The era of stand up public speaking, with cue cards and auditoriums full of people may belong to the bygone days of school public speaking competitions and the dreaded stand-up oral. So is there a place for public speaking in our more virtual work spaces, with agile meetings and geographically dispersed teams?
Whether we’re making a contribution in a team meeting or asking a question in a stand-up, we all still have to speak in public from time to time. And whether you’ve pursued a career in IT or not chosen a business development path, most employees will be called upon at some stage to present, to train or to lead, all of which involve public speaking.
And just in case you’re a back office software tester, and think you’ll be spared the speaker spotlight at work, there’s always your best man speech, daughter’s 21st or eulogy for a loved one!
What has changed in the domain of public speaking however, is how it is done and the challenge for an audience’s attention, which is diverted by email, social media or the ‘to do list’ of the day. This explains why formats like Ted Talks (20 minute sound bytes) and Pechakucha presentations (20 slides in 20 minutes) have become so popular, since they provide the instant gratification that our short attention spans desire.
Truth is the realm of public speaking has become that much more competitive and more challenging to attract and retain your audience’s attention.
So at its core, for public speaking to take place, seven elements need to be considered;
The speaker – and that of course is you! One of the dangers of technology is the minute we introduce the word ‘presentation’ into the workplace, every one hauls out their powerpoint slides. But powerpoint is not the content, you are!
The audience – this is our most vital of elements (next to you, of course) and some good audience research beforehand to determine if there is a common audience ‘type’ will help you tailor your message much more specifically. Speaking to a group of millennial graduates considering your firm as a potential employer requires a far different approach to a mature client Board, to whom you are positioning a pitch.
Feedback – communication is said not to have taken place until the feedback loop has been completed. Feedback is often gauged by the questions one receives at the end of a presentation or perhaps a side conversation with an audience member after the session. Nonverbal cues, however are present from the outset of a presentation from the eye contact of an audience member, to the shuffling in the seat or frown on an audience member’s face.
The fear of public speaking
So no.1, next to visiting the dentist is the fear of public speaking (or for many, the order is reversed)! ‘Glossophobia’ as it’s called, has probably visited most of us at one point or other in our lives, and would typically be identified with an experience of;
I’ve heard a lot of suggestions over the years from imagining your audience naked (frankly, that just frightens me!) to power posing, courtesy of Amy Cuddy.
A few tips I have found useful;
People, people, people: this one is courtesy of Brené Brown Constantly remind yourself that they are just people. “Speaking is vulnerable,” says Brown. “It’s a vulnerable act to stand up and be heard, no matter how confident you are. That’s you up there at the front of the room, or onstage or anywhere else you’re letting your voice be heard.”
How to improve your public speaking skills
What’s in it for them? As any business development executive will encourage, start with your audience and what is in it for them? Why should they listen to you and give up their precious time doing something else? This applies whether you’re presenting at a weekly meeting, providing feedback to a report or motivating for a promotion to your boss. Enticing them to listen is key and rather than being viewed as a manipulative tactic, is builds rapport and establishes relationship.
Dry run, dry run, dry run Also known as practice, practice, practice this is often where I see great presentations derail at the last moment, because too much time is spent on beautifying slides or heaven forbid, adding just one more slide!
Less is more This old cliché dictates the fewer the slides and the less text, the better. If you have to use slides, go for lots of pictures and white space and speech captions. The content is in what you have to say and how you say it.
Finally after attending to all of these tips and practices, it is really important for your authentic self to shine through. It may be in the opening of your presentation with a confession to being somewhat anxious, or in a powerful closing with a personal story you choose to illustrate a point.
In this information age, when all one needs to do is spend five minutes on ‘Dr Google’ to find out anything you potentially need to know, why should we listen to you? In spite of the pace and the information overload, we are still enticed by an authentic brand, a personalised packaging of a message and an authentic presence. It is what makes public speaking, artful.