Becoming a great speaker is not rocket science, nor does it need you to be super-calculative in order to gauge your success. In fact, presenting or public speaking in seminars or conferences is quite a skill. To leave a strong impression on your audience, you need to prepare and present yourself with a lot more than just clothes and accessories. Be it at a research-oriented presentation or when stepping-in for someone as a guest speaker somewhere, there are always moments when you feel nervous about speaking in front of an audience.
So, who really is a presenter or speaker?
Well, the answer to this question is right there with you. Whether you are a research scholar, a subject-matter expert, a mentor or a business coach who is determined to drive his/her research team to a mutual goal, you’re also a presenter. At some point, you’ll feel motivated to take charge of the audience and enlighten them with some of the knowledge you’ve learned or mastered through your research or work.
What obstacles does a conference presenter face?
The major obstacle you need to overcome is stage fright. Before debuting as a speaker, you may experience a fear of the audience, possibly accompanied by stammering; a feeling of nervousness, or your mind may go blank all of a sudden.
Although, stage fright is a lot more common in novices, there are moments when even veteran speakers face the same problem. Here we will introduce the most effective ways to handle your jittery nerves so you can present your work in a conference or seminar efficiently.
1. Be passionate about your work
Yes – it’s essential to feel passionate about everything you do, whether it’s a hobby, a job, a philanthropic act, or a research or work presentation. It means doing something with all your heart. Don’t let the nervous butterflies churn your stomach – take a deep breath and feel proud of the efforts you’ve made to reach this point. Think of the things that interest and excite you most in the topic, and immerse yourself in those, showing your enthusiasm when you speak. Using this approach, you won’t feel nervous but will approach the task with passion, and deliver a memorable presentation.
2. Learn to optimize time
A lot of time and effort goes into a presentation that makes a strong impression on the audience’s mind. Time management is a crucial factor in the success of every serious undertaking. If you master this skill, you’ll be near-invincible in almost everything you do.
Always be aware of the timing, whether you’re going to present your work in a seminar or present your project developments to your team, make sure you time it well. Every item in the scope of your talk should be crisp enough to retain the audience’s attention, and clear enough for them to grasp the message easily. Prepare for the unexpected, such as a technical glitch in your system or delays due to some unavoidable factor. In any case don’t run beyond the allotted time, deliver your speech smoothly and at a convenient pace to allow people to follow, allow the audience to interact with you, and then ensure you wrap everything up in a brief conclusion.
Give the audience time for a rapid-fire round
When you’re on the podium as a speaker, the most important thing is to avoid feeling overwhelmed. Leave some time for a question and answer session. You can interact while your slide-show is on the screen, which will help to stimulate the listeners to ask questions. Don’t leave this Q&A session to the last couple of minutes of your performance when people might be starting to lose interest. Finish your speech a little early and then run the Q&A session before the time is up.
3. Confidence is the key
We’ve all known people who are very knowledgeable but are nervous about speaking. Only by preparing and practicing well can you confidently deliver a thoroughly researched presentation on your subject matter. Nervousness will then give way to confidence. When you gain in-depth knowledge of a topic through extensive research, you’ll gradually overcome the nervous jitters as your confidence grows.
Remember, by gradually building-up confidence, you’ll be relaxed and patient during your talk. As a result, your focus will shift from yourself and your nervousness to focus on the presentation and the audience – this will help you to deliver an engaging or even a phenomenal presentation.
Focus on the task! It will ruin your performance and affect your credibility as a speaker if you’re distracted by different trains of thought in your mind – you’ll lose track of the talk you’re delivering and of what’s going around you at that moment. Your fear and nervousness will overpower your efficiency. So, be sure to stay confident while delivering your speech and stop yourself from thinking about anything else at the same time.
4. Maintain the flow and stick to your point
In every presentation, be it business, a research paper, or a talk for your college seminar, make sure you stick to the points you wish to convey to the audience. Don’t just jump from one point to the next without making any connections or proper transitions, or you’ll lose the interest of your audience. Keeping the keyboard shortcuts handy when using a PowerPoint presentation to deliver your talk will help you to make smooth transitions from one point to the next. Use a wireless controller if possible to navigate through the content effortlessly. If an audience member asks you to clarify a point from a slide that you have already passed – using shortcuts will help you to skim through easily and locate the slide.
A tip to remember – always let the talk revolve around ‘Why?’ Who cares?’ and ‘So what?’ to help you to prepare, proceed, and communicate well in your talk.
- Why will the talk interest anyone?
- Who cares who the audience is or why will the topic will concern them?
- So what will the consequences of your talk be?
