Is public speaking your worst nightmare? Part 2

by Elizabeth Griffith | Mar 12, 2018

By Amy Bennett | March 12, 2018

Public Speaking Nightmare Part 2

Some people are just naturally gifted when it comes to public speaking. Marian University President, Dan Elsener, is one of those. Whether Dan is speaking in front of the entire campus or a smaller group of parents, he always seems to be spot on. He’s super personable yet he gets his points across. He’s humble, funny, and quick on his toes. He makes public speaking look effortless. It’s truly an amazing skill to watch in action. 

For the rest of us, preparation and practice are paramount. In Part one of this blog, we focused on choosing your topic, narrowing your scope, the length of your speech, the importance of considering your audience and the occasion, as well as the purpose of your speech. In this second part, I’d like to concentrate more on the delivery of the speech or presentation. 

Use PowerPoint slides effectively.

Most speakers need some kind of visual aids to keep their presentation on track, and that’s not a bad thing.

Just don’t use the note cards or slides as a crutch. You also need to have a "Plan B" in case there are technical glitches, but whatever you do, don’t have so much information that the audience concentrates on reading the slides and they miss hearing what you’re saying. I’ve seen some really great PowerPoint presentations and some really bad ones. Here’s what I’ve learned; a good PowerPoint slide should:

  • Reinforce your main talking points. Everything you say should not be on a slide. While there doesn’t seem to be a hard and fast rule, I think the consensus is that you have 30 words or less per slide.
  • Be legible from the back of the room. This is important! Most articles I’ve read suggest a font of at least 30 points.
  • Contain contrasting colors.Light text on a dark background or dark text on a light background will increase the readability of the text on your slide. You’ll also want to keep your slides consistent in color and design.
  • Be void of words in all caps and use punctuation sparingly. You don’t want to make your audience feel like you’re shouting at them!
  • Do not over use special effects; they can be distracting and seem repetitive.
  • Be free of spelling and grammatical errors. Please, please, please have someone you trust review your slides.

Focus on your audience’s needs. 

It may be common sense, but the presentation is for your audience, not you! You’re the expert. Think about what information the audience needs and wants. Communicate clearly. What is your main message? When in doubt, keep it simple. Less is often better.

Build rapport with your audience.

Make eye contact. Smile. It is essential that you start strongly in the beginning and grab the audience’s attention. It will also help your nervousness if you feel like you’re just talking to individuals and not talking to a packed auditorium. Tell stories. Audiences appreciate honesty and sharing personal stories and examples. It will help them to stay engaged

Your voice and body language matter.

This comes with time and practice, but your audience will respond to changes in your pitch, tone, and quality of your voice, and the speed in which you speak. Speaking with confidence is imperative – especially if you’re giving a persuasive speech! Your non-verbal cues will also impact the presentation. Even if your tone is enthusiastic, if your arms remain folded as you take questions, you may appear to be closed off, as though you aren’t listening. An experienced presenter will also read cues (yawning, fidgeting, and/or talking) from his audience and then make changes.

I ran across this quote from Dale Carnegie, “There are always three speeches, for every one you actually gave. The one you practiced, the one you gave, and the one you wish you gave.” While this may be true, you’ll feel much better about your presentations if you:

  • Are prepared and have given yourself time to practice.
  • Know your topic, narrow down the message, and communicate it clearly.
  • Ensure that your PowerPoint slides add to the presentation, but aren’t the focus.
  • Keep the audience’s interest by being aware of your voice and body language and by sharing stories.

Mostly, it’s important to be genuine. If you lose your place or make a mistake, roll with it or make a joke about it. I know. It’s easier said than done. But honestly, no one is looking for or expecting a perfect presentation – unless you’re expecting an “A” in COM 101.

​Continue to part 3: real world tips.

Did you miss "Is public speaking your worst nightmare: Part 1?" No problem, find it here.

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