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.
If you could speak about any subject in the world, what would you choose?
Your most prized possession?
An incredible experience you had?
Whatever topic you’d pick, the reason you’d choose it is because you’re passionate about it. It’s something you love to talk about and I’m sure everyone listening would see that.
Passion isn’t something that can be feigned. Either you are passionate about the subject or you’re not. So are you doomed the next time you’re assigned to give a presentation on something you aren’t enthusiastic about? Not necessarily. There are ways to inject passion into your public speaking even when you are less than thrilled with the topic.
Passion = Authenticity + Credibility
John F. Kennedy once said, “The only reason to give a speech is to change the world.” When you believe wholeheartedly in what you are saying, you can’t help but be passionate. You want your audience to know that the topic you’re talking about is important not only to you, but to them, too.
A natural and wonderful by-product of your passion is authenticity, which feeds your credibility with the audience. It doesn’t hurt, either, that a passionate public speaker is more lively and charismatic, and that keeps your audience engaged.
Yes, public speaking with passion has all kinds of benefits that you can only achieve when you genuinely care about the topic. When you’re talking about something you feel strongly about, it doesn’t take a whole lot of effort to be passionate.
Inject Passion Into Your Public Speaking
Over the years, I’ve seen a lot of people mistake being loud and boisterous for being passionate. Raising your voice doesn’t display passion for what you’re saying, it just makes you…loud.
The volume of a person’s voice has no real bearing on how they feel about a subject. Even in a whisper, how you truly feel about something is evident. What matters most is that you feel strongly about what you’re saying.
Remembering this key piece of information will help you find passion in times when you’re called on to give a presentation about something you don’t feel especially enthusiastic about. Think of the most boring activity you do every day (making the bed, putting out the trash, cleaning out your spam folder). It would be a challenge to talk at any length about these things and sound the slightest bit passionate.
Or would it?
Here’s what I always recommend: If you aren’t passionate about the topic, at least tell a story about the topic that you can be passionate about. Find a loophole. Passion is all about making an emotional connection with your audience. It doesn’t matter how you get there, just as long as that’s the endpoint. So when you struggle to inject passion into your public speaking, remember that it’s not always the topic you need to be enthusiastic about. It’s the delivery. It’s the audience. It’s the outcome.
At the very least, be interested and engaged by your topic. If you aren’t, how can you expect your audience to feel any differently?
What are your thoughts on public speaking with passion? Do you agree it’s an important presentation skill? I’d be interested to hear your thoughts and advice for others. Leave a comment below or connect with us through our social media channels. We’re on Facebook, Twitter, Google+ and LinkedIn.
One of the most effective public speaking skills you can master is the pause: knowing when to use it and how long to hold it. The power of the pause is in its ability to both punctuate your message and keep your audience on the edge of their seats.
In speaking, pauses act as your verbal punctuation; they’re your silent commas, semi-colons, periods, and ellipses. You pause for effect when you want your audience to take a moment and think about what you’ve just said, or simply to break up your material. A great public speaker also knows how to use to a pause when he or she loses their train of thought and needs a moment to regroup.
Tips for Using Pauses in Public Speaking
The men and women who attend our public speaking training workshops are usually skeptical about using pauses in their presentations because they think it will make them look as though they’ve forgotten what they want to say next.
An intentional pause will never sound that way and here’s why: Forgetting what you’re going to say creates a sense of panic in inexperienced speakers, and when people panic, they avoid eye contact. A speaker who’s deliberately taking a pause will maintain eye contact with the audience during the pause. Don’t believe me? Think about the speakers you’ve heard who have forgotten what they want to say—and you knew it. Chances are the first thing they did was look away, probably down at their notes. Had they taken a breath, maintained eye contact with the audience and gave themselves a moment to get back on track, you never would have known they forgot what they were going to say.
If you are in a situation where you really have forgotten what you were going to say and you need to look at your notes to refresh your memory, use a prop—like a glass of water—to make your pause less obvious. When you look down to reach for the glass, take a quick glance at your notes, take a sip, and then keep going. No one will be the wiser.
