Tag Archives: public speaking

What to do About Presentation Jitters?

Everybody suffers from nerves just before making an important presentation. Even the old pros who have been doing it for what seems like a lifetime. Any speaker who denies that truth is either lying to you, or even worse, lying to themselves. A speaker who lies to himself or herself about suffering from nerves just before going on stage is doing themselves a great disservice. They are keeping themselves from becoming all that they could be as a speaker. We may experience the jitters for many reasons. We may feel that we have not prepared properly for the presentation. We may feel that we are not as expert on our subject as we should be. We may feel unprepared to face the audience Q&A session that will follow your formal presentation. You may feel that you will be facing a hostile audience. No matter what the underlying causes of your jitters are, you can alleviate those jitters in just five minutes before taking the stage.

The process that I am about to share with you here will transport you from your self-conscious, nervous state to a “Productive Level of Relaxation.” This relaxation technique will put you in “The Zone”, that sweet spot where every speaker wants to be, no matter how important or unimportant his or her presentation may be for his or her career.

This is a simple breathing exercise.

The first step in the exercise is to find a quiet place, a place of solitude. You don’t have to go to a Tabetian Monastery or a mountain retreat to find your place of solitude. A hotel or motel room will do nicely. Your car parked out in front of the venue where you will be speaking will work OK too. Even a stall in the restroom will suffice in a pinch. Anywhere where you can sit comfortably with your feet flat on the floor will do for this five minute breathing exercise.

The second step is to close your eyes and close out the external world. You objective here is to concentrate on what is happening within your body. For the first minute, listen to every breath that you take. Notice what is happening in your body as you breathe slowly and calmly. Experience the sensation with your body, not with your mind. Feel each breath as it travels from your mouth to your lungs, bringing with it, life giving oxygen. Transporting life sustaining oxygen to every cell in your living body.

Third, focus on a visual image that you create in your mind. The image should consist of a neutral shape—a circle, a triangle or a square. The figure should have a neutral color—a green, a yellow, a blue or some shade of green, yellow or blue.

Fourth, focus on that single image, making it as crystal clear as possible. Adopt a passive attitude while focusing on this single image. While doing this, other thoughts will enter your mind. Take note of them and then let them go on their way. Stay totally focused on your chosen image. Do nothing, just let your awareness be.

Fifth, after five minutes, your breathing will have become much slower and much deeper. Open you eyes slowly and rise to a standing position. Maintain this relaxed state as you leave your place of solitude and take the stage to make your presentation.

This breathing exercise to reduce presentation jitters is no substitute for practicing your presentation, it is an adjunct to that practice. Every speaker needs to practice his or her presentation until they can be ready to give it on a moments notice because that’s when they will need it most.

The 7 Deadly Sins

At Toastmasters we make a big deal of counting every filler word uttered by a speaker during their prepared speeches and uttered during impromptu speaking. The Darth Vader of the Ah Counting universe, and we have a few of them in my club, even catch the “ahs”, “ums”, “you knows”, “so”, “you see”, and other filler words uttered during every speaking moment. The Darth Vaders take their job very serious and take pride of reporting every lapse to the speaker when giving their role report at the end of the meeting. Regardless of what our beloved Darth Vaders would have you think, an occasional filler word will not destine your presentation to failure. A speaker with good content, content that is important to and useful for his or her audience will earn the audience’s forgiveness when an occasional filler word slips from between the speaker’s lips. There will be no forgiveness for the speaker who commits one or more of the 7 Deadly Sins and get caught in the act. Your presentation will be doomed to fail and you, the presenter, to disgrace.

Everyone knows what the Biblical 7 Deadly Sins are, they were drummed into our heads during those seemingly endless Sunday School classes;

  1. Sloth

  2. Envy

  3. Lust

  4. Gluttony

  5. Greed

  6. Wrath

  7. Pride

but how do the Biblical 7 Deadly Sin relate to the world of public speaking?

The First Deadly Sin: Sloth.

A speaker commits the unpardonable sin of Sloth when he or she fails to prepare properly for his or her presentation. Sloth is another word for laziness. Speaking in public, whether formally or informally, is an activity essential to our success in business, in life itself, yet many people never put forth the effort needed to master it.

