Making A Difference
Getting Ready to Present
The most crucial part of any presentation is the first few sentences. It is at this point that you involve the audience. In those first few moments, the audience will decide if you are worth listening to and if they will or will not pay attention.
Professional speakers use several opening techniques to gain the attention of the audience:
Spend time on your opening statements. Like the first paragraph of a book, the first sentence in a newspaper or magazine article or the first statement on a radio or television news broadcast, it is the grabber that can make the difference.
Making the Most of the Middle
In the course of your presentation, establish your credentials as a speaker. It is not necessary to be too specific ("I was born...I graduated..."), but it is good to make reference to your professional experience. For example, a medical librarian might use phrases in a presentation such as, "In my 10 years working with...," "We see approximately 1,000 clients each year...," "MLA has been active in raising public awareness about access to health care issues.…"
We all suffer from stage fright when getting up in front of people. A famous stage actor in an interview recently said that he threw up before his first 2,000 stage performances. Most speakers don't throw up, although sometimes they think they might. These pointers hopefully will help you relax:
These final tips may help with your stage fright:
Timing is also important. Most speakers try to cover too much material both on their visuals and in their speech. One advantage to visuals is that you can gauge your presentation time by the number of visuals you have prepared. If your visuals are designed correctly, you can cover one visual approximately every one to two minutes. Therefore, if you have been asked to put together a 20-minute presentation and you have nine to 12 visuals, you will have 20 minutes of material.
When someone asks you to speak, be sure to clarify how much total time you have. The biggest mistake made by speakers is that they anticipate they have more time to cover the materials than they do. Anyone who has been the final speaker of the day knows what this means. If you are given an hour, design your presentation for 40 minutes. The presentation should take 3/4 of the allotted time.
It is good to dress conservatively. Suits, vests, ties and dresses are all appropriate.
If you have analyzed your audience thoroughly, you should know how to dress for the situation. Presenting to the Lions Club and speaking at one of your conferences require not only two different types of speeches, but may require two different types of dress.
Creating an Illusion
Any time you are in front of an audience, you are creating an illusion, an illusion of professional skills, of knowledge, of credibility, of enthusiasm, of determination. There is nothing wrong with rehearsing for a total illusion.
The successful speaker gives equal attention to:
The same techniques that work for an opening, work equally well at the close of a presentation. Quotes, anecdotes, examples and personal stories are particularly dynamic in an ending.
Many presentations end with the speaker asking the audience if they have any questions. From the presidential level of politics to the informal lunch presentation, speakers are increasingly using this technique.
Q&A sessions allow the speaker to directly address issues of greatest concern to the audience. They also expose the speaker to a Pandora's box of subjects related or unrelated to the topic.
The same "be prepared" warning that makes speakers prepare and research presentations thoroughly, makes them prepare for a Q&A session. Rehearse by writing a list of questions that you might reasonably expect to be asked. Ask a relative or friend to rehearse with you and fire questions that you have prepared and any they can think of. Tape the rehearsal so that you can critique your answers for clarity and accuracy.
There is a sinking feeling that accompanies the speaker's call for questions and the dead silence that follows. This can be an awkward moment.
You may have overwhelmed or intimidated your audience or your presentation may have been too technical or sophisticated. Or, you might have done a superb job in covering your topic and your audience felt perfectly content!
Whatever the reason, there are several ways to cope with the lack of questions:
"An overwhelming majority of American executives take a dim view of making public speeches and business presentations and feel it is something to be endured, a national survey found. Although only 32 percent said that they walk into the spotlight expecting success, 83 percent believed that public speaking skills are critical to career growth."
Psychiatrists tell us the fear of public speaking ranks right up there with the fear of going to the dentist and even the fear of death.
We fear making fools of ourselves. Deep down inside we fear tripping, stuttering, forgetting what we have to say, saying the wrong thing or putting the audience to sleep. In our mind's eye, we see the podium collapsing, our slides coming up backwards, our note cards falling on the floor and the pitcher of water spilling on our feet.
Perhaps it is because we share these fears that audiences are so forgiving and so polite. We accept each other's human frailties and empathize with the stumble and stutter. We don't throw fruit and tend to boo only politicians and leaders of causes.
You will feel most comfortable at the podium:
Now go out there, take center stage and enjoy!
Medical Library Association
Last Updated: 2007 July 13