7: Public speaking is as much about how you say it as well as what you say

I’m writing about one hundred things I’ve learned about being a product manager.

Closely related to presenting well is the art of public speaking.  While not everyone is thrilled at the prospect at standing up and speaking in front of colleagues or strangers, it is a skill that you can acquire.  As you become more proficient, you’ll be able to control your nerves better before a presentation and you may even come to enjoy it.  Here are some suggested tips:

Tell a story #

First of all, you need to know what story you’re telling. Even if you’re imparting relatively dry information, give it a narrative. This means setting the scene briefly, saying what the information is, then explaining why it’s significant. Then briefly summarise what you’ve covered.

Keep it simple #

You’ll probably find that audiences will take away no more than a few key points from any presentation, so don’t overload your content. It’s better to speak with impact for five minutes than drone on for thirty, and the audience will probably remember more.

Speak up #

When speaking don’t shout – project your voice. This is a little difficult to explain, but what you’re aiming for is to use your diaphragm (roughly behind and above your belly-button) and chest to amplify your voice.  You do this by pushing a greater volume of air than usual over your vocal chords at a controlled, even rate, rather than straining your vocal chords by shouting.  There are a number of articles on public speaking that explain this far more eloquently, try How to Project One’s Speaking Voice or the slightly dated, but useful book The Art of Public Speaking.

Pace yourself #

You will naturally tend to rush your content. It could because you have too much to fit into a segment, or you don’t want to waste the audience’s time, or simply because it’s a reaction to nerves. Whatever the reason, slow down. Enunciate your words clearly. Give people a fighting chance of listening to what you have to say. If you gabble, you will lose your audience and you’ll come across as lacking confidence, or worse, authority on your subject matter.

Practice aloud #

When I run through a presentation in my mind, I’m eloquent, witty and everyone laughs on cue. In reality, without practicing aloud a few times beforehand, I stumble over my words, forget which key points to stress and so on. So find an empty room or a willing listener if you prefer and run through your presentation a few times. I personally think it’s harder to present to an empty room, so I know that if I can do that, I’ll be okay to present to a full room. Do what works best for you.

Doing it #

Some rapid-fire top tips:

  • Avoid direct eye contact: by all means look at your audience but try not to meet someone’s gaze directly. It can be immensely distracting!
  • Always dress the part: take into account the size of audience and style of event, then overdress slightly.
  • Use notes if you need to: it’s impressive but risky to present without notes so don’t be afraid to use them if you have to. Get used to scanning ahead so you spend most of your time looking up at your audience.
  • Keep your contact with the audience: under no circumstances turn your back so that you read content off the projection screen.
  • Don’t worry if you forget something: the only person who’s going to notice is you.  In most situations you can follow up later with the missing info.

Further reading #

  1. How to Project One’s Speaking Voice, http://www.ehow.com/how_2252716_project-ones-speaking-voice.html
  2. The Art of Public Speaking by J. Berg Esenwein, http://www.gutenberg.org/files/16317/16317-h/16317-h.htm
  3. How to Sound Confident When Public Speaking, by Rachel Green, http://www.rachelgreen.com/cgi-bin/a.pl?tips152
  4. Presentation Tips for Public Speaking, http://www.aresearchguide.com/3tips.html

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