One thing I notice about many of today’s public speakers is they don’t know how to stay focused. They start out strong with a great opening, but as the presentation goes on, their message gets lost in a maze of irrelevant information.
Learning good public speaking skills can improve this common problem and save you the frustration of looking out onto an audience that’s obviously disengaged and not listening.
When You Know How to Stay Focused, the Audience Follows
I’m sure you’ve attended at least one presentation in your life where you struggled to stay focused on the speaker. Maybe you had a lot on your mind at the time and it prevented you from concentrating on what was being said. More than likely, though, the speaker himself was distracting.
There have been plenty of times I stopped listening during a presentation simply because I couldn’t keep up with the person giving it. There was no flow to the information coming at me; one minute the presenter was talking about one thing and then he completely switched directions to talk about something else.
Staying focused on your presentation shouldn’t be work for your audience. If it is, they’ll just stop listening.
Whatever the topic, it’s critical that your core message doesn’t get lost, so lead by example. If you know how to stay focused on your message, you will keep your listeners focused on it too.
Make The Commitment
I bet you don’t even realize how often, or how far off topic, you stray when you’re giving a presentation. Here are just a few of the ways I’ve seen a speaker get thrown off-topic:
He answered a question from the audience that was unrelated to the presentation
There was a technical glitch in his PowerPoint presentation
He was unprepared to start with
When you know how to stay focused, making a mistake or experiencing a technical hiccup won’t derail your presentation. When you know how to stay focused, you are committed to getting your message out to the audience, no matter what.
That doesn’t mean you should ignore your audience’s questions or refuse to answer one if it’s not directly related to your topic. Audience engagement plays an important role in keeping your listeners focused, too.
So, what should you do if an audience member asks a question that will lead you away from the point of your presentation?
First, thank them for the question. Not only is it good manners on your part, but by asking a question, they’re showing you they’re interested (and listening) to you. If what they’re asking doesn’t fit perfectly with what you’re talking about at the moment, you can do one of several things:
Offer to circle back to their question at the end of the presentation
Offer to connect with them after the presentation to answer their question
Make a note of the question and find a way to tie the answer to a key point in your presentation
That last one is tricky. It requires you to know how to think on your feet and reconfigure your presentation, while you’re delivering it, without losing focus. It’s one of the more complex public speaking skills to master, but it’s not impossible.
What Are You Really Trying to Say?
Let’s talk about how to keep you (and your audience) focused on your core message.
Most importantly, create a solid outline for your presentation, one that is built entirely around your message. (If you don’t know what your message is, you should probably start there, first!)
What are you trying to tell your audience? Why do they need to hear it? What will happen (or should happen) when you’re finished?
Let’s say you’re a car salesman speaking to a young person buying their first new car. What’s the message you want to get across?
“Buy this car?”
“You need this car?”
“I want to help you find a vehicle that’s perfect for you?”
When you know what the message is, you can build a presentation that focuses on that message—and use public speaking skills that get your message across effectively. If you’re the car salesman whose message is “Buy this car,” the words you choose are going to be very different from the ones you’d use if your message was “I want to help you find a vehicle that’s perfect for you.”
With a clear message at the center of your presentation, it’s much easier to stay focused—for you and for your audience.
How To Stay Focused When You’re Pressed for Time
William Penn, the 18th century philosopher and entrepreneur once said: “Time is what we want most… but what we use worst.”
When your presentation time is limited, it can make it difficult to stay focused because you want to make sure you say everything that needs to be said.
Going back to our car salesman example, what do you suppose you’d say to a potential buyer if you knew you only had three or four minutes to tell them about the vehicles in the showroom?
Hopefully, you’d tell them the most important or pertinent information about the vehicles that were:
In their price range
Best suited to their needs
Models they were interested in
The same is true of any presentation. Don’t squander your time providing extraneous information that doesn’t tie into your core message. It’s distracting and it’s a waste of precious time.
A car salesman wouldn’t spend five minutes explaining to a customer how a standard combustion engine works unless that information was going to somehow benefit the customer. But he would spend five minutes pointing out the comfort or luxury features of a vehicle. Every car has an engine; not all of them have heated leather seats and a remote start. As a consumer, which would you rather hear about?
