Coaching will improve your public speaking

John Howarth, as well as being Director of Public Impact, has been speaking in public since the age of 10 (sad isn’t it). He has spoken in front of all sorts of audiences – lovingly friendly and downright hostile. He is an authority on speaking techniques and provides public speaking and presentation coaching in North East England and around the UK.

World renowned orators known for delivering high-profile platform speeches are often just as nervous before they speak in public as you or I.

If you feel like most people about speaking in public you may well find this notion terrifying. Who could be blamed for concluding that if the great public speakers are nervous how will I ever get over my fear of standing you in front of an audience?

The answer is simple. The greatest speakers and presenters did not just turn up one day with their ‘gift’ and start to rattle off their words of wisdom. They learnt a skill, practiced and became proficient gaining confidence in their ability as they went. While they were learning they looked at what they shouldn’t be doing just as much as what they should be doing.

Here are some of the things people get wrong most frequently – if you can deal with them you’ll improve your public speaking in leaps and bounds:

Have you got a hot date waiting?

When you are nervous there’s a tendency to talk quickly. The faster you talk the less the audience will hear. It’s one of the most common fails in presentation and one of the easiest skills to learn – though it can take time to develop your own style. Slowing down your speech allows you to breathe effectively and by doing so you will find that your projection improves as you give yourself time to get air in and out of your lungs. Better projection in turn enables more expressive speech – even for those unfortunately blessed with monotone voices.

Good public speaking coaching will devote plenty of time to breathing, body posture and pace.

Are you looking at me?

We’ve all heard, or tried to hear, speakers and left knowing a lot about the top of their head and little else. Looking down constantly is fatal – it says to the audience that you are not interested in them, that you are not confident about your material or both. It also makes it impossible to breathe effectively or to project your voice.

As a general rule you need to make eye contact with the back row most of the time. If the back row can see your face, so will everyone else. There are more techniques that a good speaking coach will be able to convey to help ensure that the audience feels you are interested in them regardless of the type of room in which you find yourself.

What’s the story?

How often have you set in a presentation thinking ‘where exactly is this going?’ Quite often, I expect. It’s not how you want people to feel and it’s probably going to lose your audience as they drift off into thinking about something entirely different.

A confident performer is confident of their material. In a presentation structure matters. You want the audience to feel that you know where you are going. In essence you are telling a story and a story should have a beginning, middle and end. A failsafe format is ‘tell them what you are going to tell them, tell them, then tell them what you’ve told them.

Speaking coaches can help you develop these formats into a structure that will serve you through all sorts of talks.

How long has this been going on?

The presentation that over-runs its slot is a cardinal sin of public speaking. To get away with it you have to be very good indeed – and even then you have alienated the presenters who follow. We’ve all seen it, most of us have done it and it’s a really good way to lose the audience.

So know how long you are meant to talk for and stick to it. But how?

One of the main reasons why people over-run is because they speak to a PowerPoint deck with far too many slides, the second is speaking off the cuff with a lack of structure and the third is because they write out their speech-and try to cram in too much. In all cases failing to keep to time can be avoided with two simple precautions: rehearse and use a stopwatch (there’s one on that smartphone, remember!

Do you think I can’t read?

Nothing ruins a good talk like reading out the bullet points in a PowerPoint.

The slides are meant to be visual aids, memory joggers – and it’s true that people remember much more when they see it AND hear it – but think key messages, not endless bullet points.

The audience can generally all read themselves – so they don’t need you to help. Talk about the content, don’t read the content.

Is this the first time you’ve done this?

Then main reason the audience might think that is because it is often true. Failure to rehearse is the best way to deliver a bad presentation – you have no reason to be confident of the material, you haven’t tested your words, you’ve not tried out your delivery, you’ve not timed it properly.

If you rehearse effectively – and that means doing the whole thing through at least three times, preferably at least once in front of a colleague who will act as critical friend – then you have reason to believe in what you are doing and it will ALWAYS be better for the practice.

Professional presentation coaching will build up your rehearsal techniques, develop your preparation checklists and set you on the road to understand the method of public speaking. That builds your confidence and gives you the self-believe to turn the nerves to your advantage.

Living proof that professional public speaking coaching works

Ask David Beckham (the next time you bump into him in the Dog and Duck). He’s the living proof that public speaking coaching works. He might be one of the best known faces on the planet but he is nervous when speaking in public and hated doing interviews as a young player. Now he’s at ease because he took the same approach to speaking as he did to taking free kicks – training and practice. If you think your presentation lets you down and nerves seem to get the better of you then get your manager to fund some professional presentation coaching – it’s money well spent and it works.



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