Strengthening Your Speaking Savvy

  • Believe in yourself. I once coached a fellow who was terrified about an upcoming presentation. When I asked him to imagine me as his audience and give his presentation, he stood up rigidly and his words came out in a muffled, garbled mish-mash. I asked him to sit down and tell me what his talk was about. Immediately he transformed back into the personable, animated colleague I knew and presented a good bit of the talk. When I asked what changed when he was seated, he looked puzzled, and then broke out in a big grin as he realized he had just given a great performance. What he needed were pointers and practice.
  • Practice is at the heart of successful speaking. Practice out loud, and perhaps even record your run-through. Even after twenty years as a professional speaker, I never assume that what I want to say in a new presentation will sound as good when I speak it as it does in my head. When I hear myself speak it out loud, I invariably encounter bumps that need smoothing, ideas not fully formed, and words that get scrambled. Nothing beats practice at helping you sound like a pro when you present.
  • Don't worry about making mistakes. Instead, accept that one thing or another often does go wrong—and you will survive. One of the benefits of experience is that we don't let the inevitable glitches throw us. But regardless of your level of experience, most audiences want you to succeed, and they will forgive a lot. Imagine the worst thing you can imagine happening and plan how you'll deal with it. And if you lose your place, misstate something, or run into any of the many other possible snags, don't call undue attention to it. Just keep going.
  • Happily, most software audiences appreciate solid content over performance pizzazz. I've heard speakers at software conferences who fell short in terms of the technicalities of speaking, yet kept their audiences mesmerized because of the compelling nature of their ideas and information. In preparing your presentation, clarify your objectives. Identify the key points you want to make. Incorporate stories and examples to illustrate your points. Involve the audience as much as you can, even if only by asking how many have had a certain experience you're going to talk about. End by emphasizing the key points you want people to take away and apply.

And whatever you do, don't distribute your complete text in advance—especially for an after-lunch presentation. The reputation you save will be your own.

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