Tips to improve your next presentation
Is the fear of public speaking really such a big fear? The uncomfortable moments in the Oscar winning The King’s Speech, probably felt painfully familiar to many who have been under pressure while presenting. It certainly did for me and as someone who went to a speech therapist for elocution lessons as a child it made me think what we can take away from watching a movie about a man learning to manage his stammer. This article will cover some of the good tips and dispel the bizarre.
The King’s Tip: Always stand up to deliver a speech of importance.
An engaging speaking voice is very relevant today, as many business presentations are given through teleconferences. The lack of visual cues makes it harder for listeners to catch the message and tougher for speakers to read the audience. Standing up places you in an assertive posture and allows deeper breathing from your diaphragm which aids better vocal quality projection. Opera singers could deliver with such a wide range while sitting. Strengthening your abdominal muscles enables you to better fill your lungs with air. So you now have another reason to get to the gym. It’s optional whether you would want to have your wife sitting on your stomach.
The King’s Tip: Gradually expand your ability to project your voice.
Adding strength and authority starts with becoming comfortable with the sound of your own voice. Before I became a professional speaker, I was incredibly shy and self-conscious when speaking to groups. Partly this is because I am a natural introvert like many professionals in finance, IT and engineering. This can’t be changed overnight but like any skill can be developed. Practise your presentation out aloud, ideally in a meeting room, and project your voice so that someone at the back of the room would hear. While you don’t need to sing out your windows, find fun excuses to raise your voice, like playing sports or refereeing a football match at your children’s school.
Aside from voice improvements, the movie also highlights the importance of preparation and rehearsal.
The King’s Tip: Great speakers are made, not born.
No infant starts to speak with a stammer and no one starts with a fear of public speaking. Conversely, no one is born a natural public speaker. Circumstances, experiences and environment all play a key part in how people develop. I had a bad experience in a school drama class that put me off public speaking for decades. The good news is that these fears can be overcome. Hard work and determination to improve are the greatest success factors in becoming an effective public speaker. How many presenters could match the King’s dedication when he visited his speech therapist 82 times before a six month world tour? Many presenters do not allocate any time to rehearse their speech. If you have three weeks to prepare a totally new 20 minute presentation allow between 30 minutes and 1 hour a day for preparation and time-block it in your calendar. You wouldn’t expect to become a better swimmer if you never went to the pool, so find the time to practice your speaking skills.
The King’s Tip: Learn to self-evaluate
You don’t learn by doing, you learn by re-doing. Accelerate your learning by listening to your presentation on a video or audio recorder. This highly effective way makes you more aware of the areas you need to focus on – if you can get over the embarrassment of looking or listening to yourself! After watching a recording, take a piece of paper and divide it into two halves. Write down all your strengths on one side and areas that you would like to improve on the other. You will be surprised after this exercise, sometimes you sound better than you imagined. Most audiences don’t judge us as harshly as we critique ourselves.
Tips to avoid
Tips to avoid include relaxing your throat by smoking deeply into your lungs! Voice care is important so drink plenty of water and add lemon or honey. You can also lightly massage your vocal chords before you start presenting. Another piece of bad advice is “always start with a joke”. While humour can connect with your audience, it’s such a high risk approach. You might offend, not deliver it with the best timing or just not tell a funny joke. Not the best way to start your presentation.
In addition to the above tips, The King’s Speech highlights two key lessons. Firstly, only you can change you. If you don’t want to improve or if you don’t think it’s that important then your progress will reflect that. Secondly, being consistent and realistic about changing an engrained behaviour is essential. Put some time aside to rehearse and the improvements will follow.
About the Author
Warwick J Fahy
“I work with high-potential senior executives who need to be more confident and influential with their key stakeholders. I help the executive quickly and powerfully express their opinions into message based presentations – even when under pressure.” Learn more about who I help here.
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