Standing at the front of an audience-filled room with two minutes until I present the findings of my most recent research on how women leaders in higher education construct an active voice and lead for change, I am mildly nervous. I am nervous because I hope to captivate and excite the audience and, following lunch with a keynote address can make that …even more of a challenge. But I am hopeful! Leaned forward in their seats, I imagine the audience is enthralled with my research, their enthusiasm compelling them to jump up and ask marvelous, thoughtful questions… did I mention I have high expectations?
Ninety minutes later, nervous excitement is replaced with calm satisfaction. I am confident that the delivery was, both, purposeful and relaxed; knowledgeable and interactive; serious and humorous. And, while I cannot claim to have enthralled and inspired (those visions always work better in my own mind), the audience was engaged, active, interested, and awake.
In reflecting on my preparation, I came to recognize that the positive energy around the presentation could be attributed to the incorporation of a few fundamental public speaking strategies that really work. Try the following techniques in preparation for your next presentation to wake up your inner motivational speaker:
Prime your subconscious! Help ensure your presentation has a relaxed, conversational tone by priming your subconscious to deliver content on demand, as needed. Decide on the 3-4 points that are most important to your presentation and practice telling those stories in the days leading to your presentation. When the time to speak arrives, the stories will be readily accessible to you and you won’t sound like you are reading from a script.
Grab your audience right away – by knowing them. Knowing your audience means recognizing what they hope to gain from your presentation and how your content can positively impact them. In the first sentences of your presentation speak to that positive impact in a way that resonates with the group you are addressing. Describe life as the audience knows it.
Have a conversation. When speaking engagements are viewed as delivering content to strangers, a wall goes up between the presenter and the audience. To tear down that wall, imagine your speaking engagement as a conversation with colleagues. During the presentation, speak to audience members individually and genuinely, one at a time. The result will be a more relaxed presentation in which the audience feels connected.
Be yourself. When something is really important and we spend a great deal of time preparing, sometimes we convince ourselves to behave in ways that we think we “should”. Maybe we want to be seen as professional and so we strive to appear serious. Or, we think we should own the stage, so we commit to traversing the area throughout our talk. Trying new techniques is a great idea, but behaving in ways that are inauthentic because we think we should is not a great idea. Inauthenticity comes across to your audience. It doesn’t have to be that way! Dry wit? Let it work for your presentation. Like to talk with your hands? Do it purposefully! Quirky personality? Let it shine through. Great presenters come in all personalities; individuality makes a speaker memorable. Prepare, prepare, prepare, but above all else, be authentic!