Public Speaking Made Easy


Do you have to speak to groups and give presentations?

Do you feel nervous at the thought of it?

It’s rare these days to find a job or a business where you don’t have to address groups. Many people are uncertain or nervous about doing this, yet once we understand some basic principles, we can give an effective presentation every time.

When I started in my first job many years ago and had to give presentations, I would lean against a table when speaking, as my legs would have given way if I had to ‘free stand’ because I was so nervous. I now work as a presentation skills trainer and professional speaker, and will share with you some of the skills I learnt along the way.

Step 1: The fundamentals
Before you start to prepare your presentation, it’s useful to have an understanding of:

1. Your purpose
Spend some time thinking about what you want to happen as a result of your presentation. What do you want the people in your audience to know, think, or do afterwards?
Your purpose may, for example, be two-fold: for people to have an understanding of why management has implemented a new system, and to be aware of the training schedule that will take place over the next few weeks.
When you have worked out your purpose, write it down and keep it on display while you are preparing your presentation. It will keep you on track.   

2. The situation
The more you know about your audience, the occasion and the environment beforehand, the more likely you are to give an appropriate presentation, and therefore achieve the outcome you are after.
For example, giving a talk to 300 students in a large hall is very different to giving a talk to 30 Rotary people in a hotel conference room.

a) Your audience
What do they know about your topic already?
What is their attitude likely to be towards you and your topic?
What is the age range?
What is the male/female ratio?
Are there language issues to take into account?
What is the educational background?

b) The occasion

What’s the occasion?Why have you been invited to give the presentation?

What are the organiser’s expectations of you and your presentation? (it may be different to what you were planning to do)When are you speaking? If, for example, you are speaking after lunch or at the end of the afternoon, people’s energy may be low and you may need to amend your presentation to keep people’s energy up.

How long have you got? Will the time include a question and answer session?
Are there several other speakers? If so, where are you in the programme, who else is speaking, and what other topics are being covered?
Has your topic been covered before?

c) The environment
What is the room layout? Can you change it if you need to?
What equipment is there? Do you know how to use it? Will there be a technical person there to help?
Will you need a microphone?

Often what makes people nervous when speaking to groups is the fear of the unknown. Therefore the more you can find out about your session, the more you can make it a ‘known’ situation. By using the guidelines above you can start to know as much as possible about your session.

I often refer to a good presentation as being like an iceberg: what you see is only a part of what goes into it. If you want to be an effective speaker, you will need to put some thought, preparation and practise in. The results will be worth it.

Step 2: How to structure your presentation

If you structure your presentation effectively, people are more likely to be able to understand and take on board your message.

I recommend using a three-part structure, which I call an OBE: Opening, Body and Ending.

You have a short Opening, which takes up approximately 10% of your speaking time, a longer Body, approximately 80% of the time, and a short Ending, approximately 10% of the time.

The Opening has to get the group's attention, set the scene and introduce the topic or purpose.
Bear in mind that the opening isn’t just about the words you say, it’s also about how you come across to the audience. Do you look confident? Do you look like you are knowledgeable about your topic? The judgements that people make on these two factors will have a bearing on how they take on board your message.

The Body of the presentation comprises the main messages we want to get across: these are the Points of Learning. They are sometimes called the key messages.

A good number of Points of Learning to split your message into, is between two and five. Any more than this and people will struggle to remember all the points. Three is a useful number to use as the brain takes in and processes things in threes quite easily.

Each of these points will have supporting information. This could be in the form of a quote, statistics, a story, or an exercise to consolidate learning.

There are two main types of Ending – a summary and a call to action.

Generally, we use a summary when we have given an information-based presentation.
We use a call to action (getting the audience to do something) when we have given a persuasive presentation. If you don’t ask people to do something, the chances are that they will do nothing and your message will be lost.

Ask yourself what you would like the audience to do when you have finished speaking. Do you, for example, want them to take a leaflet; fill in form; set up a meeting with their colleagues to plan the next step? Whatever you decide, give your audience no more than 3 simple action steps they can easily achieve at the end of your presentation.

This simple three-part process is what I call a ‘no fail’ structure. If you structure your presentation this way, you can’t go wrong.