People join Toastmasters because they see the need to improve their communication skills. They achieve that goal in a setting where everyone wants to see them succeed, a safe environment. Sadly, because it is a safe environment where their speeches are evaluated to motivate, they are never under pressure to become all that they could be. Many Toastmasters are guilty of Sloth because they never prepare for their speeches until the eleventh hour and depend on their ability to speak extemporaneously to get them through their 5 to 7 minute presentation. The Competent Communication Manual, the manual containing the first ten speech projects that every Toastmaster must complete to reach his or her first level of competency, is a veritable communications textbook, with a wealth of invaluable information on speech making, but far too many Toastmasters never really study that material. Far too many Toastmasters simply rush from one project to the next on their way to getting their Competent Communicator Certificate. They are guilty of Sloth because they do not put forth the effort to master each project before moving on to the next project.

The Second Deadly Sin: Envy.

As public speakers we are guilty of this unpardonable sin when we express the belief that truly great speaker got to where they are because of luck or because they were born with the gift of gab. Those guilty of envy believe that great speakers are natural born speakers. Speakers who are guilty of the Deadly sin of Envy are likely to commit other sins because of it.

  • They commit the sin and crime of vulgarism. They steal the stories and anecdotes of other speakers and claim them to be their own.

  • They steal other speaker’s Power Point presentations and tell everyone that they created them.

  • They copy the speaking styles of successful speakers, never putting forth the effort to find their own voice.

These speakers doom themselves to failure because they know that they are phonies. This self awareness leads to their lack of self-confidence and promotes their nervousness in every speaking situation. They are their own worse enemy.

Beginning with the Second Deadly Sin, a chain reaction sets in, each deadly sin leading into the commission of the next deadly sin. Envy leads directly into Lust.

The Third Deadly Sin: Lust.

Picture your audience naked. I cringe every time I hear someone tell a new speaker that. It is common advice. It is also the worse advice anyone could give a speaker. The theory behind it is picturing an audience naked makes them appear just as vulnerable as the speaker feels. Picturing an audience naked might help feed the speaker’s erotic fantasies, but it will not help them become better speakers. Picturing you audience naked is falling prey to the unpardonable sin of Lust. Picturing your audience naked can lead to other distractions that make speaking even more difficult. I’ll leave it up to you to imagine what those additional distractions might be since I want to keep this post G-Rated.

The Fourth Deadly Sin: Gluttony.

The unpardonable sin of gluttony is committed by speakers who believe that more is always better. More Power Point Slides, more numbered or bulleted lists, more graphs, more words on every slide, more detailed examples, more of everything. The speakers who have fallen prey to the unpardonable sin of Sloth are especially susceptible to the Deadly Sin of Gluttony because they allow their visual aids to take the place of a presentation. Gluttony leads the speaker down the path to Greed.

The Fifth Deadly Sin: Greed.

The unpardonable sin of greed is the sin of excess. Speakers commit this deadly sin when they go over the time limits of their presentation. Going over the time allowed for your speech is a violation of the unwritten contract that you have signed with your audience. The members of your audience are busy people and they have penciled in a certain amount of time to hear your presentation, to exceed that amount of time means that you are interfering with their next scheduled meeting or task, and that is never good for you or for them. On the other hand, they will appreciate it if you finish a couple of minutes early because that will give them a minute or two to relax between appointments. However never finish too early or the audience will fell cheated. If you are scheduled to speak for 30 minutes and finish in 27, that’s great; finish a 30 minute speech in 20 minutes and the audience will feel cheated especially if they paid good money to hear what you had to say.

The Sixth Deadly Sin: Wrath.

Commit this unpardonable sin and the wrath of God will descend upon you and your presentation. A speaker commits this Deadly Sin when he or she handles problems that may arise during a presentation in an inappropriate or otherwise bad manner. It does not matter how bad a presentation is going; it does not matter whose fault that may be, surrendering to the provocation and becoming angry is counterproductive. Getting angry—whether at yourself, at someone in the audience, or at some other factor that affects you speech—is the worse possible thing that you can do during a presentation. Anger displayed by you makes your audience uncomfortable. Your anger destroys your credibility in the eyes of your audience.

So why do speakers succumb so easily to these first six Deadly Sins? The answer to that question lies within the deadliest Deadly Sin of them all, the Seventh. The Seventh Deadly Sin is the progenitor of all the other unpardonable, Deadly Sins.

The Seventh Deadly Sin: Pride.

