Monday, 19 August 2013

Speaking with Confidence

Yes, speaking, not squeaking (that said, I nearly typed squeaking a few times, it's such a habit now!)  In a former life, I used to be a training officer for a local authority, and even in my current job, I'm pretty much the go-to person if we need to give a presentation to groups of service users or other people.  Apparently I've got the knack, and I quite enjoy getting up in front of an audience, sharing some information & helping people go away with a bit more knowledge than they had earlier.  Giving a short presentation is getting more common as part of recruitment now as well, and can make or break a job interview.  I know a lot of people find it difficult to stand up and talk, whether it's giving a best man's speech, a work presentation, or generally sharing information.  So I've put together a handful of hints & tips that work for me, to make sure you give the best you can.

Image courtesy of  jscreationzs, /

Dress For Success
Look the part - smart but comfortable.  You don't want your clothes to distract from your message, and you don't want to be put off by an uncomfortable outfit.  Think about when & where you're speaking - if you're giving a Best Man's speech, then a suit is probably going to be order of the day, but if it's a group of your work colleagues who normally see you in jeans & a faded t-shirt, they're going to wonder why you're dressed for court!

Know Your Stuff
No matter how familiar you are with your subject, always prepare your presentation properly. Don't just turn up & try to busk it - it will show.  Prepare notes, even if they're just bullet points.  They act as a confidence boost, a check to ensure you've covered all the important points, and can help you get back on track if you get sidetracked by an interesting question or anecdote.

The Techy Bit
You don't need a flashy Powerpoint presentation, unless you're told otherwise, but it can be helpful to keep your points in the right order.  If you do use Powerpoint, or something similar, make sure you know how to use it properly.  Keep the slide transitions simple (and silent!), restrict animations unless they're vital, and make sure your text fits the slide.  And PLEASE know how to actually use the slideshow!  I sat in a training session where the trainer had created a Powerpoint show, but didn't know how to use it at all, and I missed half of what she was saying by being so distracted by the poor use of the programme.

Image courtesy of   AscensionDigital, /

Annoy your family, friends, pets.  Stand in front of a mirror & annoy yourself.  What ever works best for you.  But make sure you read your speech through, out loud until you're comfortable with it.  Check for any words that you struggle to say, or accidental tongue twisters, and make sure it all makes sense.  This is a good chance to check your timings as well.  If you've been asked to speak for 15 minutes, and you've only got 5 minutes of content, you might need to add some more.  Or if you've got 40 minutes of speech & a 15 minute slot, some editing might be a good idea!

Slow Down & Breathe!
Let's get scientific. When you're nervous, your body produces adrenaline, your heart rate increased, and your reactions speed up.  For speaking, this means you're likely to speak faster, in an attempt to get it over with.  Don't.  Your audience won't understand you, and they'll either drift off into a daydream, or ask you to repeat so much you're there twice as long.  Instead, take a deep breath.  The oxygen will slow your heart rate, reduce your blood pressure, dilute the adrenaline, and make you feel calmer.

Embrace the Nerves
Feeling nervous is normal & natural (see above).  A little buzz of nervous excitement is a positive thing, it'll make you seem interested and energetic.  If you're too calm, because you've done this a million times before, you will come across as bored of your subject, and people will be less inclined to listen.

Keep to the point
You might have a million things you'd like to say, thousands of amazing anecdotes & insights to share, but be sparing.  People only have a limited attention span, so the longer you talk, the less they'll listen.  Check with the organisers how long they want you to speak for, and aim for that. If you run short, you can always take questions.  If you absolutely HAVE to fill 2 hours, be prepared to get your audience involved, standing up, moving around & joining in, interaction will keep them engaged.  Or give them biscuits!

Give it a go!
One thing I've learned from blogging is that everyone's got a story to tell, and while it can be easier to do so from behind the anonymity of the internet, people can make a career of being after-dinner speakers, motivational speakers, or trainers.  And you don't need to be famous or successful to do so.  I thought after-dinner speaking was all about former sports people & celebrities, until I thought a bit harder.  People like the local Lions Club, Women's Institute and the like, meet regularly and have speakers at almost every meeting (don't believe me? Have a look in your local paper), so whether it's your collection of mediaeval coins found in your own back garden, the trials and tribulations of being a Wolves supporter, or the truth behind being a blogger, everyone's got a story and everyone can have an audience.  Why not give it a try?

Disclosure: This is a sponsored post, for which I have received payment. I have not been told what to write, all opinions and content remain my own.

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