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Public Speaking – Delivering Your Speech

Speak properly, and in as few words as you can, but always plainly; for the end of speech is not ostentation, but to be understood.

William Penn

A few simple steps can help you improve the delivery of your presentation:

If you have the confidence to use the room to your advantage, and have your ideas straight in your head, the presentation really will take care of itself for most of the time. You will find that, simply through saying it and hearing it often enough, your speech will evolve to a point where you can make slight adjustments on the spot as and where necessary without it becoming confusing.

Starting Off on the Right Foot

The opening of a presentation has two purposes:

The opening should be very brief, in most cases one to two minutes. In that short span of time, you need to present yourself and your topic in a way that will make your audience want to pay attention. In planning your opening, go back to your analysis of your audience.

An effective opening convinces your audience that what you are going to say will be worth their time and attention. If you lose them in the first two minutes, there is not much you can do to get them back with you. In some ways the presentation’s most important element is its introduction.

There are many things you can do to catch the audience’s attention. Considering that a presentation is generally a quite formal setting, this number is maybe slightly reduced in terms of what you can do to catch the audience’s attention and keep your job. However, if you work on getting the opening right, you will find that your presentations receive the attention they deserve. Subsequently, you will be able to hone them to the point where you become a very skilled presenter.

Open with a bold statement. The statement may be controversial – to the extent that it is something you believe and that some in the audience may disagree with. “Controversy” in this case is more to do with slight differences of opinion than saying something which will offend people. But it is fine to open with a statement along the lines of “X is something which is essential to the running of a business”, where “X” stands for something that, up to now, many people may not have agreed was essential. Follow this up by saying “I know, many of you may not agree with me, but this is what I plan to prove to you here and now”.

Making a statement which requires backing up will draw the attention of the audience, as they listen in to see how you will back it up. You will also have introduced your subject and can then follow up with a few lines stating how opinions have differed on the subject, but people with more years in the business than you have had very positive, complimentary things to say about it. In some cases, it may be beneficial to write the opening statement for your presentation after you have written the rest of it. This allows you to make your statement resonate with the message in the body of the presentation.

Using Visual Aids

Visual aids can:

One study has shown that presentations with visual aids are more persuasive than presentations without. There is some dispute over whether the use of visual aids is simply a gimmick to cover for the fact that a presentation does not say very much – an accusation of style over substance – and there are certainly cases where this happens.

But the coherent use of visual aids will make a presentation more memorable to the audience and will allow the presenter to make his or her points more effectively. Getting it right can be difficult, but if you do get it right the pay-off can be huge.

Try to avoid simply copying the visual aids you have seen used before. If you have seen them, then the chances are that your audience will have seen them too. If they were successful then, the audience will be prone to think back to that presentation and either ignore yours or constantly compare the two.

If they were unsuccessful, then it is unlikely that they will suddenly have become more effective. It is best to think of visual aids after you have written the presentation, as this will allow you to think of a coherent uniting factor between the elements you wish to illustrate.

If you can think of a visual aid that can be used interactively, then so much the better. One obstacle which presenters find they run into is the difficulty of saying something that has not been said before, or in a way in which it has never been said.

By achieving this, you will create a situation where your audience will refer to your presentation as “remember the time when …”. Having this kind of memorable impact can make your presentation a lot more impactful. It should, however, not be all that people remember. Over-reliance on visual aids will simply lead to your broader message falling on deaf ears.

Checking the Volume of Your Voice

The more people there are in a room, the louder you will have to speak. People make noise unintentionally by moving around in their seats or shuffling papers.

If you find that you must shout to make yourself heard at the back of the room, then you need a microphone. Overall, though, conference rooms tend to be built in order to allow a presenter’s voice to carry. The difficulty of getting your voice to just the right volume for a presentation is made by the fact that there are multiple rows of people viewing the presentation. In this case, it is important to take account of the seating arrangements.

Before you say anything else in a presentation, use the voice you intend to use for the presentation to ask whether everyone can hear you clearly. The element of balance is again important here.

Speakers who are too quiet will have the obvious disadvantage that their listeners genuinely cannot hear them, as well as the fact that they will appear nervous and not in command. This does not excuse going too far in the opposite direction, which will lead people to consider you brash and over-confident, and either consciously or subconsciously give less weight to your views.

Shouting distorts the voice. It is a simple fact that something which is shouted will not be heard as clearly as something of a similar length which is spoken powerfully from the middle of the chest. Also bear in mind that if you plan to move around the venue, you will need to adjust your voice to ensure that it carries the extra distance.

If you are facing away from the audience, keep your statements during this time to a minimum and, if possible, to turn to face them during this period. If a microphone will be necessary, ensure that one is available and tested before use – microphones can have a distorting effect which will make any presentation less worthwhile.

Wrapping Up and Winding Down

Sometimes a speaker will end a presentation with a question and answer session. If you do this, don’t end the presentation with your answer to the last question. It might have little to do with your main point. Instead, after you have answered the last question, say something like:

That’s all we have time for. If there is one thing I hope you will remember from this presentation, it’s…

Doing this will end the presentation in a neat way and pull together the strands of the event. It will also allow you to reinforce the central point of your presentation. As people leave, thank them for attending and say goodbye to them.  

If people leave the presentation on a positive note, they are more likely to remember what has gone before in a positive light. Whatever else you do, you should ensure that if people have follow-up questions after the event, they can address them to you in whatever way is possible.

To learn more about delivery and get more tips and real-life practise, we cover this in our presentation skills workshop:

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