Speakers fall prey to this unpardonable sin when then succumb to the thinking that being a public speaker is all about them. They are too full of self. They think that they really are “all that.” As Solomon wrote in Proverbs 16:18 Pride goeth before destruction, And an haughty spirit before a fall (KJV).

Now Hear This: Public Speaking is Never

  • all about you

  • about the lavish praised the MC may bestow upon you during your introduction

  • about your razor sharp delivery

  • about your lavish, elaborate Power Point slides

public speaking is always all about your audience and the message that you have for them.

What’s Your Hook?

What do professional public speakers have in common with champion prize fighters? They both have devastating hooks. One champion boxer may have a great left hook, another champion a great right hook. Every world class speaker has many great verbal hooks. Just as the boxer may set his opponent up for the knockout punch with a left hook or a right hook, so must the public speaker with his or her verbal hook which consists of the very first words out of his or her mouth.

What is a verbal hook?

A “hook” is anything that gets the audiences attention. A speaker can begin by asking the audience a question that requires a response on the part of the listeners. A rhetorical question doesn’t work well as a hook. A speaker may open his or her speech by presenting a shocking fact or statistic, that will get their attention. The speaker might even choose to open his or her speech with a personal story. Audiences like personal stories as openers. What you need to remember that every hook will not set your audience up for the knockout punch, the body of your speech. In order for you to deliver an effective knockout punch, your hook must not only get the audiences attention within the first 30 seconds, it must hold their attention for the punches to come. In order for your hook to accomplish that, whatever you use to hook your audience with must be relevant to the rest of your speech. For example, yesterday was the eleventh anniversary of the 9/11 attacks on the Twin Towers and on the Pentagon. I might have opened a speech yesterday by telling the story of how I lost several very close friends during those attack. That story would have caught my audiences attention as an opener, but it wouldn’t have held their attention for the rest of my speech unless the rest of my speech pertain to those 9/11 events. A good hook not only captures your audiences attention, it will make everything else you say more memorable.

What kind of hook should you use?

The good news is that there are many great hooks to choose from, but not all of them work equally well with every speech. What would work well with one audience for a given speech might not work with a different for the same speech. This is another reason every speaker must master the art of audience analysis. In order to pick an effective hook to use with any given audience, we need to know what motivates that audience in the way we want to motivate them.

Personal stories are great hooks provided that the story is something that your audience can relate to and provided that it is relevant to the rest of your speech. The story must also be a true story. I once knew a speaker who had been hired to give the keynote speech at a fund raiser for a local animal shelter. His face was badly disfigured so he had devised this opening story about how he had been burned while rescuing puppies from a burning tenement building. The story was a masterpiece of fiction but it was fiction none the less. He captured the audiences attention, a few of the women were even crying, as they hung onto his every word. Things were going great until a few minutes into his presentation a man in the back couldn’t keep quiet any longer. He stood up and yelled out at the top of his lungs, “You are a fake. You hate dogs. You didn’t get those burns rescuing puppies, you got burned in a car accident. I know. I was there.” Well, that got the audience to wondering if the fund raiser itself was on the up and up and many needy animals went without funds because of that deceitful speaker. I know that this story is true because I was the man who stood up in the back of the room and accused him of being a fake.

Physical props work great as hooks too. Public speaking is all about making an oral presentation. If you suddenly reach down beneath the lectern and pull out a physical object that is critical to the subject you are speaking on, you will have captured your audiences attention and will have them in the palm of your hand for the duration of you speech. Not just any prop will do. It has to be something that will reach out and grab your audience in a vise-like grip.

I am a lifetime member of the NRA, the National Rifle Association and a Second Amendment activist. I was asked to give the keynote at a rally where most of the audience was in favor of stronger gun control. What was my hook? What were the props that I used to capture and hold their attention that night? After I was introduced and before saying anything at all, I slowly laid out on the table provided for me, some of the rifles, shotguns, and pistols that they would like to see banned. That really got their attention. Then, each of those legal and legally owned weapons were used to illustrate various points that I made throughout my 45-minute keynote speech. For me this approach worked because I had the credentials, which included a concealed carry permit for all the pistols I had displayed. The display of actual guns got their attention. I then combined that with true stories about how private citizens had used legally owned firearms to save their own lives and to save the lives of other citizens when their lives were threatened by armed criminals.

