Common issues when presenting and public speaking

At some point we will have to make a presentation or speak in front of people.  If we’re lucky, we enjoy speaking in front of people. Unfortunately, many of us are not so equipped and will need some way to do better. So before we walk up and embarrass ourselves, we should consider some ways to improve our presentation skills before it’s too late.

Summary is everything

When giving a presentation, we must be able to summarise it ourselves. Is this a new project proposal? Are we celebrating a loved one? Whatever the reason, we must be able to show a rough outline of what we’re doing in front of these people. This is important for us – we know where we’re going if we get stuck – and for our audience, to prepare themselves.

If we’re focused on particularly business-related presentations, it’s wise to include summaries every so often to help outline. These can act almost like breaks. Unfortunately, an audience needs a break. These can be as short as a few seconds worked into a presentation or longer.

Tell a story but keep the concept

We want to be good speakers and give a presentation that’s relevant to the audience. A good way to do this is with a story, since these mean an audience can follow along. Science communicators, like Carl Sagan and Richard Attenborough, famously inform their audience while conveying a simple story about particular aspects of the world.

But a story can’t do everything.

As one expert notes: “Don’t include a story that is interesting and emotionally engaging but not 100% conceptually relevant. Though in the short-term you’ll keep the attention of your audience, it will sacrifice focus and understanding of your core message.”

Be approachable but knowledgeable

Though we are all intimidated by experts, we also can’t let intimidation be the first reaction from an audience. This can make them defensive. Primarily, a good speaker is relaxed, confident and able to relay the presentation with confidence. This has an effect on the audience.

As one public speaking expert notes:

“If the topic is of interest to you and she is a good presenter, you can focus on the presentation for 7 to 10 minutes at most. If you’re not interested in the topic or the presenter is particularly boring, then you’ll lose interest much faster—possibly you’ll tune out within 7 seconds instead of minutes.”

Of course, a lot of us are scared of speaking in public. Jonathon Colman is a deeply introverted person, but has found useful methods to overcome his fear of public speaking. He calls these “hacks” that almost anyone can use themselves. Remember: this is important because we shouldn’t let unjustified fears undermine our work and effort when presenting.

In the end, we are the only ones stopping ourselves from succeeding, not the receptive audience. It might be helpful to consider communication and presentation skills training, however, if we want to have proper response to overcoming our fears.