Presentations and Training
The sections that follow describe some key points regarding effective presentations. In addition, some excellent resources available for the prospective speaker are as follows:
- Toastmasters International— http://www.toastmasters.org. Toastmasters is an international organization of clubs that meet (typically weekly or monthly) to provide a safe learning environment for presentation skills. Attendees are provided instruction and the opportunity to prepare presentations, receive feedback, and even practice ad-hoc, on-the-fly presentations. Most major cities contain clubs.
- National Speaker's Association— http://www.nsaspeaker.org. The National Speaker's Association is geared toward the professional speaker; however, it has local chapters that often have "candidate" or other less formal instructional groups. Many of their members also provide coaching to nonprofessional speakers.
- Public Speaking for Dummies by Malcolm Kushner— This book covers fundamental guidelines for preparing a presentation. Kushner gives advice for the occasional presenter on keeping your audience's attention, overcoming stage fright, and ways that speaking can enhance your career.
- AskOxford.com— http://www.askoxford.com/betterwriting/osa/givingpresentations/. The AskOxford website has a nice tutorial on preparing and giving a presentation.
- Community college courses— If you struggle greatly in this area, consider taking a course on public speaking at a local community college. One thing is for sure: Practice is the single greatest way to overcome fear of speaking and to help you learn how to create more compelling and interesting presentations.
Don't Wait Until You Are Asked to Speak to Learn This Vital Skill
At some point in your career, if you are moving forward and aggressively seeking opportunities, you will be asked to give a presentation. If you wait to prepare until you are asked to speak, you will severely hinder your ability to shine during this pivotal moment.
The opportunity to speak can be a groundbreaking moment for your career. As I've mentioned previously, a great amount of respect is given to those who speak in front of an audience. If you do it well, your credibility with those in attendance will grow tremendously.
If you have never trained as a speaker, I recommend taking a speech communication course at a local college or, better yet, join Toastmasters. Toastmasters (http://www.toastmasters.org) is an organization that provides training and practice speaking opportunities. Most groups meet either every week or every other week.
The ability to speak will help you present yourself better in interviews, group meetings, and even with individual presentations.
Cover No More Than Three to Five Main Points
As a rule, I break my presentations (regardless of length) into three tangible points. I might ultimately cover more information in the form of subtopics and tangential points; however, members of the audience will typically remember information better if you anchor it on a few key points.
Focusing on a few key points helps you, the speaker, stay focused. This is critical. The world of technology has so much information that, at times, we strive to get all the information to those who are interested. The drawback is that we end up losing a good portion of the audience. Information takes time to digest, and too much of it makes the presentation appear disorganized.
Work from an Outline, Not a Script
It is distracting to watch a speaker read his presentation directly off of a paper. I start thinking that I could read the presentation myself—I don't need something read to me. Instead, create an outline of the topics to be covered. You can write a script, but plan to use the script only in practice. When giving the presentation, use the outline.
This allows you to look up during the presentation and creates more synergy between you and the audience. Even if you lose your place and have to refer back to the outline, the audience will enjoy your presence more if you are making eye contact.
Look at the Audience
Expanding on the preceding point, make sure you make direct eye contact with your audience. If this is difficult for you, simply look over the room starting from your left, and as you are speaking, scan to the right. This will ensure that you do not leave out any portion of the audience. Making eye contact keeps the audience interested in you and your presentation.
There are, of course, countless other techniques to help you speak more effectively. However, practice is the best solution. You will mess up a few times during presentations. And although some people seem completely natural in front of a group, the fact is that they have probably given numerous presentations to get them to that point.
I cannot overstate the value of public speaking. That skill and the ability to effectively run a meeting will place you at the forefront of projects. The exposure will ensure that your name is at the top of the list of respected professionals at your company and even within your field.