So you’ve spent the last few weeks whiteboarding, workshopping and brainstorming your next presentation. Maybe you’re sharing findings from a specific analysis to your client(s). Maybe you’re reporting last quarter’s performance to your leadership team. Or maybe you’re running a planning meeting with your team to align on goals and strategic planning for the next fiscal year.
Regardless of what you’re preparing, presenting rarely comes naturally, and it can make or break whether you’re able to communicate your message effectively. It certainly didn’t come naturally for me! When I first started, joining conference calls was enough to make me feel like this: 😲. I’d watch my coworkers slay a presentation and think to myself: “I’ll never be at that level.”
Turns out, all you need is some practice, helpful teammates, and confidence that you can (and you will!) stand up there and communicate the value of your hard work and expertise. While I’m still learning (and always will be) I figured I’d share these public speaking tips and tricks that have helped me to venture out of my comfort zone and feel more confident walking into presentations.
I know what you’re thinking, “Duh, Marianna. I could’ve told you that it’s important to practice. I came here for some tangible tips!” Well, dear reader, I’m here to tell you – PRACTICE MORE! Simply reading through your slides an hour before the meeting isn’t enough, at least not when you’re first starting your presentation-giving journey.
Arguably one of the most important aspects of practicing for an upcoming presentation is to allow yourself enough time to do it. Typically, I’ll try to start practicing about a week before the presentation itself, but this varies based on the size of the presentation and the audience.
If it’s walking a client through a competitive analysis, I might need a couple of days, but if I’m speaking at a conference, it could be upwards of a few weeks. Try not to worry about how long it takes you, it might take you longer as you get more comfortable. This is your journey, not anyone else’s, so it’s OK if you need more time if it will help you give a killer presentation.
I give this advice to team members all the time. As passionate marketers, we have A LOT to say and share, and sometimes it’s hard to remember everything you want to get across when you’re already feeling a little nervous. Writing out everything I want to convey, whether that’s a bulleted list or a set of flashcards, allows me to create mental space to think more critically on the spot and field questions from the audience without worrying about forgetting a key point.
Again, you might not need to do this forever, but it’s a valuable public speaking tip when you find yourself faced with similar challenges.
I can’t tell you the amount of times I’ve written out my speaking notes and then when it came to practice, I found myself thinking, “What the heck was I trying to get across here?” As a chronic overwriter, this is also helpful for me to slim down my presentations to focus on the core message.
Extra credit if you practice your presentation in front of other people, too! There are tons of folks here who speak at conferences all over the world and reach out to the larger team to sit in on practice sessions. We have different experiences and perspectives so you never know if someone can help call out something you might not have considered on your own!
A common side effect of nerves or reading off your notes is that your voice can drop into a monotone. This can unintentionally make you seem uninterested or aloof to a third party even though you’re actually really excited! It’s very common, but you can fix this with a few tweaks.
When you’re not in front of the people you’re speaking to, it’s easy to fall into a flat tone because you’re not able to react to their body language, and vice versa. I think it’s even more important to practice vocal inflection in this case, because your audience doesn’t have the visual cues to understand whether you’re mad, sad, or excited about what you’re presenting.
It sounds silly whenever I give this advice, but I learned from one of my former coworkers that you can improve your vocal inflection by treating the phone like another person. I’m sure I look a little crazy to folks sometimes, but I’ll gesture to our conference phones because it helps me show more emotion in my speech and reflect my excitement for all the cool stuff I want to share.
The same thing goes for in-person presentations, especially when you’re presenting for long periods of time. Your audience is going to be a lot more engaged if they feel your energy and excitement, too! For anyone who’s seen Wil speak literally anywhere, I’m sure you’ll testify to his expertise in this area. 😃
There are plenty of times where you’ll get hit with a question or something in the room will throw you off and distract you in the middle of a presentation. All good! It happens to the best of us, we’re all human! I was in a meeting recently where a huge spider descended from the ceiling, but we just kept rolling with the presentation rather than disrupting the meeting to draw attention to it (until later, that is 😉).
Chances are that your audience probably didn’t notice, and drawing attention to it will only make it worse, so keep calm and carry on.
Sometimes when the conference line goes quiet or there’s no response after you pose a question to the group, the subsequent silence can feel awkward. You may think: “Did I say something wrong? Was my question unclear?” Deep breaths!
Many times folks might just need some time to process all of the info you just served them, so settle in the silence and give them a chance to speak up. In fact, setting into silence can be a power move and set the onus on your audience that you’re looking for them to engage in the conversation, especially when it involves a call to action.
Just as it’s important to practice your material and vocal inflection when you present to a group, owning the room in terms of your physical presence is also important in order to reinforce your authority and leadership or expertise. Below are a couple of ways you can practice “owning a room”:
Our own Larry Waddell is a huge proponent of this. When he first suggested that I stand and deliver a presentation during a client meeting, I probably looked like this: 🙄. What does standing up have to do with anything? And I don’t want to stand up for hours in what are already uncomfortable shoes!
After I took his advice, however, I definitely looked like this: 🤯. Standing up immediately helped me feel more confident given that everyone else was sitting down and I was “looking down” at them.
That’s not to say that stand and deliver is always necessary, definitely read the room to see if it’s more of a casual atmosphere. Whether you’re sitting or standing, however, try to avoid fidgeting, including:
- Swiveling in your chair
- Pacing the floor
- Wringing your hands
People generally don’t know when they’re fidgeting, but it can come across as distracting, or make you seem nervous. When you practice, try to pay close attention or ask a friend to watch you rehearse to see if there’s an opportunity to cut down on these mannerisms.
Another way to own your presence is to make eye contact with the different folks in the room as you speak, including when you discuss points that directly relate to that person or the project they’re working on.
That doesn’t mean you have to give them laser eyes, but rather, give them a nonverbal cue to make them feel like they’re part of the discussion.
Looking back at where I started in my presentation-giving journey to where I am today, I feel proud of all the time and effort because it’s led to a huge boost in confidence. I hope these public speaking tips will help you get closer to feeling the same way!
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