Whether you’re presenting in meetings, in court, in sales situations, or on stage, it takes your audience just a few seconds to assess your level of confidence. How would they rate yours?
In this episode of Public Speaking: Your Competitive Advantage, you learn several easy-to-implement tips that help you build confidence in yourself and your presentations.
These tips include:
Listen in so you can learn to not only have more confidence when presenting but also to convey your confidence.
Before we get started, let’s cover my use of the word “audience.” I’m going to use this word frequently throughout this podcast. Many people construe “audience” to mean a large gathering of people. However, it can mean one person across a desk, 12 people in a room, or 1,000 people in an auditorium.
Okay, let’s talk about several ideas that will help you build and convey confidence.
When it comes to delivering presentations – whether it’s in person or virtually – confidence is key. Your audience – consciously or, more than likely, unconsciously – is assessing your level of confidence. In turn, their evaluation will help them decide how much stock they’re going to put into the information you share with them. And here’s the sobering part … their brains are making this judgment in a matter of only a few seconds!
Now, you’re probably wondering what they assess in this brief time that help them determine your level of confidence. Well, it’s a number of things, including your posture, your facial expressions, and your eye contact … or lack of it.
Let’s start with your posture. When it comes to this, your mother was right – stand and sit up straight.
When standing, place your feet about hip-width apart, and as a dancer would tell you, image a string attached to the top of your head, pulling gently, until your head is directly above your shoulders, your shoulders are above your hips, and your hips are above your ankles. It’s really that easy.
Yeah, I know, you’re more comfortable with your legs crossed or standing on one hip, but there are two problems with positions like these. The first problem is that you think you’re more comfortable, and you are. But that you’re mentally more comfortable, not physically more comfortable.
Think about it. What do you do 30 seconds after you get into one of these stances? If you’re standing with your legs crossed, you uncross your legs and then cross them in the other direction. If you’re standing with your weight on one hip, you switch it from form that hip to the other.
The second problem is, while you believe it looks more casual and therefore more engaging, your audience sees it as your being less comfortable and less confident.
If you’re sitting, move to the front half of the chair. This helps you sit up straight, making you appear more confident and allowing you to gesture more naturally, which is a huge plus.
Next, let’s discuss facial expressions. Unless it isn’t appropriate for the occasion, smile! And it doesn’t have to be a big, toothy grin because we actually read a person’s smile in their eyes and cheeks. So if you have a modest smile, it’s just as engaging.
Speaking of eyes, eye contact is crucial to conveying confidence, and there are other benefits, too.
Once again, your mother was right. Look people in the eye when you talk to them. It’s one of the ways we connect with others. Not looking people in the eye may give the impression that you’re not confident or not telling the truth … even when you are.
Looking your audience members in the eye also allows you to get feedback. Do they appear to be attentive? Have you lost them? Are they nodding their heads in agreement with you? Do they look confused? It’s important to know this information so you can either change course during your presentation or evaluate it later and make adjustments for future presentations.
Oh, yeah … one more thing. If you’re presenting virtually, you make eye contact by looking at the camera, not the people on the screen. This makes it more difficult to get visual feedback from them … and it definitely takes some getting used to. (On a side note, several companies – Apple being one of them – are trying to make this easier for us. The sooner that becomes reality, the better.)
Now, let’s take a look at how you can have and convey confidence during your openings and closings.
People will have greater recall for your presentation’s opening and closing than they will for the rest of the presentation. It’s called the primacy / recency effect. Because of this, you want to be sure to give these parts of your presentations the time and effort they deserve and require.
Your first words have to grab your audience’s attention. Think of it like this. Everyone will be looking at their phones, and you want to be so engaging right out of the box that they put their phones down, look at you, and listen attentively.
How are you going to do that? Well, first of all, don’t open with an excuse! How often have you heard people start their presentations with things like, “I had handouts for you, but I left them in my printer,” or “I had an awesome slide deck prepared, but the fonts I used on my computer aren’t displaying correctly on this computer”?
Second, don’t try to assuage your anxieties by sharing them with your audience. Statements like, “I’m not very good at this,” or “I really didn’t have much time to prepare for this,” might put your mind at ease, but they won’t serve your audience in any positive way.
As for your conclusion, it’s the most important part of your presentation. Not only is it the last thing people hear, but it’s also the time when you deliver your call-to-action, challenge your audience, or ask them what they’re going to do with their newly-learned information.
Here are a few tips to help you deliver conclusions confidently.
The first tip is: be careful when you say things like, “In conclusion,” or “To sum up my presentation.” If you don’t wrap up in a timely manner (a few sentences at most), your audience will stop listening.
The second tip is: be sure to rehearse your conclusion as much as your rehearse the rest of your presentation. What I mean by this is when making a mistake while rehearsing, many people will start over from the beginning. Seems to make sense, doesn’t it? Well, here’s the problem. They stop rehearsing once they successfully complete their presentations a few times. This means they rehearse the start of their presentations numerous times but rehearse the conclusion – the most important part of their presentations – only a few times.
