposing next steps for your team. 

4. Don’t Overload Your Slides

If you’re using slides to accompany your presentation, make sure you avoid overloading them with too much text. “Think about how you like to be presented to,” Goodfellow says. “Very few of us like an 80-slide presentation where the person just reads everything to us.” 

Beyond the simple fact that people will be distracted squinting at that teeny tiny type, you might be tempted to start reading off the slides and you’ll end up sounding a little too much like Ferris Bueller’s economics teacher (i.e. droning on and on and on in a monotone). 

Instead, Nathan says, use slides primarily as visual complements to your words and a tool to emphasize your main takeaway. 

5. Practice, Practice, Practice

Okay, pay attention, because if you absorb just one thing from this article it should be this: You have to practice. Not once or twice but over and over again. 

“When you practice it enough you figure out the rhythm,” says Nathan, who estimates he practiced his TEDx talk about 100 times before he gave it. You’ll also feel more confident and comfortable speaking without reading off a piece of paper (or your slides) because the structure and progression will become so familiar. 

Lee takes advantage of any opportunity to practice when she’s preparing to speak. “Practice of any sort can be very helpful. I practice in my room or in the shower or driving in the car,” she says.

This article was written by Stav Ziv. Full article here

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