Friday, October 30, 2009

Speaking Skills: Performance, cont'd.

Key 5: Performance, continued

It’s the big day! You have adjusted your mindset, planned, rehearsed, and employed some anti-anxiety techniques. You have been introduced to your audience. The moment is here: You stand up to give your presentation! Here are some more keys to performance that can help you get your message across while appearing professional.

  • Eye contact. A major part of any communication is connection with your listener/audience. Eye contact is key for creating and maintaining it. With a large crowd, you cannot make eye contact with every single person, but be sure to look to different points in the room, and make eye contact wherever possible with people in your line of sight. Make sure the contact is significant--a second or two--before moving on. Quickly cruising the eyes in the room is known as a “drive-by” and does not help you look connected. A terrific tip for commanding attention right from the beginning is to pause before speaking, take a few moments to make eye contact with your audience, then begin with your presentation.
  • Pace yourself. One of the easy things to do when you’re nervous is talk too fast. (I am terribly guilty of this.) People must be able to hear you and process what you are saying. A lot of rehearsal will help you learn to pace yourself well. Remember: Slow down, and take pauses. A great way to do this is to have a water bottle handy. If you force yourself to take sips from it at regular intervals, you will create pauses. In addition, you will be wetting your mouth, which hides one of the signs of nervousness (dry mouth, which can result in a lot of lip smacking noises).
  • Watch your volume. You should be loud enough to be heard clearly, even in the back, and to command attention. If people are straining to hear you, your message gets lost. Pay attention to people in your audience--do they look confused? Are any of them holding an ear and turning it toward you? That’s your signal to speak up. Make sure you maintain your volume--I’ve seen plenty of people reminded to speak up, and they do so for a sentence or two, but then fade back down to normal volume. Also, be sure to enunciate clearly. Some speakers have fine volume, but it’s difficult to pick out their words because they seem to all run together.
  • It’s good to have a support person in the audience if at all possible. If you corral someone into being your signal person, he or she can let you know how you are doing on time (say, signaling when 10 minutes have gone by, or if 5 minutes are left), if you are speaking too fast, if you are not loud enough, and any other roster of issues that you can address on the fly. This person can also hand out any materials for distribution (so you don’t have to do it), and help with some visual aids, if appropriate. Never underestimate the power of someone who is looking out for you.
  • Deal with messing up. You lose your place, stumble over your words, forget what you were saying, the projector doesn’t work, you trip and fall, or the mic goes dead (or all of the above). It’s okay--it happens! Take a deep breath, take a sip of water if you need to, and jump back in as best you can. The important thing is not to panic. Just keep going--there is no need to stop and apologize. It just draws attention to your goofup. Believe me, no one will rub it in if you mess up here and there. It’s more important that you recover from it and keep going. How you handle a goofup is far more important than the fact that the goofup happened in the first place.
  • Be ready to improvise when technical glitches happen--and they will eventually happen. PowerPoint suddenly won’t work, projectors aren’t available, your printer died, the microphone is dead. Can you give your speech without PowerPoint? You should be able to--after all, slides should illustrate or highlight your point, not be your point. If your script is in your slides, then it isn’t much of a presentation because you’ll just be reading your slides to the audience (and they can already read). Handouts not prepared? Then make sure you tell your audience to get out pen and paper and make your organization of the topic very clear so they can essentially create their own take-homes.

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