Do you want to communicate like a champion? Have your audience hanging on your every word? And leave everyone wanting more when you finish? Here are eight top tips to help you do just that.
Know your audience
Who are you presenting to, and what are they turning up to hear? For example, research the people across the table from you if you deliver a sales or investor pitch. By checking out their LinkedIn profiles, you can tell if they are interested in getting straight down to business to talk about facts and figures or if they prefer to shoot the breeze and get to know people first.
This will allow you to adjust your presentation style accordingly. If you have bad news to deliver in your presentation, get it out of the way early. If you are presenting online, ask people to turn their cameras on and keep them on mute, but encourage them to ask questions and add comments in the chat.
Record your presentation
Use your phone and record one of your practice sessions. Watch it back and check your content, body language, and eye contact. If there are elements you need to improve on, change them. If you are presenting online, practise in front of a mirror. Facial reactions are important on the small screen, so keep your expressions in check. Record the actual session, too, so you can review it afterwards. And remember, the more you practise, the better you get!
Don’t forget to pause
Take the time to pause when you say something really important in your presentation. Highlight those moments in your script in advance, and when you deliver them, take the time to look around the room to ensure the audience gets the message.
Ask yourself what single sentence you would like the attendees to take away and remember from your presentation. Once you identify this key message, focus on getting it across effectively. Repetition is good here, and don’t forget to pause after you deliver it!
Change your approach
Be prepared to alter your tactics during a presentation, particularly during a sales or investor pitch. If you notice you are not connecting or people don’t seem as interested as you would like them to be, change your approach. Maybe you could ditch the slides and speak to the audience directly. Perhaps you could interact with the attendees more. Think on your feet and do something differently if you feel it isn’t working.
Drop into a Toastmasters club, either online or in person. There are more than 16,000 clubs in 145 countries. Toastmasters teaches you how to manage your fear of public speaking, schools you leadership and communication skills, helps you run meetings effectively, and encourages you to develop listening and evaluation skills.
As a guest, you are welcome to turn up for almost all of these meetings to see if your chosen club suits you. As a member, you are assigned a mentor to help you on your speaking journey to achieve your communication and management goals. Although Toastmasters clubs originally met in person, the organisation has adapted, and many of its clubs are now hybrid or online only.
Evaluate your performance
Think about how you did after your presentation. Did you connect with the audience? Did you feel comfortable as you spoke? How could you improve when you present next? Use your presentations as a learning experience and an opportunity to grow and improve.
It can also help to ask someone in the audience to give you a private evaluation afterwards so you get an objective view of how you performed and how you can do even better next time. And if you have concerns about particular areas, you can ask your evaluator to keep a watchful eye on them.
Prepare for the Q&A
Many speakers work hard on their presentations but often forget about the Q&A session afterwards. You need to work as hard on the Q&A session as you do on your talk. Try to anticipate what the questions might be and prepare some good answers.
If you can, practise preparing and refining the answers to these questions with a trusted colleague. Speaking live at a venue can also help get the event organisers to ask the first question or two, especially if you agree on what they will ask.
Volunteer to speak
Take every opportunity to practise and improve your public speaking and presenting skills. Volunteer to chair meetings for your local charity, sit on committees, attend conferences, and speak up at work. It is also worth watching and listening to other top speakers to pick up their tips on improving. You can do this in person or online. Whether you enjoy speaking in public or not, the way to improve it is to do more.
And finally, remember to visualise success. Imagine the audience reacting positively; see them smiling and applauding, and run that image through your head a few times before you begin to speak. This is an excellent way to help you relax and give your best performance.
Anthony Garvey, DTM is the Toastmasters International 2023 UK public speaking champion.