At some point in every business person’s life, you will have to give a presentation and if you’re like me, it can still be an anxious experience.
I have given hundreds of talks and presentations and here are 10 ideas to help you get over the nerves and into some presentation sizzle. At the end I have a little video clip to pull it all together for you …
1. Local color
No matter where you are, find some interesting or funny comment about the town you are in or the group you are with. A reference to the weather, your last visit, a local sports team, or a news event can be fun. Find something to bring people in, get their attention and maybe have a laugh.
People feel warm when you take the time to bring in a story about their town or organization.
2. Getting over the nerves
Here’s a secret. You just need to get through the first two minutes. If you can get through the first two minutes, you will relax and be fine.
So here is a trick. When you find your “local color” piece to open your talk, memorize it. Just say it over and over and over again so when you get up on the stage, you have your first two minutes down cold, people will laugh and you are on your way.
3. Be visually profound
Many speaking coaches recommend that you get rid of slides altogether. Sometimes that’s OK, but images can also help you create a more fun and interesting presentation.
Whenever I do a talk I challenge myself to add something visual and cool that will help make the audience remember me. With all the sources of free or low-cost visual elements on the web today, this is easier than ever. For less than $ 20 you can even buy animations to embed right in your powerpoint. Is there something you can do visually to make them go WOW? Laugh? Sit up and take notice?
4. Visual prompts, not bullets
By now, there should not be a presenter on earth talking from a list of bullet points. That is so 2005. But to help you get through 45 minutes of talking, you might need some visual prompts so use large photos and images to accompany your story, not derail it.
5. Involve the audience in a low-impact way
There is nothing more awkward than asking your audience a question and then getting total silence. Instead, ask a question that simply calls for a raised hand, like “how many bloggers in the audience?” This gets people involved without putting them on the spot.
6. The 7 minute intervention
Here is a test. The next time you are listening to a great speaker, count how many times your mind starts to wander back to the office or the upcoming lunch break.
Of course this varies by person and even by setting, but on average people start to fade away about every seven minutes — even if they are interested in your talk!
So every seven minutes I have an intervention to bring them back to me. I’ve already mentioned a few ideas like introducing something visually profound or asking the audience a question. Other ideas might be to say something funny, physically change my position, dramatically raise or lower my voice, or shifting the emotional tone of the talk.
Every seven minutes, do something to shake them a little in their seats.
7. Rule the slides
I recently rolled out a brand new speech on the future of social media. I practiced that thing so many times I was sick of it. But I’ll tell you what. When it was showtime, I was smooth as silk without even looking at the slides.
By the time I was on the road with this talk, I could hit that 45-minute time limit on the button without looking at a clock. Organizers appreciate that, believe me. It’s OK to be a little under, but never go over the time limit.
Rule the slides, don’t let them rule you.
8. Entertain to teach
When I first started speaking I approached it as though it was as an extention of my teaching. That was a mistake.
When people attend a speech, they expect some entertainment. At some point I crossed a line and I became more of an entertainer than teacher … but it makes me a more effective teacher. Make sense?
9. Assemble stories
Many of the best speakers rarely create all-new speeches. They collect different stories from their careers and then assemble them in a way to make it relevant to an audience. I was told that former US President Bill Clinton, one of the highest-paid speakers in the world, keeps a stack of note cards with his “stories” and then assembles them right before his speech.
I am getting better at this. I have enough stories now that I know which ones really connect to different audiences but this only comes from experience.
Start collecting now!
10. The two minute warning
Most standard talks include a Q&A period and you don’t want to face dead silence!
Here is a trick to keep that Q&A session lively. Two minutes before you are through, say this: “I’d like to move to my final point before taking your questions … so start thinking about your questions now.”
This gives the audience a task and a signal that they need to formulate a question now. This trick works with every audience except college undergraduates. People who ask questions are keeping the rest of the class from leaving the room so it normally doesn’t happen in a college classrom! : )
Putting it all together
Here is a two-minute video clip of my recent speech on the Future of Social Media at a conference in Minneapolis. Watch for how I incorporate some of the interesting presentation ideas:
1) Visuallly powerful animation
2) Well-rehearsed local color
3) Asking for a raise of hands
4) Entertainment value
5) A physical intervention in the form of an extended pause.
Click here if you can’t see the two-minute video of keynote speaker Mark Schaefer.
Top photo of Mark Schaefer speaking in Utrecht, The Netherlands, courtesy of CC Chapman