The number one fear of most adults (even above death) is speaking in public.
Yet the ability to communicate to groups of people is a skill that can make a critical difference in our careers and in our ability to share information, ideas, experience, and enthusiasms with others.
A study conducted by AT&T and Stanford University revealed that the top predictor of success and upward mobility, professionally, is how much you enjoy public speaking and how effective you are at it.
Most of us have experienced more than our share of boring presentations. After what seems like hours, we still don't know what message we were supposed to get.
Maybe the speaker put us to sleep with his monotone presentation or we couldn't read the small writing on the transparencies, which didn't seem to match up at all with what the speaker was trying to say.
To avoid being the source of a "sleeper" presentation, you need to build your presentation skills. Here are some simple guidelines to overcoming stage fright and preparing for a successful presentation.
Developing the Attitude of a Successful Public Speaker
Remember that stage fright is normal and be open about it. Sometimes just admitting that you are feeling anxiety helps relieve it. You should also remember that you are the expert.
The person who asked you to speak believes that you have something of value to share. The people attending the meeting believe that they will receive information of value.
Therefore, your primary duty is to understand what your audience needs to know and prepare the message and supporting materials in a way that delivers your message clearly and powerfully.
Make a strong, whole-hearted commitment to your audience. Concentrating on them and their needs will help you forget about your own self-consciousness.
Some additional tips for overcoming stage fright:
Practice your presentation. Do a pilot test, and if possible, videotape yourself.
Establish rapport by using names and eye contact.
Research your audience. Get acquainted with at least one person in the audience.
Relax. Breathe deeply. Visualize yourself successfully presenting your message to the audience.
Use your own style. Don't imitate someone else.
Preparing for Success – Planning
A good presentation requires careful planning and lack of planning is always apparent. Sure clues are speeches that are too long, too detailed, confusing, vague, boring or off-track.
The most critical step in preparation is understanding the "what" and the "why" of your presentation: its purpose. Your purpose should be the broad general outcome you want the presentation to achieve. Here are three questions you can ask yourself to clarify the objective of your presentation:
Why am I giving this presentation?
What do I want the audience to know or do at the end of the presentation?
How do I want the audience to feel?
Focus on the Big Idea
Once you know your audience and are clear about your objectives and purpose, you are ready to start organizing your presentation. The first step is to find your focus. This is the Big Idea of your material, the power punch, the one thing you want your audience to walk away with. One way to make sure you are clear on your focus is to develop a basic outline of your presentation.
Begin by listing no more than five independent ideas that the audience must understand for the objectives to be accomplished. Then outline your plan for presenting the necessary detail and persuasive material needed to allow your audience to understand those points. This gives you a rough outline of the content of your message.
Getting Their Attention
There are three major sections of a presentation: introduction, main body, and conclusion. Your first step is to get the audience's attention and convince them to listen to you. This happens in the introduction...and this is where many beginning speakers lose their audience.
Grab them with something vitally interesting to them. Give them an interesting story or example that ties into your focus. Use a strong, meaningful quotation or a startling statistic.
Be succinct, use simple graphic language, and most of all, never apologize! If the airline lost your bag and you're in yesterday's clothes...if you're a last minute substitute for the best speaker in the country...if you have the flu and a 101 degree temperature, don't mention it.
Start your speech with power. Make your audience think they're going to be informed, entertained or enlightened...don't let them think they're getting inferior goods, leftovers or anything except your best.
The Main Message
Once you've gotten the audience's attention, you need to deliver what you promised in the shortest, most interesting way possible. Hold people's attention during the main body of your message by creating a lot of mini-cycles with beginnings, middles, and ends instead of having one big cycle that lasts through the entire presentation.
You should plan a change-of-pace every 10 to 15 minutes so that you can break up your talk into mini-cycles and keep attention riveted. You can do this by including appropriate humor, stories, exercises requiring people to move their bodies (even if it's just raising their hands) or calls for a verbal response. Keep these change-of- pace exercises as physical as possible if your presentation occurs after lunch when much of our energy is diverted to our digestive system.
Remember that the purpose of your presentation is not to present all you know about a subject -- it's to present what your audience needs to know in a way that meets your personal objectives as well as theirs.
Many speakers have a dynamite opening and a powerful, interesting message only to drop the ball at the end. You need a strong wrap up. It serves an important role for the audience.
Your conclusion should repeat your main ideas: don't expect the audience to remember a point that they have heard only once. You can signal a wind-up of the presentation with a phrase such as: "Let's review the main points we've covered." Your conclusion should be strong, succinct and persuasive.
Practice and Visualize Success You know your audience. You know your material. You've written a dynamite speech. The last step is to practice delivering it.
Dr. Tony Alessandra is a best-selling author, entrepreneur and speaker in the fields of sales and marketing. To learn more about him, his products and services, visit http://www.alessandra.com.