Startling statistics are an unbeatable hook. I used this one recently when presenting a speech on second amendment rights. I opened my speech with this question/statement: “Did you know that the four states in the United States—Vermont, Arizona, Alaska and Wyoming has the lowest violent crime rates of all the fifty states and the District of Columbia?” of course, if you are going make that kind of assertion, you had better be able to back it up with some cold, hard facts. I did, the Uniform Crime Report published by the United State’s Department of Justice.

In conclusion.

Just any old hook will not do. You need the right hook for the audience you are presenting to. Quite often you will spend more time developing the right hook for each audience you present to then you will spend preparing the speech itself. One final word about props that could pose a threat to your audience’s safety, such as my weapons, make sure they are displayed in a safe manner. In the case of my weapons, they were displayed with their magazines removed, their bolts locked back, and with a trigger lock in place.

Audience Analysis

Audience analysis involves gathering and interpreting information about the recipients of oral, written, or visual communication. Back in the day when I got my start as a freelance writer, I was told to not even consider querying any magazine with an article idea until I read, no, not read, analyzed 6 months to 1 year of back issues of that magazine. I was told to analyze the articles to see the slant or approach the published writer took to their subjects. The tone they used, the voice they used, the level of the vocabulary they used, all provided valuable information about the magazine editorial preferences, as well as those of their readers. The display ads told the writer about the readers economic and social status. Everything between the covers provided valuable insights for the writer and helped him or her craft their query letters and send them to the right target market. Audience analysis does the same thing for the public speaker. The techniques involved in gathering the information is different and more involved but the purpose behind doing an audience analysis is the same. Let’s begin by looking at the kinds of data a speaker gathers while performing an audience analysis.

A.U.D.I.E.N.C.E.

I love acronyms. An acronym can be defined as a pronounceable word made up of a series of letters or groups of letter taken from other words. In some cases, as in this case, we can transform a single word into an useful acronym. For the public speaker getting ready to do an audience analysis, each letter in audience points the speaker towards certain type of data that he or she needs to know about his or her audience. What does A.U.D.I.E.N.C.E. Stand for?

  • A nalysis
  • U nderstanding
  • D emographics
  • I nterest
  • E nvironment
  • N eeds
  • C ustomized
  • E xpectations

We will now look at each of these items in greater detail.

A is for Analysis.

We should begin our audience analysis by determining who will be in the audience we will be presenting to and the number of people that will be in our audience. The size of the audience is especially important at this point because it will determine whether we will need to use a microphone or not.

U is for understanding.

How much the audience already knows about the subject you will be presenting on will determine how much background information you will have to present before getting into the real meat of your presentation. For example, if you are presenting on the flight characteristics of a new single-engine trainer to an audience consisting of flight instructors and other aviation executives, you will know that you will not have to define terms like “Roll”, “Yaw”, and “Pitch”. Audience understanding will determine the vocabulary you can use for your presentation.

D is for Demographics.

Demographics is data on the age range of the people in your audience, their educational background, their social-economic status, and their sex. For example, if you are presenting on the benefits of Final Expenses Insurance Plans to high school seniors, you will know that they will not feels the need for this kind of insurance that a group of senior citizens would. Audience demographics determines the approach you take in making a presentation.

I is for Interest.

Why did they come to hear your presentation? Did they come because they have a sincere interest in the topic you are presenting, such as the senior citizens in my last example, or, perhaps, like our high school seniors, they came because it was required of them? To put that same question a different way, will the people in your audience have a real and pressing need for the information you will be providing them? The urgency that your audience has for the material you will be presenting on will determine how hard you will have to work to hold their attention during your presentation.

E is for Environment.

In this case the environment that I’m talking about is the speakers environment. You need to acclimate yourself to the area in which you will be presenting from. Will you be speaking from a stage or raised podium or will you be on the same level as your audience? If there is no stage or podium, will everyone in the room be able to see and hear you? If you plan to go down into the audience during the Q&A, are the aisles between the seats wide enough for you to move easily?

N is for Needs.

You need to be aware of your audience’s needs as well as your needs as the speaker. If you are presenting in a large room with no raised platform to speak from many of those in the room may not be able to see you easily. In this case the need of your audience is to be able to see you. Your need as the speaker is to be seen by all those in your audience. Your need as the speaker is to get the people who requested you to speak to provide you with a platform to speak from. Your audience has a need to hear you. If you are presenting in a really large room or in a room with really bad acoustics, you have the need to be heard. You have the need for a sound system. If you move around a great deal during your presentation, you will have the need for a wireless microphone.

