Since my last post was on becoming more comfortable on public speaking I think it would be helpful to share some tips I have found most beneficial when preparing for a presentation. Keep in mind that these tips won’t work unless you are confident. Being nervous leads to second guesses and that’s when mistakes happen. So, take a deep breath, read my tips and know that no one expects you to memorize an entire presentation.
Rehearse, Don’t Memorize
Practice your presentation enough so that you’re comfortable with the outlined topic(s). The goal here is not to memorize your speech word-for-word because other than being extremely difficult and time consuming it’s always awkward to listen to. If we wanted to hear someone reading off a script we would go to the movies or you could simply e-mail the text to your audience and save them the trip. What we expect as the audience is an engaging presentation that’s easy to follow. Run through your presentation a few times until you’re familiar and comfortable with your presentation. This includes running through with the slides and an audience of any willing friends, family members, significant others…
Smile like You Mean It
They told me at my fundraising job that I should smile when I speak to people on the phone because they can tell when I’m frowning. I don’t know about that, but people can definitely tell when you’re frowning during a presentation so remember to show your pearly whites. No need to smile like a maniac the entire time (especially if you’re talking for more than an hour), but make it a point to make eye-contact and smile.
Eyes up here
The idea of “if I can’t see them, they can’t see me”, really doesn’t apply here. Your audience can see you and they’re not going to like what they see if all they’re looking at is the top of your head because you’re looking at the floor or reading off a piece of paper. They also don’t like looking at the back of your head because you’re reading off the slide show. Prepare yourself well beforehand, so during your presentation you can make eye contact and show your audience that you acknowledge that they’re there.
Technology isn’t Fool Proof
Make sure your Power Point or whatever program you intend to use works properly, not just at your house but also at the site of where you’ll be presenting. Remember to test out any videos or audio you want to include beforehand. If you’re not tech savvy it’s okay to keep the visuals simple as long as what you’re saying has value.
Photo Credit: http://www.seomoz.org/blog/presentation-skills-for-seo
What are you afraid of? I think a better question for me is, “what are you not afraid of?” because I’m afraid of a lot of things, things that are reserved for either those who are really weird (eyes that grow on potatoes) or really young (the dark). So I was amazed that the one phobia that tops peoples’ list of fears is glossophobia. Glossophobia is a fear of public speaking. Now, I can understand necrophobia (fear of death), acrophobia (fear of heights) and even atelophobia (fear of imperfection). However, conquering public speaking is much simpler than people think.
When I was in elementary school everyone in my class had to read a book and do a brief book presentation. I think my book was on manatees and I was petrified. I absolutely did not want to stand in front of my classmates and discuss my book on some aquatic animal. Growing up I was a shy and awkward child, I wore huge coke-bottle glasses and my outfit of choice was spandex shorts with huge t-shirts. Needless to say, I didn’t have many friends. The last thing I wanted was for everyone to stare at me blabbing about sea cows. So of course I did what any reasonable, socially awkward child would have done: I told my mom I was “sick” on the day of my presentation. Was I proud of it? No, but I did get out of explaining to my classmates how manatee means “breast” to people in the Caribbean, so I was satisfied. Yet, I remember how much I hated being afraid of something to the point where I had to lie.
It would be a lie for me to say that public speaking doesn’t still make me nervous because it does. There is a lot of room for error and a lot of ways for presentations to go awry, but what I always tell myself is, “no one knows how I’m feeling but me.” If I act like I’m unafraid, calm and confident then who is anyone to tell me I’m not those things? You are who you want to be and if that fails I guess you can always picture everyone in their underwear.
Photo credit: http://startpublicspeaking.com/?p=12
I can’t remember how many times I’ve heard someone say, “I don’t like conflicts” to avoid discussing issues or problems that they have with others. When I hear this I always wonder, “Who enjoys conflicts?” The word “conflict” reminds me playground fights and TV courtroom dramas. Perhaps a better way of stating what you mean would be to say, “I don’t like disagreements.” A conflict is more than a disagreement. A conflict occurs when either or both parties feel threatened and that’s never necessary. Disagreements on the other hand can result in better relationships, a mutual understanding and maybe even a gift if you play your cards right.
There are several ways to prevent disagreements from escalating into a full blown argument, but it’s a give and take. Both parties need to be willing to make an effort in discussing the problem at hand or it won’t work. Many tips are offered on how to handle discrepancies, but I’ll list the ones I find most beneficial and have worked for me.