Step 3: What you are going to talk about?

Many people either wonder what on earth they are going to talk about to fill up the speaking time, or else they have so much they want to say that they don’t know how it’s all going to fit in.

Let me share with you a simple method I use for choosing the content of a presentation. There are two stages to this approach:

Stage 1: Spend some time thinking about all the topics you could include, and write these down. Doing this in the form of a mindmap is helpful.
Get a blank piece of paper, and in the middle write down the title of your presentation, a brief description of your audience and a brief description of your purpose.
For example, you may write down:
TITLE: Visiting Kenya
AUDIENCE: Ugandans planning a holiday in Kenya
PURPOSE: To inform people of tourist activities and issues to consider

Then you write down on the paper all the topics you could cover. For example: booking a flight; types of accommodation available; the best times to travel; useful guide books; websites to look at; places to visit; etc

Stage 2: Now that you have written down all the topics you could cover, you will often find that there will be too many to include in your presentation. To help you decide which are the most important to include, it’s useful to put them into categories:
The ‘Must’ category. These are the most important points, and these must be covered to in your presentation as they are the key messages. Remember to aim for 2-5 Points of Learning, so choose 5 at the most. If you are giving a short presentation this will be all you are able to cover.
The ‘Should’ category. These are the next most important points. You can cover these if you have enough time.
The ‘Could’ category. These are the least important points, and you will only cover them if you have a long presentation.

If you are giving a short presentation you may need to decide what to do with the information you don’t have time to include.

There are two main options: you either leave it out, or you find alternative ways of presenting it. This may be by giving another presentation, or giving the information on handouts, or putting the information on the company website, or asking people to contact you if they want more details.

If you use this process for choosing the content of your presentation, you will tend to find that you can give presentations which effectively cover your key messages.

Step 4: Delivering your presentation effectively

How to keep your audience interested
For your audience to maintain their interest level you need to have variety. Variety is the key to preventing audience boredom.

There are three ways to add variety to your delivery:
•    How you look: Do you have facial animation, eg smiling? Do you use natural gestures? Do you move around?
•    How you sound: Do you vary the speed and volume of your speaking? Do you have a conversatioanl tone to your voice?
•    What you do: For example, use visuals eg photos, video, charts, props, PowerPoint, OHP, whiteboard, flipchart; ask the audience to work in small groups to discuss an issue; use music; tell a story

Looking and sounding confident
In every speaking situation people make judgments, usually subconsciously, as to how confident and competent you appear as a speaker.

They base their judgment on three factors:
The visual aspect – how you look
The vocal aspect – how you sound
The verbal aspect – what you say

And this is how they form that judgment:
Visual 55%, Vocal 38%, Verbal 7%.

The visual aspect is the most important. It makes up 55% of people’s impression of you. People believe what they see before they believe what they hear. Your words will carry more weight if you look confident and competent.

Imagine you were to you watch a confident person on video with the sound turned down. Although you can’t hear what they are saying, they will give an air of confidence.
Factors include a strong stance, facial animation, gestures and body movement, and good eye contact. They will have a look of ‘openness’ about them.

The verbal aspect is next and makes up 38% of people’s impression of you. Your words will carry more weight if you sound confident and competent.

If you were to listen to a confident person without watching them or even taking note of their message, they will also project an air of confidence. Factors include a strong voice, variety of tone, enthusiasm for what they are talking about, a lack of hesitation in their speaking.

The verbal aspect is what you say. In the worst-case scenario, your words on their own are only worth 7%  if you don’t look or sound confident and competent.
The more confident and competent you look and sound, the more credibility people will give to your words.

People like speakers who look and sound confident and assured. They like speakers who look and sound at ease. They like speakers who come across as enthusiastic about their message, and they like speakers who they feel they can relate to.

So, by following some basic guidelines for preparing and delivering your presentation, and by understanding what audiences are looking for, you will be able to give effective presentations every time.

Happy speaking!


Kim Chamberlain is a professional speaker, communications trainer and author who has spent several years studying professional speakers. From beginners to experts, in order to evaluate, analyse and help people improve their speaking skills. She is the 2002 New Zealand National Toastmasters Evaluation Champion.

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