Stay focused on your message. Once you start wandering off-topic, your listener stops being interested.
Learn To Stay Focused With Public Skills Training
Knowing the importance of staying focused is not the same as knowing how to stay focused. Like all good public speaking skills, being able to keep your presentation on track takes effort and practice.
Could your public speaking skills use some work? If you have trouble identifying your core message and staying focused, we can help. Contact us today to find out about our public speaking training workshops or connect with us through our social media channels.
Practice Helps Overcome Your Fear of Public Speaking
If you had to put a number to it, how long would you say it takes to be good at something? An hour? A week? A year?
The truth is, whatever it is you’re trying to get better at, your success is tied directly to the amount of time you spend doing it. Musicians and singers rehearse for hours; actors run lines for weeks. And if you want to improve your public speaking skills, the only way to do it is to practice public speaking.
Public speaking is no different than any other skill: Practice and you’ll get better. Your delivery, your non-verbal communication skills, and your ability to connect with an audience will all improve when you spend time working on it. You may even notice yourself overcoming your fear of public speaking the more you rehearse.
A Little Practice Goes a Long Way
When it comes to public speaking, practice is an integral part of preparation, and an unprepared speaker is pretty easy to pick out. Their presentations are all over the place. Their thoughts aren’t organized, they stammer, and they’re easily distracted. Even some practice ahead of their presentation would have been better than none.
Do these people not realize how easy it is to improve their public speaking skills with just a bit of practice?
They probably do. What holds a lot of people back is how difficult they find it to practice.
Fear doesn’t only paralyze people when they get up in front of an audience; just thinking about delivering a presentation can lead to anxiety. That fear is enough to deter a person from practicing—even if they’re doing it alone in the privacy of their own home. Overcoming your fear of public speaking starts before you take the stage. It starts by practicing not being afraid.
No one likes to fail. What’s interesting is the important role failure plays in ultimately being successful. Through mistakes, you learn how to do things better. When you deliver a bad presentation, you’re provided with valuable information on how to improve your public speaking in the future.
The wonderful thing about practicing is whatever sense of “failure” you feel is private. The mistakes you make are seen and heard only by you. If you ramble, stumble, use the wrong word or say something wrong, you’re the only one who hears it. Use those fumbles to become a better public speaker.
And by the way: you’ll feel like a failure of epic proportions getting up and delivering a speech you haven’t practiced, compared to how you’ll feel giving a speech you’ve rehearsed—even if you make a mistake or two while giving it.
Practice Public Speaking Every Day
There are 1,440 minutes in a day. Use 10 or 15 of them to improve your public speaking skills. You don’t have to wait until you’re scheduled to give a presentation to do it. Like a musician who picks up his instrument daily to improve his technique, you can do the same thing to improve your public speaking skills. Here are some things to work on:
Public Speaking Improves Through Repetition
There’s no better way to learn and master a new skill than by doing it. It’s one of the reasons we put so much emphasis on interactive training in our Public Speaking Classes workshops.
Think about it: You can learn a lot about a subject by reading up on it, but reading is passive and theoretical learning. The written word delivers information that your brain must find a way to process and store, and unless you apply the information in some way, it won’t stick around your brain for long. That means you need to do something with the information in order to retain it.
Humans learn from everything they do. That’s why we incorporate a lot of practical exercises into our workshops. We provide you with the information (the theory) you need to be a great public speaker, but it’s not enough to make you a public speaker. You have to work at it. You have to practice.
Practicing also helps you overcome your fear of public speaking. Practice allows you to feel prepared and confident, which in turn diminishes feelings of anxiety. Your fear may never completely go away, but it won’t be so crippling.
We highly recommend practicing in front of a camera rather than a mirror and the reason is simple: Practicing in front of a camera allows you to see your presentation as though you were sitting in the audience. When you review the footage of your presentation, you’ll see things that you probably won’t notice watching yourself in the mirror, such as the gestures you make and how fast you’re speaking.
Hopefully, you’ll also be a little more objective in recognizing where improvements are needed. People who practice in the mirror often spend more time worrying about their appearance instead of focusing on how they look and sound to their audience.
