Some people have a pathological fear of presenting – pubic speaking of any kind – which intensifies in step with the size of the audience.
As someone who is called upon to do this, I remember the early terrors. Is my skirt tucked into my knickers, will my mind go blank, someone told me to think of them all as naked … no too distracting, don’t read out your presentation, speak naturally, don’t opt for ‘death by Power Point.’ All that stuff. I’ve been doing it for years now, I’m harder to terrify.
I’m also called upon to be in the audience – of those listening to fabulous, engaging speakers, and of those witnessing a meltdown worthy of hailing a cab and checking directly into The Priory.
The key challenges, as I remember before I decided to just ‘be the Madonna of all public speakers’, are:
1. nerves – no, you’re just EXCITED
2. not knowing your stuff – no, terror makes sure you know it
3. vomiting. nothing to offer here, but have breakfast
4. word wobble worst-case – miss-pronouncing words (I once referred to the late, and lovely, TV presenter Jill Dando as Jill Dildo – everyone, including me, fell about. It was in a pitch for a PR account. We got a project!)
5. Death by power point. Don’t do it. If they’re reading it, what are you for?
6. Automaton delivery and static pose. You may as well dim the lights and sing a lullaby
7. FALL OFF THE STAGE – not advised
Now then, point seven. Yesterday I was at an academic-meets-corporate conference, which was great. Apart from the poor chap who FELL OFF THE STAGE. He’d done a really good presentation and simply missed his footing on the steps at the end of his address. And he didn’t just stumble, he went for the full on measure-your-length, laid-out-like-road kill finale.
Two points. 1. EVERYONE will remember him and 2. He was on the speakers’ panel for questions at the end, on a tall bar stool atop the stage. He recovered incredibly well, regaining his composure enough to make a really good show of it on the panel. Although the teetering bar stool and the proximity of the stage edge did make everything rather, well, edgy.
The other ‘fall’ I’ve witnessed was at a construction convention where me, another audience member and one of the day’s five presenters were the only women. Determined to give this young lady full support and a rousing round of applause at the end of her address it was all cut short after about 30 seconds. She got to her feet, walked to the podium, walked off, shaking and mumbling, to get ‘a glass of water’, walked back said ‘it’s very hot’, took her jacket off and drop down fainted.
My tips are,
1. Pick three people in three distinct areas of the audience, and talk to them.
2. Move around. It makes people shift their position, so they can’t nod off
3. Change tone and pace.
4. Use images to illustrate (you’re the one with the words)
5. Smile, it makes you feel confident
6. Be informal if it’s appropriate, it feels very personal for the audience, like being taken into an important confidence.
7. DON’T FALL OFF THE STAGE.