By Hammad Siddiqui
Stage Fright is a common disease of our dynamic corporate world. Astonishingly, not many senior executives undergo a formal training in the art of public speaking or in making presentations. And only those senior executives who understand the importance of posture, pauses, blank spaces, facial expressions, flow and quality of words, variation of voice pitch and timings try to learn this art.
I take it as serious business.
After having attended a formal “Effective Speaking” training program in 1996 at the British Foreign Office training center in London, I was quite hopeful to develop my skills as an effective speaker and presenter. This three day program covered the above techniques in addition to a session on effective writing. I remember our facilitators kept repeating;
“There is only one tool that helps deliver good speeches or presentations – Practice, practice and more practice”.
In the past 15 years, I have delivered uncountable presentations and spoke at numerous public forums, conferences and seminars. And equipped with what I learnt at British Foreign Office Training, I also tried to analyze various fellow presenters.
My observations confirm that particularly case of senior executive that did not go through a purpose-designed program, there always are three common key missing links:
- Control on body movements
- Voice variation
In my opinion, one cannot doubt the knowledge and quality of contents of an expert speaker. However if the above ingredients are missing, it is highly likely that your audience will lose interest. I have also seen that extensive and complicated presentations also cause severe damage to presenter’s ability to engage audience. I have also observed that some presenters keep going in the flow of their thoughts, and in trying to impress their audience forget that a normal human has a short attention time span. In my opinion, if your listeners can not retain 25% of what you have said – “you have failed to deliver your message”.
Let’s discuss the common what can be done to avoid “Presentation Disasters”:
Understand your audience:
Highly important. One must not prepare a presentation without knowing the audience. Try to gauge the level of education, expertise, areas of interest, issues faced, and then only develop your presentation. This is the only way to keep your audience engaged throughout.
Write from your heart: Often I have seen people delivering presentations or speeches written by others. For trained and experienced presenters, this is okay, however if you have not contributed towards developing the presentation or speech, speaking from your heart will be too challenging, hence creating an impact too will not be possible.
Avoid reading from paper: I am not a fan of reading from a written paper. Fine to do it only in case of a specific government level speech or expressing point of view, but for any other presentation, if you read from a paper, you are inviting a reputational disaster!
Practice: Okay, here is the key – as I mentioned above, for making highly effective presentations, extensive practice is unavoidable. And when I talk about practice, I am not only suggesting “speaking practice” but also reviewing the flow and carefully thinking about expected questions and how to respond to these questions. Surprisingly, very few presenters follow this strict rule.
I have also seen presenters struggling with technical glitches, ask yourself:
How difficult to have an additional soft copy of your presentation and a printed version? How difficult it is to check the microphone volume? How difficult it is to control the lights at the stage to avoid blindness?
And the final word “Your audience do not know what you would tell them next, so if you have forgotten a point, keep moving on, they won’t notice it”.
If you follow these points, you will be repeatedly performing better.