Don't Doubt Your Speaking Potential

March 20, 2000
Are you one of those engineers who dreads giving a public speech or presentation, be it a company talk or a technical paper at a conference? Take heart: Many of us are in the same boat. Yet the art of public speaking need not be all that difficult....

Are you one of those engineers who dreads giving a public speech or presentation, be it a company talk or a technical paper at a conference? Take heart: Many of us are in the same boat. Yet the art of public speaking need not be all that difficult. All you need is to master a few tips, and you'll be on your way to fun and success.

It shouldn't be surprising that many of today's most successful individuals—company presidents, CEOs, vice presidents, and sales and marketing managers—have one thing in common. They all have the ability to communicate effectively by delivering informative and convincing presentations. Once you've mastered the technique, you'll have bundles of fun knowing that all of your anxieties and "butterflies" are behind you.

There are no "magic" pointers for giving an effective public presentation. In fact, many would argue that you should try to be yourself, even if you're nervous and your heart and chest are pounding with anxiety. That's one human aspect that your listeners can understand. After all, they're human too.

Practice Makes Perfect You can make speaking easier by familiarizing yourself with your presentation's most important points. Once you've done that, you may well find yourself speaking in a more relaxed and effective manner. From there, you simply have to practice at it to get better and feel more comfortable.

One practice technique is to rehearse the speech while listening to yourself. If you're not convinced of what you're saying, you're obviously not going to deliver an effective presentation. Try revising whatever words or phrases bother you until you feel satisfied with the way your message has been put.

You also can begin by taking a course on effective public speaking. Many places offer such courses, including local high schools and colleges, career training institutes, etc. Some even offer them free of charge. For those places that charge a fee, many companies gladly subsidize such courses if the work that you're performing requires some public speaking.

An expertise in public speaking is not necessarily inherent. Quite a few effective orators started out "miserably" and had to learn the art until they perfected it.

Take the case of self-made billionaire Kenny Troutt, chairman and founder of Excel Communications, Dallas, Texas. This fast-growing company recently merged with Teleglobe to become the fourth-largest telecommunications firm in the world.

A few weeks ago, delivering a speech to over a thousand of his independent representatives and their guests in Whippany, N.J., he gave a very convincing, rousing, and inspiring hour-long speech. His audience was on its feet several times, stomping and clapping vociferously. Yet even he admitted, while tracing his career, that he was extremely nervous and anxious the first time he had to give a speech. In fact, he said the podium from which he was speaking was actually shaking from his trembling hands.

That didn't deter him from continuing, though. The more he practiced public speaking, the more comfortable he became with it. "I knew that to realize the dream I had of making my company a leader in communications networking, I had to convince my listeners of my beliefs and the commitment I was making to that dream. People aren't sold on the screen projections displayed during a speech. It's the speaker who must inspire them and the manner in which the speech is delivered that sells them," he explained. His enormous success speaks for itself.

The basic rules of a good presentation may seem obvious, but not everyone necessarily follows them. They're too busy worrying about their nervousness. Here are some of these rules:

  • Try to establish eye contact with your audience. Better yet, whenever possible, try to engage some of your audience, one on one, before your give your speech.
  • Keep your speech simple and to the point. Don't wander around in your talk. Stay focused on the message you want to deliver. While it's okay to use presentation tools like pointers, slides, overhead projections, etc., don't rely on too much "flash." It's important to have more "meat" in your presentation. Don't use long examples, either, as they could make your listeners forget what your point was in the first place.

    Presentation tools such as graphics, multimedia, video, sound, and lapel microphones can be very powerful if used correctly and properly. But they must be related to what it is you're saying.

  • Avoid long pauses to compose your thoughts or wander around looking for your notes. This doesn't mean you must memorize everything. It only means that you must have a good understanding of what it is you want to say. That brings us to organization.
  • Your speech should be organized. Start with an introduction, followed by an agenda of things to be discussed. Summarize your talk at the end, so that the audience is left understanding what it is that you want them to know. The summary should include no more than four or five key points.
  • Speak deliberately and slowly enough that your words are clearly understood. Too many speakers don't realize that they have "rapid-fire" speaking manners that leave everyone listening confused and not understanding what was said.
  • Follow up your speech by fielding any questions the audience may have. This gives your speech more credibility. Don't just run off the stage, giving the impression that you're only too glad to be finished.

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