Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Can I say that?

Your mouth goes dry. Your knees feel weak and squishy. There is a dull drumming forming somewhere in your own head and keeping time against your eardrums. The sweat slicking your palms soaks the paper in your hand, causing you sincere concern that you could electrocute yourself simply by touching any small appliance plugged into an electrical outlet. Your heart thunders in your chest, raspy breaths wheeze from your chest in irregular patterns, and the lights around you seem dizzyingly bright.  
No, you are neither a brain surgeon attempting a life-saving procedure on a patient, nor an astronaut embarking on a seven year trip through the far reaches of space. You are a technology whiz at your company, accustomed to fact-finding and data-crunching behind your computer screen…and you are scheduled to make a presentation to your co-workers, investors, an assortment of fifty or so individuals who just happen to think that what your company does is interesting, and a few hundred of all those individual’s closest colleagues. Not an audience to rival the Metropolitan Opera, but the thought of standing in front of all those people to speak has you literally on the verge of an aneurism.
Speaking before a large group does not have to be this terrifying sort of experience. By following several simple steps, you can make your next speaking opportunity not only tolerable, but downright enjoyable. Break out those notecards and let’s get to it!
1. Be prepared. This sounds simplistic, but the truth is that the better prepared you are, the less you have to fear. So do your research, be organized, and know your material. Preparation should also include having a bottle of water available… talking does make one thirsty, and having to interrupt yourself to ask someone for water may appear unprofessional.
2. Practice your main points. Unless you are speaking to a roomful of children, your audience will probably not enjoy your reading to them.  Know your main points and the general material covered under each so that your speech carries a conversational tone, even when discussing highly technical information.
3. Allow your personality to emerge. The impression you leave with your listeners depends not only on the information you present, but the experience of receiving that information from you. Be a real person, not a robot. You are not a computer spewing a data sheet from your printer output tray; you are a human being conveying ideas.
4. Stay on track. Straying too far into illustrations and unnecessary facts can confuse and overwhelm your audience.
5. Consider using printed handouts covering the most critical information you plan to share, so that your listeners have opportunity to mentally review your presentation later without distraction. Make sure they cover the key points of your lecture as well as including your contact information…business cards are easily misplaced.
6. Use visuals judiciously when necessary to convey information. Avoid overly splashy, graphic intense material that distracts from the core of your presentation. You accomplish nothing if your listeners remember the multi-colored, flashing border surrounding your illustrations but cannot recall the heart of the ideas you spoke about so passionately.
7. Remember to re-cap! Very briefly remind your listeners of the important points you want most for them to carry with them in their minds, and then close your talk on a positive note.
8. Lastly, RELAX. If you can speak to one person, you can speak to one hundred…or one thousand. You need not run from the stage in terror or be reduced to a stammering blob of protoplasm behind a microphone. Take deep breaths, trust yourself to be in this place at this time, and to speak what you need to say.
With a little forethought and a bit of practice, speaking to a group becomes an opportunity to share your ideas and motivate others without causing yourself undue stress. The average woman speaks in the neighborhood of 25,000 words per day, the average man speaks 12,000 to 15,000. Speaking any portion of those words to a specific group of individuals can be a rewarding growth experience, not to mention a boost to your business or current project!
Yes, you can “say that”!

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