5. Rehearse and practice for perfection
Chris Anderson of TED fame says “Many of our best and most popular TED Talks have been memorized word for word…Most people go through what I call the ‘valley of awkwardness,’ where they haven’t quite memorized the talk. If they give the talk while stuck in that valley, the audience will sense it…It’s just a matter of rehearsing enough times that the flow of words becomes second nature.”
Practice and rehearse a talk that either you or someone else has put together. It’s very useful to record yourself when rehearsing the speech to identify your flaws. It might be your pace of speech or tone of voice, the flow of the topic, or simply the pitch at which you speak that hinders you from giving a perfect presentation. By rehearsing your talk, you’ll familiarize yourself with it and improve the flow, to deliver a better speech. If possible, ask colleagues, friends or family to act as your audience, and collect some feedback to help refine your performance. Understanding your strengths and weaknesses will help you to improve through practice.
Be prepared for challenging situations, so that you won’t be deterred when such situations crop up. Familiarise yourself with the venue beforehand if possible, so that the strangeness of a new place won’t undermine your confidence.
6. Understand your audience
A common mistake is for a speaker to underestimate the audience. At a conference or seminar you need to remember that the audience will already have an idea about the subject you are about to present. You don’t need to explain it to them from scratch; rather your presentation will add more substance to their existing knowledge of the subject matter. Have a quick talk with your audience before you start your talk to understand what they know by quickly going through the basics and introducing the actual topic.
You need to remember that being on the podium is a privilege, and the key is to engage and interact with the audience. Keep a relaxed style of body language and move around the platform, letting the audience feel you are approachable.
7. Communicate effectively with the audience
A mediocre and a great presenter have different levels of understanding of the research material. A great presenter knows the ‘Why?’ ‘Who cares?’ and ‘So what?’ tip outlined in point 4 of this article. The presenter will therefore be capable of elaborating on the topic and answering any questions. It’s vital to do thorough research, collect all the relevant information, and stick to the paper submission guidelines for the specific seminar or conference.
If you haven’t researched the topic because you are stepping in for someone else, you should still do a little background research, going through all the material, and have a few rehearsal sessions to ensure you deliver the talk well.
The audience will sniff even if you are knowledgeable in the subject matter, so you’ll need to prepare a visually appealing presentation with a few key points and then elaborate on these during the talk, explaining all the nitty-gritties of your findings.
Seasoned conference speakers follow these key rules:
- Introduce the purpose – briefly go through the key points
- Elaborate – dig deeply and make the topic interesting
- Refresh – crisply summarize the topic
8. Weave the story
People often learn best through stories, so a dry and over-serious presentation might not receive much attention. That means you can make your presentation more appealing by weaving a story through it – depict relevant real-life scenarios and experiences, giving specific examples. This will help the audience to relate more easily and grasp the information you are relating.
9. Use the inverted pyramid in your talk
Applying the inverted pyramid to present your talk is the best option. Using this style of presentation means you introduce the most important facts first before delving deeper into the topic. If the introduction appeals to the audience, you’ll hold their interest till the end as they’ll want to know all the details. Never make the mistake of randomly explaining the topic without a proper structure, and consequently losing the attention of your audience.
10. Visual appeal – balancing text with imagery
Using visuals for learning has been done since time immemorial. Add some eye-catching slides to your PowerPoints to make them visually captivating. These will keep your audience’s attention on your talk and greatly help in fulfilling your goal of presenting, informing, and engaging the audience.
You can also make use of various applications and programs to create an audio-visual presentation, and explain it simultaneously.
While creating presentations, you need to be very careful in maintaining the perfect balance between text and images. Here some tips for presenting and combining texts and images in your presentations:
- Use bullet points to convey vital points in your paper.
- Make use of images to break up large blocks of text
- When introducing an idea, use bullets and texts wisely to make your idea stand out.
11. Take a dynamic approach
Audiences love a dynamic presenter that makes them sit up, otherwise they’ll just switch off when a presenter starts a talk in a dull and boring way, especially in seminars or conferences where a number of speakers will talk back-to-back. Avoid boring people, and push yourself to add some humour and interest to keep everyone in a good mood throughout the presentation.
When people are relaxed and interested, they’ll learn better and their positive response will encourage you to go on with your talk. Allow yourself to be flexible in your responses and interactions with the audience – let them enjoy the talk and absorb the knowledge you’re imparting through it. Make the session interactive as you reveal to them your findings, and raise questions as well as answering them. Don’t stick robotically to scripts and lose the connection with your audience. Keep a lively pace, and most importantly, enjoy the talk.
Now you have a good idea about what a presentation demands from you and how to adapt to audience needs. Don’t let small technical glitches throw you off track. By practising a lot, you’ll deliver your talk confidently. Be an enthusiastic speaker and go with the flow. Use your wealth of research knowledge and capture the audience, giving them a presentation to remember.