Public Speaking – A Secret to Success

Public Speaking – A Secret to Success

I wasn’t able to get to my blog post on Friday last week due to a string of seminars I’m currently running. Unusually we had three turn up within a week of each other so I had to prioritise and I’m afraid the blog post lost out this once. That said, I’m catching up now and figured it would make a good topic if I wrote about how important public speaking is for my own strategy and how you should consider embracing it, if you aren’t already.

Seminars/Presentations, whatever you want to call them, are gold dust. If you’re given the opportunity to run one, grasp it. Where else do you get a number of people interested in your subject in a room together? If you run it well then you will undoubtedly come out with lots of opportunities and increase your chance of being approached to provide a service or product after.

I wrote about presentation skills a while back where I focused on ten strategies for a successful presentation. Today is more about re-enforcing the importance of being seen out there in order to build your personal and company brand.

I know it’s quite appealing to shy away from these opportunities – the thought of standing up in front of a load of people and talking fills most people with fear but here’s the truth – it get’s easier and you need to start somewhere. Still to this day I get a little nervous when I’m about to speak but it’s natural and helps me to fire on all cylinders. If you get nervous, don’t let it stop you – much better to learn how to control the nerves than miss out on the fabulous opportunities these events provide.

I started presenting at University as it was part of some of the courses. When I then started Optix I made sure that I had every opportunity to be in front of people, either one to one or in a group presenting. I was never a natural speaker so one of the best things I did to help was to join a business networking group called BNI. At BNI’s all around the world, you meet up every week and have to stand in front of 20-40 business owners and tell them about your business for 60 seconds. This really focuses the mind and hones your presentation skills. If you’re starting out now why not look up a local BNI chapter and throw yourself in at the deep end.

There are also organisations like Toastmasters which I’ve heard are excellent (Although I’ve not had first hand experience) – These focus on improving your public speaking skills so if you’re not sure where to start then I’d recommend looking up one of these in your area.

Here’s another great tip. I attend a number of conferences and always watch the speakers very carefully. I want to improve my own style so I try and capture the essence of where these people get it right and adapt it into my own flow. Recently I was lucky enough to watch Chris Brogan speak and then even luckier to sit next to him at a sponsors dinner that night. He was able to do 20 minutes off the cuff, without any help (no powerpoint) while making people laugh and leaving people with major takeaways by the end of his talk – genius! I asked him at the dinner how he did it and if he had any tips – he said to me something that resonates every time I find myself in front of others – ‘Alastair, I’ve had a lot of opportunities to fail’. Chris speaks hundreds of times a year, all around the world – that’s an awful lot of times to work out what works and what sucks – it’s that simple – practice makes perfect. Thank you Chris :)

How do you get on with public speaking? Do you avoid it? Are you working on any plans to improve yourself and want to share these with others?

Presenting – Pleasurable or Painful?

Presenting – Pleasurable or Painful?

As an entrepreneur or business owner you’re going to find yourself in positions where you are presenting – Fact. This could be for any number of reasons including raising finance, selling a service/product or simply marketing your business. At Optix Solutions, a large part of our marketing plan is devoted to giving seminars & talks where we aim to educate and give our audience value while not over selling our services. No one likes to be sold to, it’s important therefore that our presentation skills are good. I never stop learning this subject – there is always room for improvement.

Over the last 10 years I’ve provided countless seminars and presentations for pitches, so today I thought I’d share with you my ten strategies for a successful presentation.

1). Watch Others – I’ve learnt more from watching engaging speakers and noting down things they do, than from reading any written material on the subject. Find motivational speakers and absorb everything they do; how they move, what they say and how they interact with the audience. I strongly suggest looking up conferences that have good keynote speakers – Seth Godin (marketing guru) is as good a start as any. There are lots of videos of him on YouTube.

2). The Fear – You’re afraid right? Yeah, most people are but a bit of fear can go a long way (did I just make that saying up?). Seriously though, some nerves can be a good thing; they heighten your senses and pump adrenaline round your body, allowing you to work at an optimum level for the time you are presenting. Admittedly, if they are completely overwhelming it might be wise to work on them with a professional, especially if you’re going to be presenting a lot. There are loads of tactics for getting over nerves but the one I use is to keep reminding myself that the people I’m presenting to are only human – they got up that morning and pulled their socks on just like I did! It’s amazing how that Board Director or Chairman just suddenly got a lot cuddlier.

