Originally published March 2023
Presenting in front of people can be nerve–wracking – it doesn’t matter if it is in person or online. Many of us tend to be hard on ourselves and think that we appear incompetent if we make a mistake or that we’ll be judged harshly. It's one of the main reasons people tend to stick to a script rather than pausing, connecting, and having a conversation with their audience.
We don’t have to feel this way!
Let go of the need to be perfect. Instead, incorporate these tips to truly engage your audience when you're in the spotlight.
When speaking, even in a casual setting, people tend to use filler words to allow their brains to catch up. Filler words can take the form of "um," "like," "okay," "you know," and so on, and these are common and natural. An excellent way to check OVERUSE of fillers is by recording yourself and tallying every time you stall the wording of your message.
Be your own gentle critic, and weigh the use of filler words accordingly. Unless you are aiming to be a public orator, your audience will forgive minor idiosyncrasies IF you focus on what matters most - your audience's experience. Focus on them, not you.
Creating a script is one thing, and practicing it is the next logical step. But most presenters do not practice effectively. It is not uncommon for even the most seasoned presenters to still be editing slides and memorizing notes the night before a presentation. Contrary to popular opinion though, research studies do not support the 'I work best under pressure' notion.
It’s time to evolve your practice regime by locking in your slides and/or script well in advance and practicing aloud without reading from your speaker notes. Practice your opening AND you’re closing while anticipating your audience’s responses (and potential variations!), and space your practice rather than bottleneck in the 11th hour.
Recognizing how stressful public speaking can be, elevate your skills by performing full dress rehearsals. Not only is this an effective way to run through your lecture or pitch or team meeting reports, but it can also hone your body-language skills.
Have you ever watched someone speak and been distracted by a consistent pen-clicking or layered bracelets that jingle with every movement?
Have you ever worn a new outfit to an important meeting, only to realize in the moment that the tag is digging into the back of your neck?
When speaking in front of a group of people, consider taking a good hard look at your choice of jewelry, watches, or squeaky shoes before taking center stage. And, although a new suit might boost the confidence and help to connect you with your audience, it can have the opposite effect with unforeseen fashion distractions - for you and for other people. Full dress rehearsals are only complete when you incorporate everything within your control - including your attire.
It's easy for a well-rehearsed (or memorized) pitch to sound 'canned' or like you're reading from a script; however, this will not create a connection with your audience. Carefully curated speeches ought to be reserved for Toastmasters competitions and press releases. Instead, find a way to make your presentation personal, as if you're telling a story or engaging in a conversation with your audience.
Whether your audience is large or small, online or offline, people like to feel they're interacting with other humans. Pause, observe, notice, listen, and invite their participation.
These tips are among many considerations you might wish to incorporate to achieve your objective and win the hearts and minds of your audience.
Engaging with your audience always wins.