If you've ever had to stand up at a meeting and give a short synopsis of some project you're overseeing, you know how easy it is for everything you've ever learned about public speaking to blur into a bowl of pudding while you stammer, stutter, and stumble over your words.
It happens to all of us. We forget to mention something important. We inadvertently rearrange the order of facts that made perfect sense an hour ago Any number of missteps can take a "wow" speech and make it clear as mud.
Tips for giving good presentations can be found all over the place – not least the excellent advice from our own Janet Howd. Or do an Internet search for "speaking tips" or "toastmaster tricks" and you'll find dozens of pages with tidbits on how to be a better speaker.
Rather then rehash that which is readily available, I want to offer a few tips that I don't see much in other places, if at all. These are tips that were passed on by capable speakers over the years, and I've found them helpful in a wide range of situations; from training sessions to committee meetings, from luncheon presentations to keynote speeches.
See if one or more of these might give you more confidence - and more impact - when talking in front of others.
1. Audience analysis
Although you'll find this tip in lots of places, there's a not-well-publicized technique that's particularly helpful when speaking at lunches or other meetings where you don't know anyone in the audience and have only a general idea of who your audience will be.
The technique is this: If at all possible, arrive early and introduce yourself to other early arrivers. Get their names. Learn what they do. Find out what they want to learn from hearing you speak. Gathering this info from several people, you'll get a quick feel for mood and the expectation level.
Chances are that people will tell you something that relates to your subject matter. When they do, ask if you can refer to that story during your presentation. Reason: You'll be providing an illustration that relates directly to "one of their own." Accordingly, the audience is much more likely to tune in and resonate with what you're saying.
2. One thought per pair of eyes
This unique tip is powerful for connecting with audiences. I see many speakers scanning their audiences while they talk. Sure, they'll be making eye contact—for a microsecond—but it's only a contact, not a connection. For presentations to have impact, contact is not enough. A connection is needed.
"One thought per pair of eyes" means looking at someone and speaking your thought directly to that person. Then look somewhere else in the room, connect with another person's eyes, and speak to that person directly - as if you were talking to him or her alone - as you complete your next thought. Then look to someplace else in the room and do it again.
In other words, don't just make eye contact. Genuinely connect with individuals one thought at a time, and your whole audience will feel the connection.
3. Look mostly at people who are giving you positive visual cues in return.
This goes hand-in-hand with tip number two, and here's why it's powerful: The majority of communication is body language. When your eyes connect with people who are "getting it," your body communicates that affirmation to the whole audience.
Subconsciously, "fence-sitters" might be doubting your message, but they're getting visual cues that you're connecting with others. The conflict often causes them to listen closer: "People that I know and trust are getting this - maybe there's something being said here I don't understand."
If nothing else, by focusing on the positive visual cues you're getting, you enhance the idea that you're connecting with your audience.
Conversely, when a speaker focuses on people who are disagreeing with them, that disconnect will be picked up by all in the room. The resulting feeling is "this speaker isn't connecting with the audience."
As an example of this, regardless of what you think of their politics, Bill Clinton is a very gifted speaker, while George Bush is, well, horrible. Clinton makes eye contact with people giving him positive vibes and he nods his head "yes" while talking.
Bush, on the other hand, tries to convince his doubters. He can be saying something very positive (such as "I love America"), but he shakes his head "no" while saying it, trying to convince his doubters that they're wrong about him. Accordingly, his entire audience feels the disconnect, and the fence sitters have more to doubt.
Okay, there are three things to practice. Put them to use and you'll be making stronger connections with your audiences.