I cannot think of a better way to increase your status in your job, business or industry than becoming a skilled speaker. Standing (or sometimes sitting) in front of a group and presenting is a daunting prospect for people ranging from corporate beginners to CEOs. There is good reason for this. Most people do not get much, if any, training during their many years of school and few companies provide it to employees as part of their professional development programs. The ones that do don't provide enough.
This means that employees, business owners and even CEOs are left to their own devices because the fact is that somewhere along the road, you will be asked to stand up and deliver a presentation.
So what does it really take to master these essential, professional skills? Because this is such an important topic with so many details, I've decided to write about it in segments. Following is the first installment:
1. Start to prepare the minute you get an assignment to speak or present. Immediately begin to gather information: thoughts, facts, figures, stories, statistics, press reports. Create a file and jot down every thought that pops into your head because these thoughts can pop out just as quickly. You can always edit later.
2. Brainstorm. Try this technique: take a manila (or any color) file folder and open it. Using the smallest size sticky notes, using the information you've already collected, jot down words or short phrases, one thought per note, tear it off the pad and stick it on the inside of the open folder.
3. Organize your thoughts. Start arranging the sticky notes. Main message should be at the top. Place key messages across as the first level and supporting messages below each key message as appropriate. Now, suppose that while you're working on this, your boss walks in or you get called away. Simply close the folder and put it away. When you take it out to work on it again, there everything is just as you left it.
4. Practice. There is no substitute for this. The best speakers set aside time to rehearse. This means saying it out loud, not mouthing it on the plane, train or in the car on the way to the gig. That is way too late.
5. Practice more than you think you have to. I tell my clients to use a ratio of 10:1; for every hour of speaking, practice for 10 hours. Think that's outrageous? I'm being conservative. And the higher the stakes, the more you should practice. But take heart: I consider all work geared toward delivering a presentation to be practice. (You know all those people walking down the street talking to themselves? They're not crazy – they're practicing!). Furthermore, as you gain experience, your practicing will become cumulative and reduce the time necessary to allocate to it.
6. Practice using mirrors, audio/video recorders or in front of a small group of trusted colleagues. Such tools won't always be necessary, but as you gear up toward becoming a fantastic presenter, using them is important because they let you become accustomed to seeing yourself as others see you, a key strategy on the road to improving presentation skills.
That's enough to get started. Next time and in future posts, I'll address stage fright, nonverbal communication techniques, whether or not to memorize, podiums and lecterns and how to spice up a presentation by using stories, humor and other devices.