Public speaking is not just about the spoken word. As a presenter you must know your content and your audience. But you also need to know about pragmatics. Pragmatics is the relations between words, expressions, or symbols and their users. And nothing communicates more powerfully than the eyes. Watch this video to learn about eye contact and public speaking.
When I first started out in my speaking business, I was hired by American Management Association to give public seminars in public speaking and presentation skills. One day, the program director sent around a memo stating that all AMA presenters were expected to arrive early to the class. It was not acceptable to show up at 9:00 a.m. What? Who would do that? I always arrived an hour early.
To be a good public speaker or presenter, you need time to set up the room.
When the curtain rises on a Broadway show, all actors are in place. But they don't show up 5 minutes before curtain call. There is a lot that goes on behind the scenes of any performance. In addition to getting into costumes and makeup, actors warm up their voices and review their lines and staging to make sure they get it right onstage. The same is true for public speakers.
As a keynote speaker, facilitator, or trainer, you are giving a performance. What happens before the presentation is as important as the live presentation delivery. Master public speakers know that successful speaking is 90 percent preparation and 10 percent delivery.
So the next time you give a speech or presentation, arrive early. Practice the presentation in the empty room. There's something about getting the feel of the room that can boost your performance. Use the time to do some deep breathing and to visualize a positive outcome. And then get ready to greet every person who enters the room. This will create a positive tone and talking to people before your speech will reduce nervousness. It will also help the audience feel comfortable with you. Next time you're tempted to breeze in at the last minute, don't!
For a free checklist on what to do before, during and after a presentation, our facebook page.
Today marks the eleven year anniversary of 911. I remember it like yesterday. It was the nicest day of the year. There was a noticeable stillness in the air. I headed off to JP Morgan where I was speaking to a group of relationship managers in the private bank. The seminar was on sales presentation skills. We began at 8:00 a.m. A participant arrived late and told me the World Trade Center had been hit by a plane. Thinking this was a fabrication for his lateness I was a bit skeptical. When someone else confirmed his story, I called a break and we all marched out to the lobby in search of a television. For the next few minutes we sat in stunned silence as we watched the towers collapse. I asked the manager if she wanted me to continue the seminar and she said no. We cancelled the seminar and I left to find a hotel since certain areas were on lock down and traveling home was probably not an option.
While this is an extreme case of speaking disasters, public speakers need to be prepared for the worst. The best advice for any public speaker is to have a recovery strategy. You never know when your presentation will be impacted by an unforeseen event.
Take the case of the man who was giving a motivational keynote speech to a large audience and suddenly there was a fire in the hotel. The hotel was evacuated and all the audience members were herded into the parking lot. Did that end the speech? Oh, no. This savvy professional speaker jumped on top of a car and continued to give his keynote speech in the parking lot. He believed the show must go on.
I remember when I attended a National Speakers Association conference. There were 2000 people listening to the keynote speaker on the big stage. All of a sudden, an audience member had an epileptic seizure. The audience was now riveted on the disturbance and she realized she had lost their attention. There is always that moment when you question what is the right protocol. She called out and said "Should I stop?" She paused for a bit and when they removed the man she continued her speech. Again, these are extreme examples but they do happen to public speakers.
It's more likely that when you give a presentation you'll encounter less dramatic mishaps. The most common speaking disaster is when technology fails. The recovery strategy for technology failure is to have a back-up. Put your PowerPoint presentation on a flash drive, send an email copy to the meeting planner, and print a hard copy.
What if it's an embarrassing speaking situation? One woman was giving a speech on a stage behind a podium. The elastic band on her half slip (undergarment) snapped and her slip fell to her ankles. She calmly stepped out of the slip and continued her presentation. This would have been a good moment for some humor.
Which brings us to the best public speaking recovery strategy. Take a line from Rod Stewart's song "Her ad lib lines were well rehearsed." In other words, plan some extender lines. Let's say the lights go off. You could say, "Next time I'll pay my electric bill." But what if they continue to flicker and go off again? If you have a few lines you can extend the humor by adding a new "ad lib." One professional speaker had a technology meltdown. He had five extender lines which he used. He later confessed that he was glad that the problem was fixed after the fifth attempt because he had no more humorous one-liners.
Anticipate what could go wrong in your every day presentations. I've spilled coffee, knocked over a flip chart, and hit the wrong button on the video playback. I even lost my train-of-thought when presenting on a panel. I knew what I wanted to say but couldn't retrieve the word. My brain froze. So I simply asked the audience, "What is the word I'm looking for?" They gave it to me and that was the end of it. When it comes to public speaking or any kind of presentation, the audience will not fault you for flubbing if you recover with grace.
Back in 2001 when my seminar was cancelled, we did recover with grace. We rescheduled the presentation a month later and the attendees performed well. They recovered emotionally and that was the best recovery strategy.
What were your worst public speaking disasters and how did you recover? What advice do you have for other public speakers and presenters?
Certain speech patterns grate on people's nerves. It goes beyond a simple mispronunciation or grammatical error. Just like excessive "ums" and "ahs" in a presentation will distract your listeners, a distorted sound will cause them to focus on your diction, rather than the meaning of your message. Listen to this video to see if you have this common speech distortion - shared by both Carol Channing and former Congresswoman Shirley Chisholm:
When a speaker or presenter leaves out a sound or a syllable, they are guilty of omissions. Otherwise known as deletions, these speech mistakes can cause the speaker to sound uneducated or unprofessional. Often, these deletions are a type of regionalism and frequently, the presenter has no idea that they omit certain sounds. I was recently asked to coach someone because her regional speech patterns were impacting her executive presence and opportunities for advancement. We discovered that omissions were one of her issues. Listen to the video to see if you're guilty of using any of these deletions.
Diction is an important part of public speaking. Mispronounced words become a distraction and your message can get lost. Effective presenters are mindful of their pronunciation. Certain regionalisms become part of the vernacular, but that doesn't mean it's correct. Inappropriate diction or sloppy speech can rob you of executive presence and impact your professional success.
Listen carefully as you watch this video to see if you make this verbal faux pas: