Remember giving speeches in high school? How you hated standing at the podium in front of your friends? How you were sure they’d laugh at you, point out all your weaknesses, or just plain ignore you? You’d think these experiences of fear, dread, and severe nervousness would be a thing of the past for speakers as they enter their professions of choice.
One bad public speaking experience can really stick with us, sometimes for years. I often hear stories about a terrifying experience from a client’s early days that continues to re-surface. The person can’t shake the feeling that the audience is somehow “out to get them.” The good news is, unless the situation is extreme, this simply isn’t true. As we mature into adulthood and take on professional roles, our audiences mature too. There’s always a chance you’ll have a heckler, but that can be overcome by your confidence and handling of the situation. So next time you take a stage, remember 3 things:
- The Audience is on your side. That’s right, the audience wants you to do well. They know it’s hard to get up in front of a group to speak with all eyes on them. They recognize it takes courage, time, and preparation to present ideas in a cohesive and interesting fashion. Public speaking is hard work. Your audience knows that, and they want you to succeed.
- You are in control of the room. You’re in control of the room, so take control of it. That means you should be “the force” in the room. This requires finesse. Too far to one side of the spectrum and you’re viewed as taking advantage of that control. Too far to the other side and you risk giving control to the audience. Find the balance. I have seen it again and again. Speakers who don’t talk loud enough for everyone to hear. Speakers who start talking while the audience is still getting settled, usually because they’re nervous. (Might as while start while no one else is looking, right? Wrong.) These speakers do not have control. Credibility is damaged.
So what does it look like to be in control without coming off as harsh or pompous?
- With a smile, wait for the audience’s attention. Just wait.
- If you’ve been introduced, thank the person and after a brief pause, transition into your first sentence.
- Begin speaking toward the front of the stage or room.
- This is critical – Be appropriately loud. That’s usually louder than you think you need to be – especially if there is no microphone.
- Engage the audience with your eyes and body language. Exude confidence.
When a speaker possesses this kind of presence, audience members won’t reach for their phones, they’ll silence them.
3. Deliver on your promise. There’s an unspoken oath between speaker and audience.
- For the speaker, that oath says “I promise to give you good content that is well-organized, rehearsed and even interesting!”
- The audience’s oath is, “I promise to pay attention, stay engaged and avoid my phone for as long as you live up to your end of the bargain.”
Notice that the onus is on you the speaker. So prepare. Rehearse. Tell a good story. You owe it to your audience. If you deliver, they’ll clap, you’ll feel good, and everybody wins.
One of the aspects about public speaking I love most is that it pushes any and every kind of speaker, every time. Every situation is new. You cannot deliver the same talk twice, not ever. Achieving presentation presence is a goal of all speakers, and it can be done.
If you’re getting on a stage today, may the force be with you.
Cindy Skalicky, is the owner of On Point Communications, LLC. She coaches speakers on storytelling techniques, speech writing, and overall content development. Master the Message. Contact Cindy at: email@example.com