Connecting with your listeners

Learn how to dazzle your audience by honing your skills on public speaking

Connecting with your listeners

ACCORDING to surveys, public speaking is the No. 1 fear of managers around the world while the fear of death is No. 7

The truth, of course, is that while everybody experiences some degree of nervousness before presenting, speaking in public is a skill, and anything that is defined as a skill means it can be developed through training and constant practice.

I have been running presentation skills workshops across Asia for many years. During every workshop, I ask the participants to analyse why people have this incredible fear of making a presentation.

While I recognise that some explanations are valid — for example, making a presentation when my boss and the senior management team are present — the majority of the fears are actually not based on fact, but often on individual perceptions that do not stand up to scrutiny.

To help plan an effective, efficient and engaging presentation, follow the POST model — a four-step approach to do a quick overview of a presentation.

1. Purpose

Are you trying to inform, persuade or inspire your audience? Each purpose will shape the nature and style of the presentation.

2. Objectives

Establish what you want the audience to know. Remember every member of the audience is consciously or unconsciously listening to “radio station WIIFM”, so fulfil the WIIFM principle. Tell them “What’s in it for me” as early as possible.

3. Select

Select possible topics or points based on the area of focus.

4. Tools

What supporting tools will you use? It could be PowerPoint slides, video clips, and handouts.

Having a plan allows you to structure the presentation. Most presentations start with an introduction that must grab the audience’s attention within the first few minutes. Start with a startling statement: use a quotation, arresting graphics or music, or share an anecdote.

Next comes the body. There are many ways to structure the main body. For instance, it could use logical progression or a list of points. It could compare and contrast. It could follow a time sequence such as the past, present and future. You can also zoom in geographically, from global, to regional to local.

Finally, finish with a conclusion. Review, highlight and emphasise the key points, benefits and recommendations you have made.

Refer to the opening remarks in the introduction and usually make a call to action — what do you want the audience to do next.

You owe your audience and yourself a good presentation, and creating an effective presentation takes planning and practice.

Here are some tips for you to follow:

* Prepare early. Don’t wait until the last few days to prepare, and ensure you practise the entire presentation, including powerpoint slides. Think about your audience — who they are and why they are here.

* Be clear about your purpose. If you are informing or persuading, the technique is simple. Tell them what you have to say and sound spontaneous, conversational and, most important of all, enthusiastic.

* Use body language effectively. When you are presenting, the audience will perceive what they are seeing and hearing through the three main components of communication. These are the actual words you use, the way you use the words and your non-verbal or body language.

Remember, your words account for only 5 to 7 per cent of the communication process. The way you say them accounts for 35 to 38 per cent, and the rest goes to body language. In other words, body language accounts for nearly 60 per cent of your communication! What you say is important, but how you say it carries more weight.

* Use humour with caution. Humour is a double-edged sword and takes great skill and experience to get it right. On the other hand, everybody loves a story, so use stories based on personal experience to illustrate points or toliven up the presentation.

In summary, prepare, practise and connect with your audience. Remember your energy and enthusiasm is infectious. Know your material, research, and prepare for questions.

Ensure your presentation meets the “three Es” test — efficient, effective and engaging. Manage your time well, keep your material simple, use your body, voice and eyes effectively and, most of all, enjoy yourself.

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