1. Stay focused
It’s easy to get off track when you’re talking about your problems. One minute you’re asking your roommate to please put her dishes in the dishwasher and the next thing you know you’re blaming her and her loud Taylor Swift music for why you failed your last test. But it’s important to keep yourself on track. Focus on the current problem because the more you bring up, the more convoluted and clouded your message will be.
2. Admit your faults
Take responsibility for your faults. Acknowledge that it’s not one-sided and take personal responsibility for any mistakes you may have made. It never hurts to say “I’m sorry” and it sets a good example for how the other party should handle their faults.
3. No, you shut up
Shouting is not only unconstructive but it makes it difficult to understand what the other is saying. Alternate between talking and listening so that both of you gets a chance to state your point. Sometimes disagreements don’t need to have a right and a wrong. The other party just simply needs to express his/her opinions. And try not to say “shut up” because the next thing you know you’ll be shouting a slew of much worse words.
4. It’s not always black and white
Being right or winning shouldn’t be the dominating factor when discussing problems. Understand that the other party may never see it from your side and vice versa because there is no viable way to impose your opinions on others. Sometimes the best idea is to agree-to-disagree (as corny as that sounds).
5. Call a time-out
If you’re anything like me, this is the hardest tip to grasp. I’m impatient and I want things done now, but I’ve learned that a time-out isn’t avoiding the problem. Instead, it allows both parties to take a break and come back to it later with a calmer attitude. The break allows for both parties to think about what was said and where to go.
A few years ago I worked at my university as a fund raiser. I know it’s supposed to be “fundraiser”, but that makes it seem as if I was the purpose for the fundraising event although at times I wish that were the case (I even thought of my pitch: “Would you like to donate money to help a poor ethnic college student?”) . Communication with donors was done purely through cold-calls. There was no face-to-face interaction or body language to give off. It was just me, my script, and my voice. At first it was intimidating. What if people yelled at me? What if I they turned me down? What if they hung up on me? Yes, all three and many other negative results occurred. However, it was through this job that I believed helped me realize how important and diverse communication is. I truly learned not only how to take rejection very well and fake laugh, but if you believe in what you’re saying others will as well.
The distinction between the callers who did well, and those who didn’t was clear from the start. It had nothing to do with gender or age and little to do with luck. The difference between successful fund raisers and unsuccessful ones was the script. The ones that read right off the paper tended to do much poorer than those who had genuine conversations. It was through those quick conversations that I became cognizant of truly how important it is to know your audience. I wasn’t talking to the same person phone call after phone call, so why would I use the same pitch for each? I simply couldn’t. If I wanted these potential donors to genuinely believe what I was telling them and donate, than I needed to speak to them in their language, using their diction, while conveying my message. My message was the same with every call, but my words weren’t and that made all the difference.
What can I teach all of you? This is the question that has been going through my busy little head for the past couple days. That is when I wasn’t thinking about food, sleep or those crazy kids from the Jersey Shore. What have I done long enough to be able to elicit credible, reliable and all around good advice to all of you? As I rack my brain to identify what I am skilled at, I find it easier to come up with a list of things I’m not very good at. First off, I’m terrible with math. Sure, I can add basic single digits, but anything past 20 and I’m out of fingers, toes, and luck. I’m a horrific driver. If it takes me 20 minutes to get there, I don’t need to go that badly. And last but certainly not least, I don’t clean very well or often. One might think that because I don’t clean very well I would need to do it more often. However, one would be wrong.
So, here I am going on and on about what I’m bad at. And I could continue to go on and on, but I guess that’s what I’m best at. I’m a Chatty Cathy through and through. I love talking, I love words, I love communicating. However, what I love the most about all three of those things is the end result. Talking to someone using the perfects words to communicate a message that they understand so well that they could not have said it better themselves. To me, that is a perfect moment.
Simply put: words are powerful. Think about a quote you remember or really like. It could be any quote from Ghandi’s “Be the change you want to see in the world” to Jerry Maguire’s “You complete me”, those messages would not have had the same impact if the words were different. Effective communication has the power to do so much. From gaining better understanding of your partner and kids to building betting relationships with your clients, peers, and boss. Effective communication is key. It’s always important to say what you mean and mean what you say, but it’s important to keep in mind that there are multiple ways to convey exactly what you want, so that you and the other party understands perfectly.
What I aim to do is offer insight into my experiences. You’ll see how I’ve been able to communicate well, how I’ve embarrassed myself by saying what I didn’t mean and how I can be better.