3). Prepare – The old faithful – “By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail” Benjamin Franklin. I would never dream of rocking up to a seminar or presentation unprepared, it’s asking for trouble. Make sure you’ve rehearsed a few times and you know the length of time you’ll take. Obviously this should fit in nicely with the time slot you’ve been given. I also try and second guess some of the questions that could be coming at me if it’s a Q & S format so I’m as ready as I can be for them. Be careful however, not to ‘over prepare’, you don’t want to be reading parrot fashion off slides if you can help it and sometimes if you rehearse too much that’s what can happen. I usually run through a presentation twice before hitting the main event for real.

4). Turn up early – There is nothing more stressful than rocking up to something you’re speaking at late, not to mention how unprofessional it looks. Make sure you are there well in advance of the first attendees and ready to setup. You know it’s not going to be simple to connect your laptop to that projector, so why leave it till the last minute? Turning up early also allows you to work out the room: What the acoustics are like, how the seating is laid out, the lighting and anything else that could put you off or make you uncomfortable in your presentation.

5). Summarise your presentation early on – Telling your audience what you are going to talk about upfront is beneficial as it sets the scene and their expectations. Always begin with what you’re going to cover later and keep it simple as possible. If you’re making a short presentation then try and keep it to only a few points.

6). Aim your presentation at your audience, not yourself –
Although you could be an amazing keynote speaker that people would pay to come and watch, I’m guessing that like me, most of my readers will be using presentations to build their personal or company brands in one way or another. If this is the case then remember one thing – your audience want solutions to their problems and needs – they don’t want to hear you babble on about how amazing you are and how great your services could be for them – aim the material at their needs. Understand your audience before the presentation if possible.

7). Long Wordy Slides? No Way Jose! – Long slides with lots of boring text won’t be remembered. If you’ve prepared well, as I mentioned earlier, then you should be able to talk around the content of a slide. Less, in my opinion, is better. In fact, this last year I’ve watched many more presenters using single slides with just one graphic (we all know that visuals work well – picture/thousand words blah blah blah) and a one or two liner to bring home their points. These are fantastic and certainly a route that I intend to adopt on my quest for better presentation skills in the future.

8). Humour – Try, where possible, to inject humour into your presentation. This will break down the barriers with your audience and engage them more. Once your audience is laughing it will help no end with those nerves I mentioned earlier. People connect with humour, if you’re struggling, then why not get others to look over your work and see if they can see opportunities for the occasional jokey image or funny reference. A caveat here though – be careful with humour and public speaking – the last thing you want to do is offend your audience. Steer clear of taboo subjects for jokes.

9). Connect with your audience – No-one wants to listen to a boring, stiff, monotone presenter. The best speakers I’ve seen work the room – it’s an art I tell you. At the most simple level make sure you connect (eye line) with as many people as possible. Focusing on one individual will alienate the rest of the room. If you want to take that a step further and feel comfortable doing so, then engage with a few people one on one (and by name if poss). If you aim a question at one or two people you’d be amazed what that does to the rest of the audience – they soon start listening, thinking it could be them next! I always try and move about a little in order to inject a bit of life into my talks (I have a habit of pacing) – I also use hand gestures as much as possible to control the room (one very effective one is to put your own hand up when you want others to respond in the same way). If you are going to pace about, then it’s good that you got there early so you can test if your shoes will make a distracting noise on the floor – I kid you not, it’s one of the first things I look for. :)

10). Be unique – You want to be remembered don’t you? You didn’t just get up and spend all that time in front of that frightening audience for nothing did you? Do something unique if possible – give value away where you can (especially if it allows you to follow up after the event). If there’s a call to action for your audience, make sure they know what it is. Thank them for listening.

Although I wouldn’t say that I’m an expert, I’ve learnt a lot about presenting and public speaking in the last 10 years – I’m fascinated by the art of it and intend to continue honing my skills over the rest of my business life. I hope this article will help a few people with their own fears or questions about the subject. Good luck…