Not scared of public speaking? Doesn’t mean you’re good at it

You glance at your phone…1:10pm. This presentation was supposed to finish 10 minutes ago. You look to the front of the room as the speaker gestures excitedly and kindly asks if you can ‘bear with him for another few minutes’ while you watch your colleagues squirm and fidget in their seats beside you. By now you don’t even remember what the presentation was about and are more focused on your angry internal dialogue than the speaker. Eventually, the speaking stops and people rush out of the room to get to their next appointment, while the presenter watches on with a satisfied expression.

Has this ever happened to you?

Presentations and public speaking are key leadership communication skills that help you in many professions. Maybe you are an entrepreneur trying to pitch your idea, or a corporate climber trying to impress. Regardless, good public speaking skills can improve your image and make yourself known as a subject matter expert and leader.

I attended a Toastmasters club for two years to get over my fear of speaking. I’ve never looked back and consider it to be one of the most transferable and useful skills that I’ve ever developed, regardless of what position I have held at the time.

However, there are people that damage their personal brand with their public speaking skills. The worst speakers are those that think they are fine because they are not scared of public speaking. This false confidence often means that they don’t bother to try to improve their skills. Why would they? They don’t have any issues with speaking.

If you’re not scared of public speaking, it doesn’t mean you’re good at it

Don’t be like these people. Sometimes being scared of public speaking is good for you.

Here are the top three ways to ruin your personal brand through public speaking. Avoid them.

Thinking the presentation is all about you, the speaker

It is true that public speaking is a good way to impress a lot of people at the same time with your knowledge and communication skills. However, it is also true that people in the audience at your presentation probably want to learn something from your material.

People in the audience at a comedy show don’t go there to marvel at the comedian, they go there to be entertained. People at a TED talk go there to learn about stories that someone else has researched or lived through.

Remember that when you are designing your presentation, you need to impart the information in such a way that holds the interest of your audience. This includes making it interactive, slightly humorous (if possible) and avoiding the ‘Death by PowerPoint’. Failing to focus on the needs of your audience is a sure fire way to alienate them and have them feel like they have wasted their time.

Even if you aren’t scared of public speaking, ask yourself ‘Is this enjoyable for my audience?’ ‘Would I care about this if I was in the audience?’ If you wouldn’t want to listen to is, I doubt anyone else will either!

Failing to stick to the timeline

There are few things more annoying than when a presentation goes for too long, because audiences often have somewhere they need to be. Once you’ve gone over time, you will lose people. There is no point continuing your presentation in this way just to get through the content. Nobody cares at this point.

People who aren’t scared of public speaking will often “wing it”. Again, this is false confidence tripping them up.

The number one reason that presentations go over time is because the speaker hasn’t bothered to practice and therefore has no idea how long they will speak for. If you never run through the presentation (even once) the way that you would actually present it, then you have no good way to tailor your content. You will probably just use all the content you have. Actually, trimming it and leaving in the best bits is often going to be the best approach. You are likely to come across to your audience as unprepared.

When your presentation goes over time, you are not catering for the needs of your audience and you are simply ‘trying to get all the content out’. If you are over time, I suggest you wrap up and either email your remaining content to the participants or letting them know where the content is available to be viewed if they so choose. Continuing to speak is *pointless* because your audience is ready to leave and will have already lost interest.

Making no effort to know and understand your content

Ever been to a presentation where the presenter fumbles around on stage, using a lot of ‘um’ and ‘ah’ and clearly doesn’t know their content very well? I have, and it’s brutal. Even if you are a nervous presenter, you will be able to present your material much more effectively if you simply prepare and understand your content.

If at all possible, don’t memorise your presentation. It is better to understand your content so well that you don’t even need to memorise because you can simply have a conversation with your audience. If you do need prompting, use small palm cards with short reminders on them for the major points – then know the content behind the summary points very well. If you lose your train of thought, the palm cards will be there as a reminder. I’ve often presented with palm cards and never actually looked at them, but they can be a nice prop to use as a safety net to give yourself more confidence.

The hardest presentations are those with a lot of numbers, facts and figures that you have had to research. This is because you often need to know them off the top of your head. These are good things to write down on your cards if you have trouble memorising them.

Remember also, that preparing for a presentation will reduce your nervousness if you are not a strong public speaker! There are no good reasons not to prepare.

Be a good public speaking communicator. Prepare for your presentations, know your content well and stick to your timeline. Good luck!

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