<-- back to ARTICLES

How to improve your presentation skills -

Part 1: Know where you are speaking and to whom

For many, it is a fear greater than death. It is the fear of public speaking. According to a well-cited survey, more people would rather die than give a speech. If you fall into this category, you are in good company. Famous people who admit to suffering from stage fright or “communication anxiety” range from Abraham Lincoln to Johnny Carson and Barbra Streisand. In fact, it was Mark Twain who said, “There are two types of speakers: those that are nervous and those that are liars.”

Truth be told, no one is a natural born speaker. Anyone can be effective and persuasive as long as they are prepared and have learned the basic skills.

In this first in a series of articles on becoming a better public speaker, the focus is on logistics. Logistics is a huge part of preparation, but is largely ignored. Knowing the makeup of your audience and the layout of the room goes a long way toward making a presentation more effective and raising your comfort level.

In other words, you want to know as much as possible ahead of time by asking a lot of questions.

Who is the audience, why are they there and what is their knowledge of the topic? Are there any preconceived attitudes or biases about the topic? Confirm the number of people that will be attending.

Ask about the layout of the room and what equipment is available. Can you change it? Will there be tables or rows of chairs. Questions about equipment are essential. There is nothing worse then preparing a power point only to learn the equipment is incompatible with your system or the facility cannot meet your needs. If at all possible, check out the site ahead of time. Otherwise, arrive early to ensure everything is ready and working properly.

The time of the presentation and the format for the session is also important. Will food be served or alcohol? Find out if anyone else will be speaking and what they are talking about. People have prepared wonderful presentations only to find that the person speaking before them covered their topic and stole their thunder. How long do you have to speak and does that include time for questions? A little bit of advice: do not prepare a presentation to fill the entire amount of time given. You may need that extra time if expound on a talking point and generally, audiences appreciate a presentation that runs a little shorter then expected.

Finally, get directions to where the presentation is being given and determine how long it will take to get there. Sounds silly, but it is amazing how forgetting these little concerns can turn into big problems.

Webmaster: Ron Wauschek