You are a few weeks away from giving your first talk at a big industry conference and you’ve never been a fan of public speaking. Fear not. Study the following tips and you will be ready in no time.
Research your audience
Who will be listening to your talk? What companies will they be representing? What will they be looking to learn from your presentation? If you don’t have the answers to these questions, try asking the conference organizer for attendee demographic information, recommends Jeannine Kay, public speaking coach and owner of Giving Voice in San Francisco.
Establish your takeaways
In the process of developing your presentation, think hard about what you want your audience to talk about after the fact. “Ask yourself what your key messages will be,” suggests Kay. “What do you want your audience to walk away with and remember?”
The best presentations impart wisdom that couldn’t otherwise be gleaned from a simple Internet search or reading an industry-specific book. Come to your talk with some original insights and have a solid idea of what actions or lessons you’d like your listeners to learn from your talk.
Plan to interact
The most memorable presentations are those that somehow incorporate the audience, be it by way of bringing an unsuspecting conference-goer on stage or polling listeners with electronic survey consoles.
“Be authentic when you are up there; it will help you make a connection,” she says. “Speak the language that they speak, don’t talk in jargon that they may not understand. Identify a few key messages that you want to get across and talk about those messages in several different ways. Don’t overload your audience with too many concepts; they may zone out.”
While speaking, try to change things up. Don’t just stand behind a podium; instead walk around on stage or maybe even stroll down to the level of the audience. The more you interact, the more effective your presentation will be.
Practice, practice, practice
Even if you think you know your material cold, it is vitally important to practice. If you don’t, “game day” can feel a lot like “trying to get up and run a race by just putting your shoes on, but not doing any training at all,” says Kay. She recommends not only focusing on what you will say, but how you will say it. “Non-verbal communication such as what you do with your hands and your face is very important.”
Calm yourself down
Even if you have glossophobia (a fear of public speaking), there are ways to calm yourself down before you go on stage. “I frequently refer to Amy Cuddy’s TED Talk where she found that when people make themselves bigger and take up more space, it encourages people to take risks,” says Kay.
A person who is hunched over and staring at their smart phone will be less mentally prepared to stand up in front of a crowd than a person who is standing in a confident position with their arms at their side and their head held high. “When you are in front of a crowd, instead of putting your legs close together or having your arms wrapped around your torso, balance yourself on two feet with a few inches between them and don’t shrink behind the podium.”
Simultaneously, try to breathe slowly and deeply. Kay explains that when we get anxious, we tend to take shorter breaths high up in our chests. “Combat that by slowing down your breathing even before you get up there.”