By Jon Hawkins | Manager, Sales Engineering
For many, the fear of public speaking is stronger than fear of death. People think I’m crazy when I say I’m not afraid of speaking in front of crowds, but it’s something that I just don’t mind doing. I’ll run from heights, snakes, or spiders, but put me in front of 300 people to speak and I’m in my element.
If you find your stomach churning at the thought of standing up in front of a crowd or you just don’t know how to captivate your audience, these simple tips are for you.
1. Give a solid handshake
The first step to a phenomenal presentation actually happens before you even delve into your notes or slides. As you enter the room and as participants begin filing in, shake people’s hands. This helps you stand out as personable and will make your presentation more memorable.
Avoid the limp fish or hand-breaking grip and go for a firm, confident shake. Look people in the eye and introduce yourself. In a large setting you won’t get to everyone, but take some time to shake as many people’s hands as possible.
2. Know and use people’s names
A person’s name is their favorite word. We like people to know who we are, and as a presenter, you can take things to the next level by getting to know the names of your audience members.
Again, you won’t be able to memorize everyone’s names, but you can get to know a few and in a smaller setting, you should definitely address participants by name.
A good tip is to ask for names when you shake hands and then ask people where they are from or find out something interesting about them to give you more information to attach to the person, which can help you remember names.
3. Use mirroring intentionally
Mirroring, or assuming the same position or body language as the person you are talking to, is a subconscious act, but you can also use it intentionally. For example, if someone in your group puts their arms on the conference room table, you can do the same. Or, if someone in a large setting is nodding, you can nod as you speak.
This subtle body language shows people you are listening and that you understand them. It also helps you develop rapport with your listeners, which will make your presentation more engaging and make you a more interesting speaker.
4. Use hand gestures
Hand gestures are also natural for some people, but when you get up in front of a crowd it’s easy to freeze up, making you look stiff, boring, and unapproachable. Focus on using your hands to emphasize words, help convey meaning, and maintain interest.
Some power gestures to try include:
Palms up to show cooperation and openness
Steepling (bringing your palms and fingers together, pointing upwards) to express confidence and authority in what you are saying
Hands behind your back to show certainty and resoluteness
Hands behind your head to express that you are in control and relaxed
Avoid pointing, hand slicing (hitting one side of your hand against the palm of the other), tugging at your clothes, and scratching your face. All of these are turn offs and distracting and make you seem demanding and aloof.
5. Watch your body language and posture
Most communication — 55% — is body language, while 38% is the tone of your voice, and 7% is the words being used. That means that it’s essential that you use body language wisely if you want your presentations to be memorable and effective.
It’s not uncommon for people to adopt a nervous habit that can be really distracting during a presentation. You’ve probably seen someone do this (or even done it yourself!) when they fiddle with the keys in their pocket, repeatedly scratch their arm, or play with their hair. Try to become aware of what your nervous ticks are and cut them out of your presentation.
Convey confidence with good posture, avoiding crossing your arms, leaning in during key points, widening your stance, and a smile.
6. Unleash the power of your eyes
Something we often don’t think about is how powerful our eyes are; they are, after all, the window to the soul. Use your eyes to support other elements of your overall presentation by looking people in the eye when you shake their hand and catching people’s eyes while looking out over your audience. This trick helps you express interest and authenticity.
To be able to use your eyes this way, you can’t read every word of your presentation or keep your eyes glued to your slides or laptop. This shows that you aren’t confident and don’t know your message well enough. Glancing down at your notes is okay, and you can say “just a minute, I need to check my notes so I don’t miss anything” to fill any awkward pauses.
Letting your eyes wander is one of the worst things you can do! Looking at your watch, checking your phone, or just staring out over your audience makes it hard for people to connect with you.
7. Pay attention to your audience
This seems like an obvious tip, but when you get going with your presentation it can be really easy to just rattle off your points and flip through slides, completely forgetting about your audience. And when you do, your audience will get bored and tune out.
As you give your presentation, try to read your audience by watching individuals’ body language and asking questions. Also pause long enough for people to ask a question or, in appropriate settings, add a comment.
An easy way to make sure you stay in touch with your audience is to let people ask questions and then, ask one in return. This will give you clarity into what they are really asking and gives you time to formulate the best answer.
8. Vary the tone of your voice
Who hasn’t sat through a monotone presentation before? Or maybe the better question is: who has been able to stay awake during one? Your voice is your instrument to deliver your message, and if you don’t use it wisely, you will quickly lose your audience.
Intentional pauses can help you emphasize a specific point, a lowered voice can help you convey importance, being animated can help you get attention, and varying your inflection will help you keep your audience engaged because you’ll be interesting — and easy — to listen to.
One tip I like to use, even when I’m just talking on the phone, is to stand up and walk around to bring more energy to my voice. I feel like I sound more engaged and it helps me avoid falling into a monotone rut.
9. Dress the part
You’ve heard it before: dress to impress. Show up in the right clothes for the setting and remember that the way you dress can make you stand out as a professional who knows what they’re talking about. Wear something comfortable that you feel confident in, but that won’t distract your audience.
At first glance, these tips don’t seem very earth shattering but these fundamentals will go a long way in helping you get your point across, impress your audience, and give a memorable presentation. And, combined with some practice, they can even quell those pre-public-speaking jitters.
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