Communication is an important element in the workplace, but presentations, board meetings, and speeches are not always easy for everyone. Public speaking is a common fear, or at least something that causes stress and perhaps frustration. However, people can build their presentation skills and improve their public speaking through research, practice, and perseverance.
Whether it is a small room with a handful of fellow employees and a 10 minute casual speech or a board room filled with clients and several bosses, public presentations should begin with research. This research should include knowledge of who will be in the audience, the length of time allotted, the focus of the presentation, and any other details such as teleconferencing or technology issues. Having a clear picture of what the day and room will entail will help when planning the actual presentation.
Preparations for the presentation will depend in part upon the expectations of the audience. An audience that feels their interests and needs are met will be more receptive to the information being given. It is also important that the presenter has clear goals and works to address these goals in the presentation. Some presenters feel more comfortable with a speech pre-written word for word as back up, and others rely on note cards for subtle reminders. Others will follow on a slideshow, helping them stay on track and giving a visual aid to the audience. No matter which method is used, it is important to consider the needs of the audience and practice, especially if time limits are an issue or if technology is involved.
When practicing for the presentation, it is a good idea to work toward the goal of slowed speech, as many people hurry through because of nerves. When the information is given too quickly, it can be lost too easily. Even though the presenter might know the information inside and out, it is likely the first time the audience will hear it presented.
When planning and practicing, it is valuable to practice in front of an audience, or at least imagine what types of questions an audience might ask. This will give the presenter time to formulate some possible answers before actually facing the audience. It is also a good idea to prepare an answer for when the presenter is unsure, or when the answer is forgotten. This can be as simple as telling the audience that the particular question is so important that more time is needed before a solid answer can be given. The presenter can take notes and get back to the audience member at a later time.
Some local libraries, community education organizations, and colleges offer short classes on building effective presentations and public speaking skills. Investing in a few hours of preparation and education can go a long way to improving presentations. Even with all of the research and practice, there are a few things that just have to come from within the presenter. These include building one’s self-confidence, remembering that the audience is a partner and not an adversary, and focusing on the information and not the presenter’s own image.