One of the Best Public Speaking Skills
So how long should you hold a pause for it to be effective? It depends on a couple of things: When the pause is taking place, and why you’re pausing.
Pausing for less than five seconds will be dismissed by your audience as a hiccup in your presentation, so if you’re pausing for effect, hold it for a minimum of five seconds. It doesn’t sound like a long time, but it is when you’re standing in front of an audience saying nothing. In fact, we tell our clients to wait a minimum of five seconds before starting their presentations. Get up to the microphone and wait for the room to quiet down and everyone to turn their attention to you. Then wait another five seconds. It’s an effective way to grab your audience’s attention without saying a word.
Pausing is also a valuable public speaking skill when you’re trying to inject some humor into your presentation: Strategically placing a pause ahead of the punchline makes your audience anticipate what you’re about to say, which ends up making your joke or humorous anecdote more amusing.
Public Speak With Confidence
Confident speakers aren’t afraid to stand quiet for a moment, because they understand the value of a well-placed pause. Could you use some help mastering how to pause for effect? Our training programs cover it. Contact us today to find out when we’ll be in your area next.
I’m guilty of being a channel surfer. I can’t tell you how long it takes me to decide whether or not the channel I’ve landed on has something worth watching. Maybe 10 seconds? A minute? Five minutes?
Click. Next channel. Click. Click.
It probably doesn’t anyone take five minutes. Either you’re hooked within the first 15 seconds, or you’re not.
Click. Click. Click
When I finally hit a show that captivates me, I stop. Whatever it is that I see or hear, it only takes a few seconds to grab my attention and make me stay there. Before I know it, I’ve watched an entire episode. Can you relate?
Make It Worth Listening To
Lucky for you, your audience doesn’t have a remote control to change the channel if they get bored with your presentation, but that won’t stop them from tuning you out if they become disinterested.
As a presenter, your job is to captivate your audience and keep them engaged. But it has to be something you do right from the beginning. If you can grab your audience right from the start, half the work is done up front; all you need to do is hold their interest.
What captivates an audience? First let me tell you what does NOT captivate an audience: an apology (for being nervous, late, under the weather, etc.) or any other message that sets the audience up to anticipate disappointment or dread, such as telling them your presentation is going to be long.
Instead, start with a great story, a powerful quote, an anecdote, or a thought-provoking question. Recall your own experiences as an audience member and draw from that. What has worked on you in the past? What has a speaker said or done that sparked your interest and made you want to listen? One trick I’ve learned over the years is to start by mentioning a connection I share with the group, even if it’s just recalling another time I was in that building or visiting that city. It makes you relatable to your listeners.
Use Humor To Keep Them Involved
Sometimes a long presentation is unavoidable, but I’ve seen a lot of cases where speakers have made their presentations unnecessarily long. Remember that quality ALWAYS beats quantity. If you can get your message across in 5 minutes, why would you take 10? Why use 20 PowerPoint slides when you could say everything you want and use only 12? It’s a simple fact that the longer you talk, the harder it is to keep your audience’s attention. At some point, every one of us has a breaking point. You don’t want your audience to reach theirs halfway through your presentation.
A captivated audience is one that’s getting something from your presentation. Give them a laugh every once in a while by inserting a funny slide or making a good-natured joke, ask them questions, invite them to participate, or just give them information that will somehow help them. When you provide value to your audience, they are more inclined to pay attention.
Make Them Feel Good About What You’re Saying
Above all, be genuine. People are drawn to others who are authentic and speak with conviction. If your audience doesn’t believe what you’re saying, or your message doesn’t resonate with them or make them feel good, they won’t listen long. Speak to your audience as though they’re a part of the conversation. When your audience feels involved, they’ll naturally take an interest.
Need help learning how to improve your opening so you can captivate your audience right from the start? Our training programs cover it. Contact us today to find out which of our training programs is best suited to efmake you a more confident and effective public speaker.