I love public speaking. I used to hate it.

I got to a point in my corporate life where I was sick and tired of using the same old methods for presentations and wanted to discover how to come across as a real human being while delivering my talks, rather than a corporate spokesperson.

I wanted to learn and understand how fantastic speakers were able to inject their own personality, humour and really fascinating stories into their presentation.

And I wanted to know how they these inspiring people are able to seem so relaxed and ‘themselves’ when on stage.

So I went on a bit of a personal journey – and learned why my presentations just weren’t doing it for me, (not to mention my audience) and what I’ve done to change that.

I hope these tips will help you significantly improve your overall performance.

Give a powerful performance.

Public speaking is a form of entertainment. It is therefore your responsibility to perform.

Be generous to your audience. Speak from the heart. Give them a part of yourself. Be willing to show them your true self.

Stop thinking about yourself and how nervous you are, or how important it is for the audience to like you and start thinking about the individuals in your audience and how you want to give them something really valuable.

If you really want to transform the way you present, then be willing to put some time, effort and energy into changing the way you prepare and deliver. The results will be so well worth it!

Yes, but how?

I used to give presentations fairly regularly to colleagues and industry peers. I had a formula that I relied upon.

This formula worked, in as much as I was able to stand up and talk confidently, and the audience understood what I said. I may have even shared something with them that they didn’t already know.

But did I leave my audience inspired? Did I reveal my personality? Did I ad-lib at any point?

The answers were consistently no.

Not only that, but for days prior to the presentation I was really, really nervous. I felt highly-strung and would get butterflies on and off right up to the event itself. Afterwards, I would feel absolutely drained and would need to sleep for 18 hours just to recuperate.

My old method for preparing for presentations:

  • I planned in advance
  • I knew who my audience was going to be
  • I thought long and hard about the key messages I wanted to convey
  • I made sure the content had my audience in mind

So far so good…

  • I had a script which I memorized
  • I put together PowerPoint slides with key bullet points on them
  • I rehearsed in front of my husband
  • I used imagery where I thought appropriate

This is where it all went pear shaped…

The result?

A word-perfect presentation, lasting the exact amount of time I’d been allocated, but which lacked any genuine enthusiasm, passion or personality.

The above formula, though used by thousands of people around the corporate world, simply doesn’t work.

What I changed

I’d decided to transform the way I gave talks. This is how I did it.

First step:

The first thing I did was to read two books:

Lend Me Your Ears – By Professor Max Atkinson

Life’s a Pitch – Stephen Bayley and Roger Mavity

What I learnt:

  • Ditch the Powerpoint
    Most slides are nothing more than the speaker’s notes and add nothing to the audience’s enjoyment of the presentation.
  • Pause
    Give your audience time to absorb what you have said, this gives far more impact to what you say.
  • Don’t rehearse in front of people.
    It is a fake environment and it will make you feel more nervous. Instead, go through your ideas with people – share with them some of the content to see what they think of it and listen to their feedback. It will help you improve your content and make it more relevant.
  • Plan, plan and plan. The more thought you put into what you want to include in your presentation, the better it will be.
  • Rehearse one or two days prior to the event
    Do this in private. This means you can try out different ways of speaking, different pitches and placing emphasis on different bits – but don’t rely on a script.

Second step:

I visited a voice coach.

This is where the transformation really occurred. What I learned in the two two and a half hour sessions I had with Bridget Casement from VoiceBusiness (www.voicebusinesstraining.co.uk) was invaluable. If you are serious about improving your presentation skills, increasing your confidence and injecting your own personality into your talk, then I strongly recommend you visit a professional who can coach you.

What I learned:

  • Improve body language
    Whilst my voice projected well, my body posture was very child-like as if to say ‘please like me’.
    I learned how to feel relaxed in my own skin and to stand and move confidently.

  • Be generous to the audience
    Focusing on the audience and thinking positive thoughts about how you’re going to entertain them really takes the focus off yourself and relieves your nerves.Bridget explained that thinking something like “You are gonna love this…” as you approach your audience will radiate the right kind of energy. So instead of focusing on yourself, and how nervous you are, concentrate on your audience and how much you want to give them inspiring and interesting stories.
  • Look at people
    Make eye contact with individuals in the audience; it will make you 100% more connected to the whole audience. Remember to look at different people in different parts of the room throughout.
  • Use mind maps instead of scripts
    This has literally transformed the way I give presentations. Instead of remembering pre-written scripts, I now have a wonderful tool to prompt me with stories. This ensures that my real personality shines through, instead of being word-perfect and somewhat robotic.
    I recommend you read Tony and Barry Buzan, The Mind Map book.
  • Breathe properly
    Breathing is key to being relaxed. It’s so obvious, but in my opinion it’s the single most important thing to ensuring that you come across as calm and collected.
  • Warm up the body and the face
    By using simple stretching techniques (much like Yoga) and stretching the face, it makes me feel so much more prepared to ‘perform’.
  • Warm up the voice
    Being able to project your voice is a skill. When I first attempted to project my voice, I stuck my chin out and leaned forward, which isn’t necessary. By warming up the voice and doing various exercises, you are able to warm up the vocal chords which helps when projecting your voice.
  • Practice the walk!
    Bridget shared with me that the audience will make a judgment on a speaker just based on the way they walk to the stage! Therefore it’s really important that you ‘start’ your presentation even before you walk into the room. I now walk into a room with my head up and smiling!

Third step:

Say yes when asked to give a talk!

Since I’ve put in practice what I’ve learnt, I’ve learned so much more! As with anything, the more you put into practice what you’ve learned, the easier (and better) it becomes.

Not only that, but each time I give a talk I’m asked by someone in the audience to give another one at a future event – that’s got to be good feedback!

Be a Smile Millionaire

“When you smile and the smile comes from your heart, … your soul smiles through your heart and your heart smiles through your eyes. Then you are a smile millionaire… enriching others souls and enriching yourself.” – Paramahansa Yoganada

One tip for being more relaxed throughout a talk is to smile. It’s unbelievable how much smiling can add to your presentation. I have never felt like the sort of person who can be funny whilst giving a talk. However by simply smiling, it’s amazing what funny anecdotes pop into your head whilst giving a talk.

Feel free

The beauty of not having PowerPoint is that you have nothing to be attached to. I’ve spent so many years relying on slides (as a crutch) that it’s so liberating not to have to use them anymore. Only use slides if it actually aids the audience in some way.

BE on stage.

When you’re on stage, BE on stage.

Allow yourself to enjoy being the centre of attention. Soak up that electric atmosphere of standing on a stage in front of a room full of people, who are all listening to you.

I’ve spoken at events where others have also been speaking. I’m amazed that they choose to stand on the ground on the same level as the audience rather than up on the stage, or that they stand behind a podium. The audience wants to see you; they want to see your face as you share your story with them. If you stand on the same level as them (or behind something), many at the back of the room won’t feel so connected.

The results

The result of my efforts is that not only do I enjoy giving talks, I enjoy preparing for them and I enjoy the compliments I receive afterwards.

Instead of being something I dread, giving presentations is now something I relish!