C is for Customization.

Depending on your assessment of your needs and your audience’s needs and the accommodations that the event coordinator can provide you, you will need to adapt to your speaking environment so that your audience can benefit the most from your presentation.

E is for Expectations.

The last letter in our acronym stands for Expectations, your audience’s expectations, not yours. You need to know what your audience came to hear, what they came to learn from you. You need to know what their needs are and then you must meet those needs. If you fail your audience in this respect, two things will happen and neither of them will be good for you and your career as a speaker. First, they will never pay good money to hear you speak again. Second, the event coordinator will never hire you to speak at one of his other events ever again.

Unlike with writers who can study six to twelve months of back issues when doing his or her audience analysis, you cannot study your audience in advance, that’s the bad news. The good news is that you can get the answers to all of these questions by visiting the venue where you will be speaking and by talking with the event coordinator. The event coordinator is paying you good money to speak, so it is in his or her interest to provide you with everything you need to make your presentation a success. That’s the rule. Of course there is an exception to every rule. You may run into a lackadaisical event coordinator from time to time who is anything but helpful. As a rule, you chances of encountering one of those is slim unless you are speaking for free at an event that was free to attend.

Murphy’s Law and the Public Speaker

Murphy’s lawis an adage or epigram that is typically stated as: “Anything that can go wrong, will go wrong”. No one is immune to Murphy’s Law, but some people,like public speakers, place themselves in situations that provide old Mr. Murphy more opportunities to come out and play then others do.

Let me begin this post by sharing a true story with you. My first wife was great at volunteering me for things that she felt I would be good at without thinking about asking me first. Me being a licensed electrician, she volunteered my services to her church when they needed their auditorium stage rewired but didn’t have the funds to pay the labor that any professional electrician would have charged them to do it. Another time, when her favorite charity needed someone to do audio-visual work for them, she volunteered me. That led me into doing my first public speaking engagement and my first encounter with Mr. Murphy as a public speaker. Normally all I had to do was handle the AV work for their educational speaker who traveled around giving educational talks at fund raisers. Unfortunately, people get sick unexpectedly, and she did a few days before an important presentation in January of 1961. The chapter director called in the middle of dinner that Wednesday night and asked me if I could do the whole program that Friday night. She promised me that the church where I would be speaking would have someone to handle all the AV work for me and I would have to do is give the presentation. I suppose I could have said no. I could have told her that I hadn’t signed on for that, but I liked her and felt sorry for her. Besides that, it was a fund raiser to raise funds for a local man suffering from MS, so I said “yes.” My first mistake was not to check where I was to speak ahead of time. When I walked into that church the night of the presentation, I couldn’t believe how tiny the stage I would be speaking from really was. In my mind, I could see hundreds of signs welcoming Murphy to come out and play. There wasn’t enough wall receptacles for all the AV equipment that I would be using, so they had more extension cords strung all over the stage then Carter had Little Liver Pills. One of those extension cords was strung a few feet behind the lectern from which I would be speaking. Well, you’ve guessed it. A few minutes into my presentation, I stepped too far backwards during a gesture, tripped over that extension cord, and found myself lying flat on my back. That wouldn’t have been so bad if it hadn’t been for the domino effect. It seemed like that one extension cord was attached to everything on and around that stage. My falling down brought everything down with me—slide projector, movie projector, overhead projector, tape recorders, and microphones. Of course everything was damaged in their falling and I had to go without any of the electronic visual aids that the regular speaker always depended on.

That night could have been a total disaster for me if I had been one of the 70 percent of the population that suffered from glossophobia to one degree or another. Fortunately I had overcome my fear of public speaking in the military some years earlier. Fortunately, most public speakers never encounter anything quite that extreme. Still, every public speaker needs to be prepared to handle whatever old Murphy throws at them. Three of the most common ways Murphy enters the speaker’s presentation are in the forms of hecklers, audience anger, and the never-ending question.

Perhaps the only place a speaker will not have to worry about encounter one or all three of these problems is when speaking in a Toastmasters Club setting. At least not in a blatantly, overt manner. When speaking outside of the club environment every speaker needs to know how to handle hecklers, an angry audience, and never-ending questions because any of these things can derail a speech and destroy a speaker in the eyes of his or her audience if the speaker handle these situation in an inadequate or inappropriate manner.

