On a bright Wednesday morning, I arrived at work and swapped my Primark black sneakers for my black suede Zara 3.5 inch heels in preparation for a quick 9.30 am meeting. The meeting ended at 9.47 and just before I left the room, my colleague said “I really like your outfit, nice colours and style” I felt it. The rush of extra confidence. I know my back must have instantly straightened as well. I almost wished I had another meeting scheduled.
And this isn’t new. Every single time I wear heels and dress really nicely, I feel like I can tackle the world. As I left her office I realised that I was wearing the same Zara forest green mid-length pleated skirt I wore the last time I gave an office presentation.
Remember when I was ‘baeless’ and thought I was going to take over the world? Well, I didn’t. Not really anyway. But that week, I had to give a presentation to my entire department. I usually wasn’t fazed by public speaking. On the contrary, I loved it. From primary school to Uni, I participated in debates, and in Uni I compered events. But then a strange episode happened during my final year when I decided to compete for the biggest debating competition and then bid farewell to undergraduate life. It didn’t go as planned and it was woeful. I almost wished the grounds would open.
So understandably, I’ve avoided public speaking since then, and I was almost panicking at this one. Thankfully, it went really well and I got some great feedback. I’ve also had a few more opportunities to improve after that. It’s a constant process.
In today’s world, if you’re going to be relevant, it’s hard to avoid a public speaking event. Don’t be like the interviewer in Nigeria who recently got given the chance to conduct an amazing interview but messed it up because she’s supposedly more of a print journalist not used to speaking and conducting oral interviews.
So, here’s some top 5 tips on smashing a public speaking event:
1. Be confident: Easy to say. But really, be confident. And find whatever your secret confidence booster is. Pretty clothes and shoes? wearing a particular perfume? or staring at yourself in the mirror and saying over and over ‘I am confident’? Someone said taking a selfie could work as well (when you look at the selfie and think ‘darn! I’m so hot, this public speaking ain’t gonna shame me’. Experts also recommend taking a minute or two in a quiet corner to take a deep breath and power pose (i.e putting both arms akimbo). Apparently, that pose makes you feel powerful. Posture is key as well. Stand tall. Sit tall. No slouching.
2. Break the Ice: I find that the first few sentences often determine how you feel and how people respond to you. Be mindful of your audience and if you can break the ice to get everyone settled in. Avoid crass jokes though. Please. If you’re not one for breaking the ice, try to ensure you have an interesting opening to your speech or presentation. Same goes for the end of the speech. Make it count.
3. Talk Slowly: This one I definitely had to learn. It’s easy to want to just ramble on. But no, ensure your words are being pronounced properly and you are speaking clearly. Not too slowly though: don’t put your audience to sleep. The danger of rambling on arises when you are giving a technical presentation or you’re not entirely sure of your facts. At that point, everything comes crumbling down. If you speak slowly, however, you can pick and analyse your words.
4. Lips sealed, Eyes Open, Hands in the air: Take those occasional pauses. 5 seconds. 10 seconds. Make eye contact with your audience. Don’t bury your heads in your notes or on the projector. It may be helpful to find a couple of people in the audience who are listening attentively and nodding at you. This often boosts your confidence and inspires you to go on. Some guy kept yawning at my presentation. I ignored him and looked at the people who were smiling, somewhat. With hands, it’s quite tricky. I personally find it weird when people don’t gesticulate or use their hands a bit when speaking. But don’t over gesticulate as you’ll only distract the audience.
5. Know the facts and Practice: I’ve only included this in case there’s the rare person out there who doesn’t already know it. This is the crux. Know exactly what you are speaking about. Do your research, and do it well. If you’re all nicely dressed and speaking slowly but speaking rubbish, sorry you already lost. Your audience will resort to their phones to pass the time. To be sure you know your facts and can properly deliver it, you need to practise. This is probably the worst bit. It’s no fun practising a speech or presentation over and over. But sorry, there’s no short cut. if possible, practise in front of someone who can pick holes and critique your presentation. If not, practise in front of the mirror. Or better still, video yourself and watch it later. You’ll cringe, but at least like me, you’ll probably realise that you blink your eyes way too many times when giving a presentation, and that’s not cute.
Finally, if you’re using powerpoint slides for your speech, please ensure it is not text-heavy. If not, your audience will fix their attention on the slides and you’ll lose them. Bullet points work better. Watching and learning from speakers is sure a great way to improve. There are a million Ted X talks on YouTube. Find the good ones and watch. Or, just listen to Barrack Obama!
So, your turn! What’s your secret confidence booster and tips for slaying a presentation.
Share your public speaking experiences and tips. The Good, the Bad and the downright embarrassing!
pS: I once compered an event and made a joke about a certain class of people. I thought it was funny, but the audience didn’t and I had to apologise over and over. Avoid bad jokes. If in doubt, don’t say it.