Get comfortable with your own voice and master your fears
Never turn down an opportunity to speak to the public. After all, you give presentations all the time, whether you’re trying to explain what you do for a living to your daughter’s kindergarten class (or skeptical relatives on holidays), giving a listing presentation while seated at Emily Brown’s kitchen table, or (cross your fingers) addressing a joint session of Congress. And every presentation is an opportunity for your audience to readily realize that you are knowledgeable, articulate, accessible, charming — and therefore someone they want to know, someone they want to trust with their hopes and dreams … and maybe even their money, their house or their votes.
“But I’m afraid to speak in public,” you say with a sad smile and a defeated shrug. Well, guess what: You’re an adult, so get over it (and have a little faith in yourself). You have to speak in public. To refuse is bad for business — and for your career. The 10 scalable suggestions below should help:
1. Research the topic. You must understand the subject better than anyone in the audience does. And when you know that you understand the subject better than anyone in the audience, your self-confidence will bloom, and it’ll be easier to speak.
2. Define your audience. Every presentation is designed for a specific audience. Is the presentation for children, for teens, for adults, for adults of a certain age, for men, for women, for your friends and relatives, for the general public, for professionals or for people interested in a specialized subject — like buying and selling homes?
3. Write the presentation. Never give a presentation off-the-cuff. Include personal examples to illustrate the points you make. Audiences like that!
This is my own ideal structure for a presentation:
I tell the audience what I’m going to tell them. (The Introduction)
I tell it to them. (The Body)
I tell them what I just told them. (The Conclusion)
Finally, I tell them to do something. (The Call to Action)
I cannot overemphasize the Call to Action, which can be as simple as, “Get back to work,” or more specific, such as, “Let’s decide on a price for your house.”
4. Decide on the form of the presentation. Will you deliver your talk alone or with a partner? Will you use props? Will you use software?
5. Rehearse, rehearse and rehearse until you can deliver the presentation from start-to-finish without notes, without taking your eyes off the audience and without sounding like you memorized the whole thing. (This process is not effortless.)
When you step in front of the audience:
6. Introduce yourself. Tell the audience why you are smarter than they are (in a nice way). For example, at the beginning of the first class of the Excel course I teach, I tell the students my name, that I’m an electrical engineer, that I’ve been running computers since 1971, that I’ve been using Excel since it was invented, and that I’ve been teaching Excel since 1997. With those credentials out in the open, the students noticeably relax and trust that they are in capable hands.
7. Begin the presentation. (Do not begin with a joke.)
8. You will find that some audience members are very good at disrupting the flow of the presentation with questions. Do not get sidetracked and go off-subject trying to answer non-germane questions as they are asked. As the presenter, have the intestinal fortitude to say, “We’ll get to that in a few minutes,” or, “Ask me again at the end of the program,” or, “Talk to HR about that,” or, “That’s above my pay grade.”
9. Conclude the presentation with the Call to Action, whatever that may be. Give the audience your contact information. If time is available, invite audience members with questions to remain for a Q&A session. If a question is asked that you are unable to answer, simply say, “I’ll find out and get back to you.” Then, find out and get the answer to the person as quickly as possible.
You need people to know you and to trust you. The fastest way to accomplish that is to stand in front of the people and talk to them, and 500 at a time is quicker than one at a time.
Thank you for your attention, and keep up the good work!