Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Say What?! by Reneé Lowe

Have you ever been listening to a presentation and you looked to the person next to you in confusion? Maybe you pretended to know what was being spoken about and later complained about the speaker over lunch with a friend. Speaking publicly is part of the PR professional job description and one has to become comfortable with it or their career may suffer.

Public speaking is something that I did not think I would ever do in my life, until my first big corporate job. I was surprised when it came so naturally because I was never one to speak to large crowds. As my duties changed, I found myself speaking to small groups and building up to large conferences.

The most memorable presentation I gave was to a group of librarians, lawyers and analysts. It was for a major government sector and I was scared! The whole ride over in the cab seemed like it was a walk down the plank with a pirate poking me in my back. I have to say, once I got settled into the groove of the presentation, I was relaxed and felt like nothing could conquer me! The librarian’s eyes stared into me like lasers, the lawyers grilled me like a steak and the analysts tried to pick me apart like vultures. All of them were testing my knowledge on the usefulness of the online products I was there to discuss. It was a shark tank indeed, but I made it through with no professional injuries...thank goodness!

I guess that public speaking course in college was well worth it and how amazing it was, when all of what I had learned came right back to me. Even though my professors were old-school in their instruction, I am thanking them heavily today. As we become an online and "right now" society, we forget about the simple ways to work through awkward situations and public speaking is no different.

Here are four key tips that I learned to have a smooth event when speaking to an audience:

One of the first things my professors taught me was to approach speaking in public like a stop sign.  This means that you need to slow down and stop in order to clear your head to get to the next thought. This also includes leaving the fancy industry words out. Keep your speeches simple and practical. Your audience will thank you for it! 

The second is to know your audience. How can you engage them in your presentation if you have not learned who they are?  There is nothing worse than sitting through a presentation and the audience begins to lose focus because you are not staying relevant to their needs. Research and have an outline of who you will be speaking to and address specific areas that they would be interested in. 

The third point I learned was to be mindful of the time. If you are given 30 minutes to speak, wrap it up in 20.  This is the age of the World Wide Web and attention our spans have dropped dramatically.  There is always a more interesting website to click to, so we lose focus very easily.  Think of your presentation as a website and you must do all that you can to keep the web surfer engaged.  After all, you worked hard to build an amazing visual tool, so you must make it worth their while to stay on your page.  

The fourth and final point that is probably pretty obvious, but it is to PRACTICE! Even the President of the United States practices his speeches. This is why folks that speak publically on a regular basis can look up from their notes and connect with the audience. Never read your notes like a novel and forget to make eye contact. Making eye contact and being confident in the information that you are delivering is a major part of your “sell”, so practice in the mirror and also in front of friends.  This will give you an opportunity to make adjustments and perfect your speech before you make your presentation. Do you have some tips for public speaking? Feel free to share what has worked for you!

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