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Public Speaking Tips from a Sacrificial Lamb

The crowd was rightfully agitated. Residents were vocalizing their anger about their houses burning down. Someone was going to take it on the chin. This was where I found myself – with a microphone in my face – in front of a hostile crowd years ago while working for a local politician. I was called a sacrificial lamb by an attendee, which of course, made it into the next day’s edition of the North County Times.

No blood, no foul, and I thought it was a good story to share with my colleagues while co-leading a professional development with NST’s Derek Danziger about effective public presentations. While my sacrificial lamb story gained light-hearted chuckles, my experience helped me become a more confident speaker and played well into our discussion about public speaking strategies and tactics.

Public speaking ranks alongside death at the top of peoples’ list of worst fears. But, as Rocky Balboa explained in Rocky V fear is good, as long as it’s controlled. People can harness their fear of public speaking by being prepared and knowledgeable.

Preparing for speech is just as important as the speech itself. Understand your weaknesses and how to overcome them. Do you talk too fast? Practice your speech even slower than normal. Do you sweat while speaking? Have ice water within arm’s reach. Stray off topic when speaking off the cuff? Keep brief notes in front of you to stay on point.

Another important preparation factor is time. Understand that people’s time is valuable. No one will be mad at you for finishing early – especially if you are speaking right before lunch or cocktail hour.

Technology can be a great asset for effective public presentations. It can also backfire. Computers fail, files get lost and power outlets can be hard to come by. Be sure to have a Plan B, such as bringing a hard copy and flash drive of your presentation materials to the event even if it was emailed to the group ahead of time. It also never hurts to have an extension cord in the car for those not-so-tech savvy rooms.

The great thing about public speaking is that most likely you are more knowledgeable about the topic than the audience. Harness that confidence but knowledge alone doesn’t hold the audience’s attention.

An effective presentation demands the presenter cater to three different learning styles – audio, visual and tactile. Is the audience a group of Rainmans, Kung Fu Pandas or Eliza Doolittles? Most likely a salad bowl mix of all three are in the room.

PowerPoint is a great tool to help achieve success with the three learning styles. But, abusive PowerPoint behaviors can be presentation-killers.

Long-winded bullets crammed into slides, no visuals, intense animations and obnoxious noises can easily land a speaker on the do-not-invite-back list. Each slide has a story behind it. It’s the presenter’s job to tell the story, not repeat verbatim what the audience is already looking at.

Confidence is important and great public speakers accept that a perfect speech is impossible. Enjoy the conversation you are about to have with the audience – speak with them, not to them. Build strong relationships with audience members early by kicking off the speech with a startling statistic, an anecdote or engage them in conversation with a “show of hands” question.

These are just some of the tips and tricks we discussed last week while sharing some fun and challenging stories about public speaking and sheds light on some of the ways NST works with clients to achieve success.

Any sacrificial lamb, other interesting stories or tips to share about your experiences with public speaking? Tell us on our Facebook page.

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