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A local trainer covers the basics of making presentations

Five fundamentals of speaking in public
by Barbara Kreski

Barbara Kreski, a training professional from Chicago, IL, and a consultant to United Visual, Inc.Need to make a presentation? Want it to be a good one? Pay attention to the fundamentals and you really can't go wrong.

These fundamentals form the foundation that gives a presentation polish, interest-value and that desirable quality of connecting with the audience. Whether you are new at presenting or highly experienced, it pays to go back to the fundamentals to vitalize your delivery. Let's take a look at several.

Build your foundation on a strong desire to share your information. It's pretty hard to present well if you really don't care to be doing it. So dig deep and find your motivation. Set a goal for yourself (such as creating three new visuals to illustrate key points), challenge yourself (for example, I'll catch Jim's attention and replace his bored expression with a spark of interest), remind yourself of the reasons you are presenting (I used to think I could do a good job at this. Am I really doing the best I can?). Spend some time creating an eagerness to share, because it is the foundation from which good talks grow. Inspire yourself or you'll never inspire your listeners.

A second key is selecting a topic carefully. Nothing in the way you present can compensate if your listeners fail to see their connection with your topic. You'll need to understand your listeners in order to truly address their needs. Sometimes this demands some research and creativity on your part, but it is time and effort well spent. Hook the information you want to communicate to something that is already part of your listeners' experience. Consider a splashy opening, a thought-provoking question, or an attention getter to draw them in.

Third, you need to prepare by understanding your audience and making the topic relevant to them. Prepare by knowing your topic inside and out. You need to be fluent, to iron out any glitches in advance, and to have well in mind the key points you want to cover. If you are using audio/visuals, take time to set up the equipment and do a run-through to discover and fix any problems in advance. Don't let the potential for problems deter you from using technology to enhance your delivery. Just remember to prepare a "plan B". Ever been on a roll when the power fails or a slide sticks? Be ready! Know exactly how to complete your presentation without the equipment, just in case.

Some presenters try to prepare by memorizing their talk, thinking this will take away their nervousness. Actually, memorizing lines only increases the tension of presenting. You start to focus on remembering each word rather than communicating with your listener. Instead, prepare by establishing a flow of ideas or points that you wish to make. Ask yourself what three things you want your listener to remember about your topic. Consider your presentation a success if you have successfully communicated those three things.

Which brings us to one of the most vital fundamentals: enthusiasm. How do people know you have a desire to share your presentation with them? By the outward signs of your enthusiasm! Start by warming yourself up for the task so you can open with a bang. Before the audience gathers, practice smiling, even laughing and talking out loud, to loosen up. Stretch your arms, breathe deep and grin some more. When you begin, smile and take your position with a bound in your step. Show your eagerness to be there and your pleasure at being able to talk with this group. What's that? You say you hate giving presentations? Nonsense! You don't want your audience to see that. Better to do all you can to look like you are enjoying yourself. You may surprise yourself by actually forgetting your discomfort.

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An instructor in a leadership course once asked one of the students if he had paid attention to the fundamentals and if he had enthusiasm for his topic. "Oh, yes," came the reply through clenched teeth."Then would you please notify your face?" she said. "It hasn't gotten the message!" A genuine smile, some eye contact, relaxed gestures and a strong voice will help you convey enthusiasm. And enthusiasm is contagious. Surely you want your listeners to have some degree of enthusiasm for what you say. Well, it must originate with you. So pull out the stops, rev up your motor, and notify your face that it's show time!

The final fundamental we want to address here is self-confidence. Self-confidence comes from getting a few satisfactory experiences with presenting behind you. And most importantly, it comes from going ahead and doing what makes you uncomfortable or even fearful. The experience of conquering fear is what makes us brave. Which leads some folks to ask, "If self- confidence is something that comes from experience, how do I get self-confident for my first presentations?" Well the answer is that, initially, you may have to fake confidence! If you pay close attention to the fundamentals, especially enthusiasm, you will at least appear to be confident. If you address each of the other fundamentals (picking your topic carefully, developing an eagerness to share your information and preparing thoroughly) you can expect your presentation to be a good one. After that, you will build real confidence with each successful attempt.

So that's it–five fundamentals of presentations you can be proud of: desire to share, topic selection, preparation, enthusiasm, and self-confidence! They are easy to learn and understand, but their true value lies in rigorously applying them. Begin by incorporating any one of the five into your talk, and it will surely improve. Incorporate all five and you'll be dynamic!

 

Barbara Kreski is the training director for the Chicago Center of the Gabriel Richard Institute, a not-for-profit organization whose mission is to help people develop practical leadership skills.

For more information about public speaking and leadership workshops, please call the Institute at 312/ 237-8745.