4 steps to speaking in public with confidence

Updated: Jan 31, 2019

This article walks through the various considerations within the preparation and delivery of a presentation/training and includes a useful summary checklist to ensure you are prepared for the perfect delivery

Positive presentation delivering value with confidence

I am by no means a public speaking expert. I used to get nervous at the idea of public speaking. However, I have always said yes to the opportunities and feel full of reward for having done it.  I’m sharing my approach with you in the hope that it will give you enough confidence to say yes to the next opportunity and get that same feeling of achievement.

To set the scene; many years ago, I I walk into a meeting where I thought I had anticipated the agenda, just a regular catch up of the week’s outcomes and the goals moving forwards. But no, the very first point on the list of topics is the biggest; a presentation…on an unknown subject… in front of the entire company… and the group CEO. I had not seen that coming. I’d been running team training sessions for years, but a full company presentation seemed a few steps ahead.

I’m not sure that sinking feeling of the moment ever really goes away, however I have never said no to an opportunity such as this, and I encourage you to always consider it just that; an opportunity. At first I accepted these ‘opportunities’ in order to challenge myself, to develop a new skill. Now that I have started to master the skill, it is the sensation of achievement after the fact which gets me and keeps me bought in from the start.

Once you’ve committed, the next part is easy. I use the word commitment because it represents not only saying yes, but accepting mentally that this is happening. I remember early in my career trying to think of ways to remove myself from the situation. This is not helpful. Committing in mind to this opportunity will allow you more time to prepare and build your confidence.

Preparation – Content

Before touching that Microsoft PowerPoint button, stop and consider what this is all about. There is no point jumping to the content without deciding what you want the session to achieve. I was taught early in my career that adult learners don’t learn unless they can see the personal benefit in doing so. So take a moment and determine – what is the objective of this session, and how are your audience going to benefit from the time?

Once you’ve determined why you’re doing all this hard work, you need to define the outcome(s) – how will you measure the success of the session? If your session is training, then the outcomes are usually simple as you are trying to teach or improve a skill. If the presentation is less directly linked to outcomes, you need to think harder, or to ask the initiator what they are hoping for?

The final consideration is the audience, so often I attend presentations or training  sessions which are much too simple for the maturity of the audience (very boring) or go over the heads of those in attendance who may not be as technically aware as the trainer (also boring).  It’s an age old rule but you need to know who you are speaking in front of, what their level of skill and experience is, how they learn and how they are motivated.

Once you know the above – writing content will become much more straightforward.

  • Objective – use this to build the mainframe for the content; what does the session need to cover most importantly to meet the objective. Keep referring to the objective to avoid going off on tangents.

  • Outcome – use different learning techniques, consider ways of checking for understanding, and set actions if necessary which achieve the desired outcome from the session. Communicate the intended outcome with your audience

  • Audience – use techniques which promote interactivity and use scenario-based learning to deliver the content at the right level. Check the level of content with someone who represents the audience profile.

Preparation – Style

I’ve referred to ‘content’ because there are so many ways to deliver information. Different delivery methods promote understanding from different learner groups and also serve to keep the audience engaged. PowerPoints are of course a great tool for creating the basis of the content, however overreliance on PowerPoint can alienate some learners, and can also be a bit old-hat. In the events industry we refer to ‘death by PowerPoint’ where every session of the day follows this same format, disengaging the audience. So consider alternatives:

  • Interactive exercises

  • Guest speaker/interview

  • Videos

  • Scenario-based learning

  • Q&A

  • Visual tools

  • Role play

Regardless of the method you use, be sure that you efforts work towards achieving the original objective. It is so easy to get distracted by interesting methods of presenting and totally lose the point. For every PowerPoint slide, exercise, video, Q&A ask yourself “is this contributing towards my overall objective/desired outcome?”

Preparation – Delivery

Once content is prepared it’s time to rehearse. Some articles will tell you the more rehearsals the better, but I’m not sure I agree. Whilst I may complicate things, you don’t want to sound too rehearsed (it sounds scripted) as then if you go off track even slightly, you may panic. However you want to rehearse to the point of being comfortable with your content. I do believe that really knowing your content is absolutely key to a confident delivery.

My preparations start with me reading my content and taking notes. However you intend to present, you’ll need notes to guide you through, keep order and maintain your focus on those three important points; objective, outcomes, audience.

This process is an important step in building your confidence around the topic. When note taking it is crucial that for each slide, exercise, video, you consider to yourself – what do I want my audience to take away from this? THAT is your note to yourself. Whilst I’m sure your notes will be more extensive –this is the crucial point. Making that decision at the start will stop you from fluffing your words, going off on a tangent, talking around a subject and not getting to the point. That one short sentence summarising the takeaway will put everything else into perspective.

Once note-taking is complete, it’s time to rehearse. For me rehearsal 3-5 times is more than enough (and this includes those rehearsals in my head). It is good for one rehearsal to be to someone relevant and to whom you have explained the objective, outcome and audience. However – choose the candidate wisely and no matter how hard or embarrassing it is – welcome, accept and use the critique.

A good presentation allows interactivity. Sitting and listening to one person speak for a prolonged period of time can be dull, and as the presenter, we cannot be sure that our message is being received. Prompt yourself to include semi-regular participation from your audience; ask them a question, run an exercise, test for understanding, encourage a question. This will give you more confidence that they are awake, engaged and working towards the objective.

Execution – The Big Day

It’s the day of my presentation in front of the entire company and the group CEO and regardless of the preparation and the content which I know, I can’t help feeling the nerves of the day; the grand ballroom, the volume of attendees, the grandeur of the event. So how do I calm myself? I drink water (but not too much), I eat (stop that stomach rumbling!), I go to the bathroom 15 minutes before and I joke and laugh with my colleagues beforehand. I do my best to relax through distraction, and it works, I’m up before I know it!

I trained my team regularly on engagement and communication and a key fact within that training about communication serves its purpose here. Effective communication is 60% body language, 30% tone and 10% content (or thereabouts). For this reason, despite my prior nerves, I need to deliver this presentation with confidence and charisma. I need to achieve the objective with my tone of voice, speed of speech and gesticulation of my hands, expression of my face.

I approach the stand, put my notes on the lecturn and say my first line, the slide changer doesn’t work, I make a joke about an events company having technical difficulties at an internal event, the audience laughs and I relax. The rest of the presentation goes brilliantly, if I do say so myself.

Checklist – steps for a strong presentation delivered with confidence!

  • Commit yourself mentally to delivering the presentation

  • Define the objective of your presentation

  • Determine or check with the person requesting the presentation how the success of the presentation will be measured – determine the outcome

  • Understand your audience – skill level, experience, learning styles, size, motivations

  • Create a session which utilises various formats to enhance learning and keep the audience awake (consider interactive exercises, videos, role-play, scenarios)

  • Check regularly to be sure each method of sharing content aligns with your objective

  • Read your content and note take – emphasis the TAKEAWAY from each point/slide/exercise

  • Be sure to highlight the benefit of your presentation to your audience – how will they gain value – get their buy-in from the start

  • Rehearse, but not too much! Don’t sound too scripted

  • Try and find a relevant guinea pig for practice but define to them the objective, outcome and audience in advance

  • Make sure to involve your audience – keep them on their toes and check for understanding

  • Relax in advance and distract yourself from nerves

  • Use your body and tone to emphasise your message

  • Relax and deliver with confidence – remember the power of body language and tone in communication

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