Let’s take a closer look at those three problems and how you can handle them.

The Heckler

The “Heckler” strikes fear into the hearts of even the most experienced and stalwart of speakers. Hecklers can be depended upon to show up at any presentation where any speech on an unpopular or controversial subject will be presented. Political speeches; religious speeches; speeches on social issues, like abortion, gun control, and pornography, will all attract the hecklers in drove. Hecklers, if not handled properly can destroy a speech and the speakers credibility with his or her audience. So what should you do when a heckler makes his or her presence known? How should you, the speaker, react to the heckler?

There are many ways that you can react in a heckling situation, but the one way that you do not ever want to react is by confronting the heckler directly. A direct confrontation between you and the heckler is always counterproductive. A frontal attack is counterproductive because you will appear as being angry and hostile to your audience and that will alienate them. Your objective when giving any presentation is to get your audience on your side, not to alienate them. Even if the members in your audience do not agree with what the heckler is saying about you or your subject, they will still support the heckler’s right to freedom of speech and if you try to deny him or her that right, you will alienate your audience.

Just as a frontal attack on the heckler is counterproductive, so is ignoring the heckler. You cannot ignore them because they will derail your presentation as assuredly as a malfunctioning switch will derail a speeding freight train. OK, so if a frontal attack on the heckler is not an option and ignoring the heckler is not an option, just how do you handle a heckling situation?

Personally, my preferred method is to “cut them off at the pass.” I love that expression. Picked it from watching hours and hours of westerns on TV as a kid. The posse in those old westerns were always shouting, “Let’s cut them off at the pass,” as they chased the rustlers or bank robbers. By today’s TV fare of cops and robbers, they were in hot pursuit of their felons and wanted to cut off their route of escape. Like the members of those posse of yesteryear, or Cordell Walker of today’s “Walker, Texas Ranger”, one of my favorite shows, I never miss the reruns, I like to be proactive. I like to cut the hecklers off at the pass. I like to cut them off before they have a chance to get started. So what do I do to cut them off at the pass? The way that I prevent them from becoming a problem in the first place is to let everyone in my audience know how they can contact me and use that as a way to direct unwanted inputs away from my speech. Of course that doesn’t work 100 percent of the time. Some hecklers need an audience to play off of and when I have one of them in my audience, I deal with them by first acknowledging them and their position and then then move on and tell them that I’ll be available after the presentation to talk about their issue(s).

The angry audience.

Toastmasters Clubs have a mentoring program in which an experienced speaker is matched up with a new member to help them with their first five or six speeches. In my club, I am one of those mentors. Like every mentor, one of the very first things that I impress upon those that I’m mentoring is that their audience really wants them to succeed as a speaker. We don’t, and maybe we should, go on to say that we are talking about their fellow Toastmasters as the audience they are presenting to. In real life, when speaking outside the Toastmasters Club environment, that is not always the case. In many cases, for many different reasons, a speaker’s audience may be out for his or her blood. An audience could be angry at the speaker for many different reasons. We will just explore a few of the main ones in this post.

First, you may have unknowingly stepped into a hostile environment. If you are making a business presentation before the employees of a large company, those employees may be stressed out and angry over recent layoffs due to company downsizing. They may even be in fear of being in the next round of layoffs. Second, even worse, depending on the nature of your presentation, they may even blame you for the events taking place in their little world. The bottom line is that the reasons behind the audiences anger doesn’t really matter because anger is anger, and that anger is being directed at you.

Once again, the best way to handle an angry audience is to cut them off at the pass. A speaker cannot afford allow him or herself be surprised by an audience. Cutting them off at the pass in this situations means having a discussion with the person who asked you to present in advance to explore how the audience feels about the subject you will be speaking on. That’s being proactive. I take these proactive measures one step further by arriving early for my presentation which gives me a chance to mingle with audience before my speech and that always gives me a good reading on their mood.

When facing a hostile audience, you need to be able to revise your speech right then and there. You need to cut out everything except the most important parts of your presentation. You need to move into the Q&A portion of your speech in an expeditious manner because that’s what your audience really wants to do, to ask questions and get answers to those questions. I have found over the years that the more time I could spend in Q&A with an angry audience, the better they felt towards me and towards my presentation when it was all over.

