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issue 55

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Training Bulletin Issue 55

Fred can't come to the meeting today as he's suffering a nasty bout of glossophobia

Three out of four of us would love to be able to produce a sick note like that whenever we had to give a presentation. The fear of public speaking was first recorded in a guide to the art of living over 2,000 years ago:

Many are ready to die in battle, but few can face an assembly without nerves.

So there have always been a lot of people who get stage fright or worry about speaking in public. Unfortunately, being in good company is small consolation because the bad news is that many of us are increasingly being asked to address meetings as part of our work.

Writing a report or a business case isn't enough: these days we have to be able to present it as well. This can actually be a great opportunity – if most people are reluctant to give presentations, then becoming confident in doing so can be a real career boost.

Where do I start?

A quick search on “public speaking” on Amazon gives over 30,000 results of publications addressing that issue. However, many of them boil down to the same key points:

One: Focus on what you are trying to achieve

What's the purpose of your presentation? Write down the key points you want to make – it's not enough just to have a vague idea of what you want to put across or you will seem vague. State your objective in terms that include the following:

And never forget that one of the things you are trying to achieve is to demonstrate your own competence. You can be a genius at your work but if you can't communicate that, you'll see less competent people being promoted over you.

Two: Understand whom you're addressing

The better you know your audience, the more accurately you can assess how much to tell them, what will persuade or motivate them or what will confuse and bore them. How do you then speak to people you don't know, such as potential new customers? The key is to look at the assumptions you are making about them.

Three: Plan what you're going to say

How are you going to introduce your topic? How are you going to develop and then conclude it? Consider Mind Mapping, outlining or storyboarding to design your presentation – and we don't mean by this, just start writing your Powerpoint slides. Consider the bigger picture first to make sure your presentation tells a story, each point follows logically from the previous one and you bring it to a conclusion that satisfies your audience. Only then should you start thinking about your slides.

Four: Now practise it!

No easy way out of this one. The notion that you can just improvise and that you'll sound fresher for doing so has left many presenters floundering. Going over your presentation means you'll know your material, which will increase your confidence. Practising helps you avoid stumbles and pitfalls so you will look relaxed and in control on the day.

Find out how your audience will perceive you by recording yourself or getting a friend or work colleague to act as guinea pig for you. This will help you realise how your body language works so you can keep the good things and change the others. Return the favour and learn from your colleagues as well.

Five: Interact confidently with your audience

Watch what other presenters do and avoid their mistakes. Tell your listeners what you're going to cover, how you're going to handle questions, whether you'll provide handouts and if so, what sort.

If you've already sent a copy of your Powerpoint around, and this is increasingly the norm, make sure you won't just be reading from the slides. Explain that you'll supplement the content with more detail where they need it and go quickly over the parts that are straight forward.

A common worry is, “What if they ask me something I don't know?” Firstly, if you have prepared by considering your audience, this is less likely to happen. But if it does happen – and it can, even to the most experienced presenter – then be prepared to say that you'll find out and get back to them. Most people are quite happy with that.

A key attitude is to assume people want you to do well, not that they are there to see you fail.

How Do I Do That?

You may now be thinking, these all sound very well, but how do I actually do them? If Amazon lists over 30,000 books on the subject, then a short bulletin won't be enough to make you a confident presenter. If you think these do sound like ideas that will help you, take them further by booking on our Essential Presentation Skills course.

To ensure your and your staff's presentation skills are the best they can be, contact us at or consider booking a training course.

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