This article is a very special one for Communicate You blog. I’ve gathered together some of Ireland’s leading public speaking and presentation coaches to garner some top tips and advice.
Here are some of the topics covered in the post:
- Advice for a beginner speaker
- Dealing with stage fright
- Connecting with an audience
Catherine Moonan is the Pitch Coach on RTÉ’s ‘Dragons’ Den’. Catherine has coached over 500 contestants on all the series to date and helped them to secure over €5 million in investment. Catherine’s website is pitchcoach.ie
Ed Fidgeon-Kavanagh is the Chief Presentationist at Clearpreso. Ed works primarily with Irish tech startups who need great investor decks or are pitching at an important event. See clearpreso.com for more details.
Barry Brophy provides presentation skills training to companies mainly in the technical sector but also delivers courses in general presentation skills. Barry is a lecturer at UCD. Learn more at barrybrophy.com.
Orlaith Carmody is the managing director of Gavin Duffy & Associates. As a well known communications expert in Ireland and overseas, Orlaith’s day job involves preparing leadership teams for frontline communications. She is author of Perform As A Leader.
What’s the most important advice for a beginner speaker?
It’s pretty simple really, take it seriously or just don’t present at all… Not researching the audience. Using generic messaging instead of tailoring a message depending on the setting. Hacking together crap slides the night before a pitch (which could decide if you get a business changing amount of money). Getting on stage having clearly never rehearsed the speech… I’ve seen it all.
The problem for those speakers is that their audience sees this unprofessionalism a mile off, and if you treat your presentations with little respect an investor or potential customer might infer that the rest of your business is equally as poorly thought out.
So set aside time, start early, put in the long boring hours, rehearse until you’re sick of hearing your own voice and kick ass. As Ed Norton says… “Hey, you want to be taken seriously? Take things seriously. Do the work. Don’t coast.”
Use conversational skills when presenting. Your conversational skill-set is vast and you do all of the things in conversation – tell stories, cite examples, use analogies, inflect your voice, wave your hands, make eye contact, communicate energetically and humorously – that you should do in a presentation. You already know how to speak so the key to a good presentation is setting up your content to allow you to use these existing skills.
Just give it a go. You’ll never know if you can do it till you try! Pick a topic that you are very comfortable with, and try to bring insight to the communication as much as information. Your insights are unique to you, and are very often something worth listening to.
Done is better than perfect. Just do it! The more often you do it, the better it becomes.
What advice do you suggest for dealing with stage fright and building confidence?
Try and forget about yourself – what you are wearing, what your accent is like, whether they ‘like’ you, if you are good enough to do the job. Focus instead on the audience, and what their needs are. If you are all about the audience, and what you want them to take away, you will forget nerves and do very well.
Practice. Do it and get used to doing it. This quells the biggest fear of all: fear of the unknown. Interact with the audience and make it more like a conversation than a speech. Ask them questions, get them to ask you questions, make eye contact and be interested in what they are interested in. Another thing that always helps me is to see the room in advance and check the place out. I would also try to talk to the person organising the event, not just to find out as much as I can about the audience, but to break the ice and, again, start that conversation.
Try mindful breathing. Just focus on the breath for even sixty seconds before you stand up to speak. It helps to ground you and sharpen your focus. Combine that with a couple of positive affirmations – ‘I deliver a great pitch/presentation. The audience love my pitch/presentation.’
Another useful exercise for stage fright is visualisation. Visualise yourself delivering a wonderful presentation with a positive end result. In terms of building confidence, nothing beats practicing your pitch/presentation out loud as often as possible beforehand.
I’ll let you in on a secret here, I hate public speaking. And while I’m reasonably good on stage, none of that comes naturally. The only way I can deal with nerves and lack of confidence is to get some serious rehearsal repetitions in on the content. I lock myself away in a room and go through the content out loud over and over again.
For bonus points record yourself, and watch back to see what you truly look like when delivering the content. You might be surprised how different it looks than the image you had in your head.
What techniques do you teach to connect with an audience?
The starting point of any pitch/presentation is the audience. Your pitch/presentation needs to be tailored to that target audience. You need to think about: Who is your audience? What’s in it for them? What’s the emotional connection?
I then use my creative brainstorming technique which includes mindfulness, music and colour to get people to tap into their creative side and to think from the right side of the brain. This often helps to generate emotional connection with the audience.
I am very big on interaction, partly because it suits my natural style, but mostly because it is, when you think about it, the biggest advantage a presentation has over other forms of communication.
I also push the same communication tools I have always been pushing, namely: examples, analogies, stories and demonstrations. And you can add images and videos to those, as well.
Talk with your audience, not at them. And remember that each one of us listens as ‘me’. None of us listen as ‘all of us out here’. So your style of communication should not change if the size of your audience is 10 or 1,000. If you make people feel like you are speaking directly to them as individuals, you will connect.
Good news! Catherine, Ed, Barry and Orlaith returned for a part 2. Check out more great advice here.