Dealing With The Never-Ending Question

There always appears to be at least one member of the audience who wants to ask a question, but really isn’t sure of how to word their question. What happens is that when they stand up to ask their question, they ramble on and on, so you are never quite sure what their real question is. Many speakers think that this person really wasn’t listening to them and dismiss them out of hand, thus alienating them. The problem with these people is not in their listening skills, but in the fact that they didn’t take the time to clearly formulate their question in their minds before they stood up to ask it. My way of handling this situation is to create my own question from what the person has said, answer it, and let the person know that if they have any additional questions I’ll be available after my speech to speak with them more.

In conclusion

Like the Boy Scouts, we need to always “Be Prepared.” that’s the Boy Scouts Motto, and it needs to become our motto as well. We will never be able to anticipate what will happen when we give our next speech, but we need to be prepared to handle whatever happens. As speakers we need to know how to go with the flow in order to maximize the benefits of public speaking for our audiences.

By the Numbers

One of the things that we talk a great deal about in Toastmasters is the importance of capturing the audiences attention within the first 60 seconds of your stage time. We also spend a great deal of time talking about techniques that one can use to hold his or her audience’s attention. What we do not spend enough time talking about is things that a speaker may do that will cause him or her to lose his or her audience’s attention and presenting a great of statistical and other numerical data in its raw form is one of those things.

Numerical data is a very powerful tool and its use is essential to the success of most oral presentations. No, I am not contradicting myself. It is essential to the success of most oral presentations when presented in the right manner. It almost certainly assure the failure of a presentation when presented in the wrong manner, when numerical data is presented in a strictly numerical format.

Presenting numerical data as numbers during a strictly oral presentation is not only hard to comprehend, it is even harder to remember. That is the bad news. The good news is that there are a few simple things that a speaker can do to make numerical data easier to understand and easier to remember. I will only touch briefly on a few of them in this article.

A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words

The adage “A picture is worth a thousand words” refers to the notion that a complex idea can be conveyed with just a single still image. It also aptly characterizes one of the main goals of visualization, namely making it possible to absorb large amounts of data quickly. When presented orally, a series of numbers as numbers can be hard to comprehend. It is difficult to visualize them and to see how they relate to one another, yet speakers must be able to do just that. The answer to this problem is to present the information using a variety of graphs. Present your numerical data using bar graphs, pie graphs, line graphs, picture graphs, and so forth. Graphs and pictures will hold your audience’s attention and help them to understand and remember the numerical data being presented to him. You may remember hearing about the “Learning Pyramid” in school. You may recall from that pyramid that people only retain 5 percent of what is presented to them in a strictly oral fashion. Retention is increased to 10 percent when the same data is presented in a written format. When that same data is presented both orally and visually, the retention rate jumps to 20 percent. The use of graphs presents the same data that the speaker is presenting orally in a visual format that is easy for the audience to understand.

Get your audience involved in your presentation

Take your presentation to the next level—move from the passive to the active or interactive. In the passive mode of presentation, you do all the talking while the audience, we hope, listens attentively. In the active mode of making a presentation, the presenter gets the audience to actively interact with him or her. One of the ways a speaker can do this when presenting numbers is to as the audience questions that require some kind of response, rhetorical questions, a statement in question form, questions that do not require a response, do not work well here. Depending on the subject of your presentation, you might ask your audiences questions like, “how much money would you like to earn” or “how much money would you like to save” or other similar questions that require a response from the listener.

Get the numbers right

We are all human and being human we are all prone to err. We may stumble over a word here or there during our presentations and our audience will understand and forgive us. We may mangle a pronunciation of a word or two. Again our audience will understand and forgive us. Your audience will not understand and forgive you if you get your numbers wrong and they catch your error. Instead of understanding and forgiving you, what they will do is to begin to question all the other numerical data you have presented to them. Get your numbers wrong and let your audience catch you, and trust me they will, you might as well shut up and set down because you will have lost your audience. For those of us who also write for major publications, those publications have fact checkers whose only job is to make sure that the facts we claim to be facts are correct before our article sees print. As speakers, we have to be our own fact checkers and need to take the time to double and even triple check all our facts, especially numerical facts. If there is even the slightest chance that you will get the numbers wrong, use notes.

Try it, I guarantee that you and your audience will love it.

Apply these ideas to your next presentation that requires the presentation of complex numerical data and see for yourself how much more successful you presentation will be.

By the Numbers