By John Matthews, founder and president of Gray Cat Enterprises Inc.
“The human brain starts working the moment you are born and never stops until you stand up to speak in public.”
— George Jessel
What is it about public speaking that drives people nuts? Many studies have shown that given the choice of what registers the greatest fear in humans, “untimely death” actually is less fearful than speaking in public!
1) Public Speaking or Humiliation
2) Peer Rejection
3) Untimely Death
It is hard to believe that such angst is caused about presenting to groups. As with many things in life, I believe it comes down to one thing and one thing only: Preparation. Those that are thoroughly knowledgable in their subject matter as well as their delivery of the subject matter, find presenting not only easy, but actually energizing.
One of the goals I have always used in delivering speeches, is to know the material so well, that the well-prepared content is delivered in a nearly ad-libbed fashion. This casual delivery style keeps the audience engaged through both delivery of content as well as inflection in the voice. In the early days of my speeches, I used to have three key words highlighted in my speaking notes for each slide. I would ad-lib the slide but always ensured that I covered the three key words – that was the solution to delivering the message. Now, I practice speeches so much that the “ad-lib” sections and anecdotal stories flow seamlessly to capture the essence of the presentation.
Rules Of Thumb: In a nutshell, make the presentation entertaining! Presentations should be inspirational, exciting, well-thought through and yes, entertaining. From the look and feel of the presentation, to its delivery, it is critical to keep the audience dialed in. Specifically, I prefer the following as my simple rules of thumb:
- Black background with vibrant colors to pop of the slides
- Kabel Ultra Bold font for the best readability – not everyone is sitting in the front row
- No more than 3 bullets per slide in – short and to the point!
- Graphics on every slide – think entertainment and interest
- Presentation should be timed to about one minute per slide – keep the audience engaged
StoryBoard It! Slow down…..and don’t race to create slides just yet. Before you start creating slides for your next presentation, plan what you’re going to say. Storyboard the flow of the speech first – this will make your presentation more cohesive and easier to create the slides. Believe me, some time spent up front in mapping the sequence, will save you more time than it takes to create it. This storyboard process will help you clarify what you want to say, when to say it and how you want to say it. The flow of the presentation is equally important as the content of the slides.
Never, Ever Read Slides: Raise your hand if you have been in the audience of a speech where the presenter read the slides WORD-BY-WORD….positively riveting! Don’t be THAT guy! The audience can read the slides – keep them brief and to the point – accentuating what’s on the screen with anecdotal tidbits that enhance and personalize the slide. Keep the pace moving so that the audience does not fall into a trance staring at a slide with 100 words on it for five minutes.
Be A Story Teller: Personalizing your speech is an excellent way to deliver a message. Interweaving anecdotal examples of real-life stories that help to characterize the essence of the point create a longer-lasting impression on the audience. In addition, these interjections of personal experiences enable the speaker to humanize the points and allow the audience to create commonality with the presenter. The more the speaker can make the content their own, the better the reception from the audience. [NOTE: For samples of Gray Cat speaking clips, click here: Gray Cat YouTube Channel.]
Be Prepared – Practice! Now is not the time to go lightly – this is the area that will make or break your speech. You MUST practice your speech to the point that it flows effortlessly from your mouth to the audience. In your mind, you need to know not only where you are in your presentation but what is coming up next. I always love it when I get “in the zone” where I am simultaneously delivering the speech while thinking about what is going to be presented next. Or as Wayne Gretzky, hockey Hall-Of-Famer would say, “skate where the puck is going, not where it’s been.” That is being in the zone.
Overcoming the fear of presenting is solved through one way only – preparation. Know your stuff, be well-practiced and your delivery will be seamless and well-received. The “rubber chicken circuit” is not for the faint of heart, but with proper planning and preparation, you can unleash your “inner orator”.
John Matthews is the founder and president of Gray Cat Enterprises, Inc., a strategic planning and marketing services firm that specializes in helping businesses grow in the restaurant, convenience and general retail industries. With more than 20 years of senior-level experience in retail and a speaker at retail-group events throughout the U.S., Matthews has recently written two step-by-step manuals, Local Store Marketing Manual for Retailers and Grand Opening Manual for Retailers, which are available at www.graycatenterprises.com.