How can you make sure you can deliver a strong, actionable conclusion? Simple … rehearse it along with the rest of your presentation as well as rehearse it separately.
By the way, your openings and conclusions are the only parts of your presentation that you want to memorize and deliver verbatim. Why? Because memorizing your opening helps reduce anxiety in that you know it’s going to grab your audience’s attention. And knowing that you’re going to grab your audience’s attention allows you to concentrate on an engaging delivery.
The same is true for your conclusion. Knowing exactly how you want to conclude allows you to deliver your ending in a powerful and memorable manner.
Now, let’s talk about your talk and how a few tips will help you better engage your audience and lead to greater confidence.
Have you noticed that presentations are now often referred to as talks? This is because the term presentation carries with it the connotation of speaking at your audience, while a talk feels more interactive. Keeping in mind the idea of being interactive, here’s what I’d like you to do. Design your presentation – or talks – as if you were having a conversation with someone.
Think about it. When you have a conversation with someone, you instinctively give them time to answer questions or think about what you’ve said. Yet, in presentations, you might not give them time to do so. I get it … they may not be answering during a presentation. But, oh … yes, they are. Even if they’re not answering out loud, they are answering in their heads. Or at least they should have the opportunity to do so. It’s only when they have time to process what you’ve said is true engagement actually taking place.
Another thing you want to do to make a presentation more of an engaging conversation is to talk to one person. Okay, don’t actually speak with only one person and ignore the rest. Speak, using the words you would use if there was only one person there. Here’s an example. Instead of asking, “Who has jumped out of a plane?” ask “Have you jumped out of a plane?” Instead of asking, “Who has a competitive advantage?” ask “Do you have a competitive advantage?” Do you hear the difference? It’s subtle, but it’s powerful because each person will feel like you’re talking directly to them.
Here’s another thing you need to confidently deliver a presentation … timing. Just like a comedian sets up her punchline by knowing when to speed up and slow down her delivery, just like she knows when to raise her voice or lower it, just like she knows how to most effectively deliver her punchline, you should learn to do the same with your presentations. This is true whether you’re presenting in meetings, in court, in sales situations, or on stage.
And there are two other ideas you can take from comedians. Well, actually, there are many lessons you can learn from comedians, but I want to discuss these two.
The first idea is this. Whether it’s laughter, applause, taking time for thought, or another special moment, let it play out. This is your audience interacting with you. Cutting them off and prematurely ending these moments signals to them that you don’t want them to laugh, applaud, take time to think, etc. … and they won’t.
The second idea you can take from comedians is telling jokes. They obviously should tell jokes, but you and I probably shouldn’t. They’re experts at it. We are not … at least I know I’m not. Just like it takes practice to deliver a presentation that resonates, it takes practice to tell a joke that 1) people get, 2) people find funny, and 3) people understand its relevance to everything else they’re hearing. If you tell a joke, and it doesn’t go over as expected, your confidence may be shaken, and it may be obvious.
However, spontaneous humor that’s based on something that just happened and everyone witnessed can be incredibly powerful … especially if it’s relevant to the point of your presentation.
This brings us to the most overlooked part of public speaking – a part that is crucial to serving your audience with readily-apparent confidence. I know you probably don’t want to hear it, but this so-important part is … rehearsing.
Rehearsing starts a favorable cycle. By becoming more familiar with your presentation, you are more likely to be less nervous when delivering it in front of others. Being less nervous allows you to focus on greater engagement. This provides you with the best opportunity to serve your audience, which is why you’re there in the first place!
Those who don’t rehearse don’t know what they’re missing … but I bet their audiences know that something is missing.
Keep in mind that rehearsing just once or twice isn’t going help in any significant way. Just reading your presentation won’t help either because your brain doesn’t associate reading with delivering a talk. Here’s what I suggest to my clients.
Rehearse to the point where you believe you are comfortable with your message, voice, and body language. Using your phone, video your presentation. Then play it back. BUT, turn it face down, so you only hear it. How do you sound? Relaxed? Confident? Too fast? Too slow? Did you pause when you should? Did you have fillers, such as umm, ahh, right?, you know? Take notes.
Play it back again, but this time watch it with the volume turned all the way down. Now, assess your nonverbal communication. Did your stance convey confidence? Where you gesturing or holding your hands together in front of you or keeping them glued to your sides? Did you pace? Or sway? Did you have any distracting gestures or movements? Take notes.
Then play it back for a third time, watching and listening, taking notes on things that you want to change AND things that you liked.
Now start the process all over again. This will take a fair amount of time in the beginning, but soon your distracting habits will be eradicated, and you’ll be making fewer changes with each presentation.
Well, my friend, you just heard several easy-to-implement tips that help you have and convey confidence. Put them to use, and you’re sure to nail your next presentation. If you have any questions about these tips, or anything to do with public speaking, feel free to reach out to me.
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