The alarm sounds and I roll over realizing I have butterflies in my tummy. That can only mean one thing. Today is a presentation day. As a speaker and Chicago tour guide, there are a lot of days that are presentation days — there are also a lot of days when I give the same presentations.
Whether it be a speaking engagement promoting my book or a tour of the city, I have a few scripts that I use over and over again. If I let it, that could get pretty monotonous. Thankfully, I’ve discovered a few tricks to keep it fresh.
Keep it Fresh: Public Speaking Tips
Though public speaking is a pretty common phobia, it’s something most of have to do at some point in our career. Then, of course, there are those of us who are crazy enough to do it for a living! If public speaking is part of your life, it’s likely that, like me, there are a few presentations you’ve given several times. When you’ve given the same talk several times, it’s easy to fall into a rut. How do you stay engaged and keep yourself (and your audience) from dying of boredom?
These are a few tips and tricks I’ve discovered.
Embrace the Butterflies
If you’re lucky, like me, and your body gives you the gift of a nervous stomach (or any other physical manifestation of anxiety), embrace it. Let those butterflies do their job! Let them remind you that even though you’ve done this presentation 150 times, this 151st time is significant. It is, most likely, the first time your audience has heard it, and you owe them a fresh presentation. Channel the anxious energy into excitement and focus on doing your best. If you’re still getting butterflies after giving the same speech several times, it’s a good sign! It means you understand what you’re doing matters and you’re taking it seriously. Celebrate that fact and let it inspire and energize you.
Set It and Forget It
I’m probably showing my age here, but Ron Popeil used that phrase to sell the Ronco Rotisserie oven in late-night infomercials. Even though we aren’t cooking chicken, the sentiment works here too, trust me! I’ve been tempted in the past to forgo reviewing my notes the night before a tour. After all, I’ve walked the same route so many times, why bother reviewing the notes again? Without fail, once the butterflies start on tour day, I feel compelled to squeeze time into my schedule to go over my notes. By that point though, it’s rushed and rather than feel like a preparatory session, I feel like I’m cramming for a test. There have also been times when I’ve set out for a tour without doing any review at all, because hey, I wrote the tour, of course I’ll remember it all. I always regret these mistakes. Learn from my missteps. No matter how many times you’ve given a presentation, it behooves you to review your notes. Block time on your calendar and do it the day before so you can “set it and forget it.” Give yourself the luxury of a calm and collected review and head into your presentation confident that you have a firm grasp on the material. It frees you up to riff a little and enjoy yourself.
Adjust Your Self-talk
The only thing worse than a less-than-enthusiastic presenter is a speaker with fake enthusiasm.Tweet
I will admit there are presentation days when I wake up, and my heart isn’t in it. It could be that there’s another task on my mind, or I’m not feeling 100%, or the weather or traffic is messy. In my head, Debbie Downer takes the wheel, and I find myself wishing it was over before it even starts. But can you imagine taking that energy into a presentation? Not exactly the kind of mood that will inspire and grab an audience’s attention. So, when you notice you’re focussing on something that’s less-than-positive, adjust your self-talk. Remind yourself of the importance of your task. Remember your audience and focus on how you can help/instruct/entertain them. The only thing worse than a less-than-enthusiastic presenter is a speaker with fake enthusiasm. Take a few minutes and mentally cheer-up. Use self-talk to adjust your attitude before you step into the venue. Your genuine pleasure to be there will be appreciated by your crowd.
It’s common knowledge that before a speaking engagement you arrive with plenty of time to check in, set up your deck and mentally prepare. But what if you gave yourself an extra 15-20 minutes to settle into your surroundings? I’ll tell you what, it helps! An early arrival ensures that you know the lay of the land and have time to speak with other people – other presenters, attendees, or guests. It’s so lovely to greet and thank your host or handler without feeling rushed. It gives you margin to make adjustments or remedy technical difficulties. Those precious few minutes when folks begin to arrive are my favorite time! It’s an opportunity to chat with the early birds and figure out who will be in the crowd. And I never miss a chance to win them over and get them “on my team” right away. Having those friendly faces in the audience is always a relief no matter how many times you’ve given a presentation.
Use Your Audience
Though your presentation doesn’t change, your audience always will. Use that to your advantage. If you’ve arrived early and done a little conversational reconnaissance, use what you’ve learned in your presentation. If you don’t have access to folks before the presentation, read their expressions. It’s not hard to tell when people are engaged. Pay close attention. If specific topics or ideas seem to resonate, expound on them. Use your presentation to tell the audience not only what you want them to hear but more importantly what they want to hear! The beauty of being comfortable and familiar with a presentation is that you are free to improvise and riff a little. Let your audience’s reaction guide you.
Go On a (Short) Tangent
You probably have your presentation timing down to a science at this point. You know what comes 15 minutes in; you know how long you’ll have at the end for questions. But don’t be afraid to shake up the timeline a little. If a relevant story or helpful rabbit trail pops into your head, share it. There’s a reason you thought of it, go with the flow. Trust that you’ll get back on schedule. If you’ve given this presentation 100 times, you’re a pro. Challenge yourself. An audience will appreciate a brief and pertinent tangent as long as you get back to your outline adeptly. It makes your presentation feel less stuffy and will keep you entertained as well!
So if you’re one of the crazy ones who choose to speak in public on a regular basis, don’t let familiarity with your material kill the buzz. Remember, speaking to a crowd can be fun when you don’t allow it to become a monotonous drag. Do the work and keep things fresh. You won’t be the only one to benefit, your audience will feel your renewed excitement too.
Featured Photo by Oscar Keys on Unsplash
Photo by Antenna on Unsplash
Join the Conversation
Keep it Fresh: Public Speaking Tips for The Presenter in a Rut