Writers love words, but speaking in public can be an unfamiliar experience for some first-time authors who want to deliver speeches, offer book signings or lead workshops. After teaching classes to potential trainers and coaching individual speakers, I’ve compiled 10 of my easiest presentation tips anyone can use.
- Change your mind. Your business, the program or venue may require a lecture format for your speech, but instead of thinking “presentation,” think “conversation.” You are bringing something to your audience they want to hear. Above all, remember your passion for writing and your own work. Enthusiasm invites ease, whether you are making small talk with strangers at a social event or explaining why you decided to write that book at this time in your life.
- Differentiate your notes, if any. Use extra spacing, bold lettering, color or other highlighting to mark key points or changes in topic. If you lose your place during delivery, these eye-catchers will help you find it. (Keep a paper copy available to limit the impact of unexpected technical difficulties.)
- Know your venue. Visit the site before your presentation when possible, and find out if the arrangement of the room can be changed to suit your preferences. Is there a podium, and if so, how do you want to use it? If the room contains an interactive whiteboard, do you understand its capabilities?
- Answers close; questions open. If you have been invited to make a presentation, gather the first set of expectations from your host(s). Then ask attendees what they are hoping to learn from you. You can query your audience in advance or, if you are comfortable adjusting your content during delivery, at the beginning of your presentation. Ask yourself, “How can I help? How can I be of service to my listeners?”
- Self-coach with care. “Natural” can be a better word for self-coaching than “smile,” if smiling is not your default expression. You may or may not learn to enjoy public speaking, but you’ll improve over time. You might even become more relaxed. But fussing mentally with internal commands like “relax” often makes individuals more tense, not less. If you feel your nervousness creating a physical response, such as shaking hands, simply turn your focus back to your audience and what you are saying.
- Solid objects are grounding. Psychology teaches us that humans like “barriers of neutrality” when encountering strangers. As speakers, this means we may like to see desks between us and attendees or we might prefer using a podium, etc. If you decide to venture out into your audience and find this move unsettles you, touching a solid surface (such as casually placing a hand on a wall, podium or desk for a moment while continuing to speak or listening to a question) can restore your focus.
- Be ready to park a question. If the event includes a Q&A or any opportunity for an audience member to raise a question, be ready to admit, “I don’t know.” When it makes sense, plan to collect such questions in your notes or on a board, and tell audience members when and how you plan to send answers to them, such as a follow-up email, on your blog and so on. BONUS tip: Public events are a great opportunity to build your mailing list. Some authors circulate a sheet of paper or conduct a drawing. An author at a recent event passed out simple 3×5 cards; interested attendees dropped their names and email addresses into a box as they exited the auditorium.
- Put your personality to work. Whether introverted or extroverted, own the room; own your material. (Introverts are often excellent public speakers, even if they are shy in social situations.) I love sharing a tale from the Jewish tradition. Parts of the story vary, but the central character is most commonly known as Reb Zusya, a rabbi. Zusya is said to have told God he worried that one day he might be judged for all the ways he was not like Moses. God said no one would judge him for not being like Moses. Zusya would only be judged for all the ways he was not like Zusya. Do not try to impersonate your favorite speakers or stretch too far into someone else’s style. Simply be the best possible you.
- Pick one. After you finish your presentation, book signing or other event, congratulate yourself, even when – especially when – your delivery did not meet your standards. Even well-trained speakers make mistakes. (As my classical violin instructor said before my first concert in elementary school, “Whatever happens, just keep playing.”) The energy for learning a lesson may be increased by practicing self-acceptance and kindness. After noting your best moments and strongest techniques, assemble a short list of ways you would like to improve, including any feedback from friends, coaches, mentors or management. Let the list sit for a day or a week, choose one item to improve, and do not be afraid to start small. Our biggest victories are often won incrementally over time.
- Notice how you rate presenters at events you attend. Rooting for others, even silently, helps us remember that most audience members want us to succeed. Those who do not…do not matter.
Candace Schilling, publicist, offers PR Communication and Training to spiritual teachers and faith-based communities. For more inspiration as well as tips about marketing and strategic communication, check out her articles or find Candace on LinkedIn.