Does Practice Make Perfect?
Vince Lombardi once said: “Practice doesn’t make perfect; perfect practice makes perfect.”
If you want to improve your public speaking skills, practice will make you better, but only if you’re practicing good public speaking skills. Pay attention to the qualities of presenters you admire. How do they speak? How do they move? Chances are good they spent a lot of time practicing those skills so audiences would enjoy listening to them speak.
You can do it, too, even if you’re someone who fears public speaking. With practice, you’ll not only get better at delivering strong, engaging presentations, but you’ll overcome your fear of public speaking as well.
Start preparing for your next presentation today by remembering they keys points:
Practice a little every day. Small changes can lead to big improvements
Practice the hard parts first. There’s no rule that says you have to rehearse a presentation in the order you’ll give it. Practice the most difficult parts first and the rest will seem easy.
Practice only what you need to. Facts and figures you know by heart don’t need rehearsing. Use your energy rehearsing the pieces that matter the most
Practice your opening and close. These are the two most important parts of any presentation. A strong opening draws your audience in; your closing is what they’ll remember the most.
Practice being confident. Even if you don’t feel confident at first, practice as if you are. A confident attitude is very compelling to an audience.
What other public speaking tips would you offer to people who want to improve how they practice? Leave them in the comments below or connect with us on Facebook or Twitter.
During our Public Speaking Training workshops, it’s standard practice for us to set up a camera and videotape every presentation given by our attendees. We do this for a couple of reasons: First, our feedback is more meaningful when workshop participants can see what we see. When we have video footage that we can review together, it’s much easier to point out specific parts of the presentation and provide praise or offer advice. This practice alone has been instrumental in transforming timid and self-conscious people into confident and effective public speakers.
Another benefit of videotaping workshop presentations is that it gets people used to speaking in front of a camera. Our training does not require workshop participants to speak directly to the camera, but if that’s a skill they want to improve, we’ll provide training specifically for it. Because speaking in front of a camera is a lot different than speaking in front of a group of people—and you’ll probably end up doing it a lot more than you expect.
Your Fear of Public Speaking On Camera Can Be Overcome
CNN may never call you for a live television interview, but there are going to be many other times you’ll be expected on to speak on camera, like when you’re invited to attend a meeting via Skype or FaceTime. Video is fast becoming the Number 1 way that people send and receive information and it allows people to connect “in person” from anywhere in the world. If you were called on to deliver a presentation through Google Hangouts today, how do you think you’d fare?
If you have a fear of speaking on camera, you can take comfort in the fact a lot of people feel the same way. There’s something unnerving about staring at that tiny computer cyclops. But whether you’re standing in the same room as your audience or speaking to them via a video connection, it’s all public speaking. And you want to do it well.
Tips For Speaking On Camera
A friend of mine, who for years belonged to a small community theatre group, compared the way theater actors must move and behave compared to movie actors. In any theater performance, the audience must watch from afar and therefore the actors’ facial expressions and gestures must be exaggerated in order for everyone to see them. A small gesture, such a wink, is difficult to see, so the actor must turn to the audience and make that wink very obvious. But in the movies, even the slightest facial expression can be picked up by a camera that’s pointed directly at an actor’s face.
It’s a similar situation when you’re speaking on camera as opposed to standing in front of an audience. You have to remember that most of what people will see is your face, and they’ll see even the slightest facial expression. With that in mind, these tips will help improve your video presence:
Smile with your eyes. A fake smile stops at your mouth; a genuine smile shows on your whole face.
Speak naturally. Use language appropriate for your audience. Talking to the camera may feel like you’re talking to yourself, but you’re not.
Practice looking into the camera as you speak. It’s the equivalent to having good eye contact — and it’s important!
Sit up straight. Slouching in front of the camera relays disinterest and laziness. Sit up straight so you look and sound your best.
Break Out The Camera and Practice
The great thing about using a camera to practice your public speaking technique is that no one has to see the footage but you. So grab your phone, tablet, or any other recording device and get comfortable talking to the camera. It’s a skill that will serve you well.
Need help perfecting your public speaking form? We’re here to help. Contact us today to find out how our training programs will make you a more confident and effective public speaker.