Some people are natural-born speakers. They were those eager young souls who volunteered to read aloud in grade school and now welcome any opportunity to present in front of a group. For the rest of us, public speaking is a real-life nightmare. The very thought of standing up in front of a group, all eyes on you, is a terrifying endeavour. At one time I fell into the latter of these two groups. I was always social, but I avoided the on-stage spotlight for many years. Sweaty palms. Belly butterflies. You name the anxiety sign, I had it. Then, a few years ago, things started to change.
I say started to change because it didn't happen instantly. I was approached by an agency in 2007 to give a presentation about strategies for social media success. My initial reaction was no, definitely no. However, I recognized that it was a great opportunity to increase awareness about my new consulting business and, well, the pay wasn't too shabby. Eventually, I said yes. After signing a speaking contract, I counted down the days until I faced one of my biggest fears. Four years later, with more than 120 keynote speeches under my belt to audiences ranging from 30 to 3,000 people, I truly love delivering a presentation. Here are three things that helped me find my strength on stage.
1. Deck out your presentation deck with audio, video, and pictures
During my early days keynoting events I did some social media consulting work with Tony Robbins. As part of the project, I traveled to a few of his seminars and got a unique perspective watching his motivational magic on and off stage. While Tony himself is a magnetic character, with hands the size of my head, I saw how he incorporated music and video to turn his presentation into a show. He played energetic tunes, hilarious clips, showed touching photos, and each element was timed perfectly to keep the audience moving, laughing, and listening.
Think about it like this. Data slide, data slide, data slide, funny video. Repeat.
It sounds simple enough, but it's amazing how many presenters are great speakers but their slides are dry and boring. I learned a lot from Tony, so I now sprinkle YouTube clips and powerful images throughout every speech I do* (*I use Keynote presentation software on a Mac and rely on Snapz Pro X to record video online).
2. Make timely tweaks to keep things fresh
Whether you're presenting to a small group or large audience, there is often someone in charge who wants to check out your slides before you deliver your speech. While I'm fine sharing my deck, I warn this person that my slides are a work in progress. I am constantly tweaking information before I go on stage. There is nothing an audience appreciates more than hearing you say that you just found a new stat that very morning or you grabbed a relevant screenshot the night before. For example, I just spoke at a mobile learning conference, and I included a Twitter quote I saw from an attendee just hours before my speech started. I don't recommend that you change every slide at the last minute, but sprinkle in a few final tweaks to keep your deck fresh and your audience engaged.
3. Tell a few good stories to make your slides human
I watch my audiences closely and I can always tell when they're interested. Their heads are up, their eyes are ahead, and they're waiting anxiously for more. These moments always happen when I tell stories. I didn't learn this right away, but after a couple of years on the speaking circuit I started to notice the exact times when I had the most people engaged. My stories aren't long-winded, but simple little anecdotes to make the content more compelling.
For example, when I talk about how the tablet is changing the way we live, work, and play, I talk about the day my 2-year-old son walked up to our television set and tried to push on the screen to "make it do something." Clearly he was spending too much time on the iPad, so he assumed all screens were touch screens. This quick story always resonates with the new parents in the room.
Aside from building a killer deck, a good pre-speech routine can help to fight your nerves. Get some exercise. Eat some healthy food. Avoid caffeine at all costs. Once you get a few presentations under your belt, you never know, you just might like it too.
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[Image: Flickr user Andrew Scott]