Public Speaking From Notes: Some Tips and Techniques

Among the most common questions we get at the Pincus Group, are those brought about by “podium panic.” That’s what I call the moment a speaker realizes he or she won’t be able to hide behind a lectern or read from a full script. With that discovery comes a lot of questions:  What do I do with my script? How do I stand? And the ubiquitous “What do I do with my hands?”

We tell clients that they are the presentation, not their scripts and nothing brings that home like facing an audience without one.

Know that, the good news is if you are prepared, speaking from notes is going to greatly increase your effectiveness as a speaker. No one in your audience wants to be read to, no matter what the topic. They’ve come to hear what you have to say, not what you have to read. (After all, you could have saved everyone time and bother by just emailing your script if that weren’t the case.) The bad news is, you’re going to have to get over the notion that preparation stops once you get your content down on paper.

Follow some basic guidelines to help you power up your presentation without that script:

  • Always start by determining key messages. Your messages are your port in a storm. Lose your place? Return to port. Wondering if material is relevant? Look at those key messages and decide whether any of your material helps explain or convince us of their validity. If material doesn’t directly do that, leave it aside. This is how you’ll begin to reduce a lot of unnecessary material and get to the essence of why your audience has come to hear you.
  • Reduce notes to key ideas and phrases. Don’t use full sentences on your note cards and don’t fill your notecards with small script. The whole idea here is to get away from just reading to the audience. That process gets much more complicated if you’ve simply transferred an entire script onto small notecards. Instead, focus on larger points with key phrases, using more of an outline reduced to a bulleted form (and numbering your note cards prominently). The idea is to maximize eye contact with an audience and gain some feedback from them. If you see heads nodding in agreement, or faces staring back in thought, you’ll get a cue you’re on the right track.
  • Don’t memorize. You want to practice your talk until you’re comfortable with the general shape and outline, but give yourself the freedom to speak in the moment. No one knows what you meant to say. Meanwhile, by freeing yourself from exact phrasing and even exact order, you’ll have a better opportunity to really connect and give your presentation a flow that’s easier for the audience to understand.
  • Try and leave even the notecards behind. If there’s a small table or surface off to the side you can place your notes on, work toward reviewing your notes periodically rather than holding the notes in your hand. Yes, it takes practice. If you need to return to your notes to check your place, don’t stress. Simply stop talking. Review your notes, and then begin again with your audience. Once you really free yourself from the need to fill every second of time with a scripted phrase, you’ll discover how much your props (notecards) have actually been holding you back. If you need to shorten your presentation to accommodate your ability to stay on track, then do so. It’s well worth it to your audience to get a sense of your passion and knowledge about a subject, then it is to try and follow a technically detailed presentation that’s just read to them.
  • Practice, practice, practice.  Did I mention practice? Nothing will increase your proficiency and the audience’s enjoyment more than having a real sense that you’re not lecturing them but really communicating your ideas for some purpose. When you’re comfortable, it’s going to show, in natural hand movements, in a more relaxed voice, natural pace and more compelling presentation.

Remember, you are the presentation. The rest are merely aides to help you make it.

Aileen Pincus is a communications consultant and President of the Pincus Group, Executive Communications Training. She can be reached at www.thepincusgroup.com

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The Three WORST Pieces of Advice Given Presenters

And how best to ignore them

Ever hear the one about picturing your audience naked to overcome your fear of presenting to them? How about the one about practicing in front of a mirror? Anyone who has ever tried either of those well-meaning tropes knows how futile they are. Deluding ourselves that we can calm fears by laughing at our audience, or that we can convince them of anything by faking authenticity, is worse than a waste of time.  It prevents us from using our greatest power as presenters: our true selves.

Nothing is quite as powerful as watching and listening to someone who is passionate about what they know and knows how to share it with an audience they know how to connect with. So what other well-meaning advice can we ignore as we build those powerful presentation skills? Try ignoring these “how to’s” and substituting some genuine skill builders.

Worst Advice:

Memorize Your Presentation
Now this one sounds reasonable enough on the surface. After all, much of our fear about presenting is wrapped up in our fear of looking foolish in front of others. Some of that comes from our fear of drawing a blank when all eyes are on us. If we memorize our presentation, that won’t happen, right? Perhaps, but what will certainly happen is that we’ll be taken out of “the moment” as we put all of our energy and attention on recalling the least significant portion of our presentation: the literal words. Suddenly, we’re not focused on the immediate reaction we’re getting from the audience or on making sure we’re connecting with them. We’re focusing instead on making sure the words keep coming. That sets the bar too low: surviving the presentation until the end isn’t your goal. CONNECTING to your audience is.

Instead: Know Your Presentation
Focus on the essence of what you’re presenting: namely your key messages. This is what’s most important for your audience to understand. If the worst happens and all of your materials and notes disappeared, how would you summarize what you came to say?  Put those bigger ideas up front and build your presentation around them. Your audience won’t likely remember all of the supporting details, but they should remember your key points. Worry less about repeating the exact words you intended and more about making sure you’re connecting. If you see heads nodding, react. If you see puzzled looks, don’t just plow through. Stop and make sure you’re not rushing ahead of your audience just to fill space. Slow yourself down and make sure you really see your audience and gauge their reactions. Remember, no one knows what you were supposed to say, so don’t let a pause or different phrasing than you’d planned throw you.


Use a Lot of Bullets

For some reason, lots of presenters think they can take a long, dry presentation and suddenly make it come alive if they can just add enough bullets to the screen. Ever sit through one of those presentations where the bullets don’t in any way indicate an abbreviated point? Heck, they may not even indicate a point! Here’s the thing: TEXT ON A SLIDE IS NOT A VISUAL AID. There is nothing about text that makes it more understandable, or illustrative, than the spoken word, by itself.

Instead: Put the Visual Back in Visual Aid
Are there actual visuals that would help illustrate your points? Can you bring in relevant charts, graphs, photos, illustrations to help your audience “see” your points? If you must use bullets, greatly reduce them and the words you use. Your audience didn’t come to read and they didn’t come to listen to YOU read to them. (Hint: if you use punctuation in your bulleted information, you’re using too many words.)


More is Better

Ever sit through a presentation that’s a product of many hands? More detail, more slides, with the presenter intoning something like…”..and here you can see again..…“ or “this is just yet another example of…” Yes, you want to prove your key points. Data does help you do that. However, information overload may quickly confuse your audience and actually mask your key points.

Instead: Pointed is Powerful
Limit your backup points and secondary data to your “best stuff.” Ask yourself whether any given slide is necessary, why, and what might instead be moved to handout material. Remember, this is ORAL presentation. That means it’s necessary for presenters to pay attention to higher messages, with just enough information to lend strong support. Remember, you are the presentation, so stay center stage.

Aileen Pincus is a communications consultant and President of the Pincus Group, Executive Communications Training. She can be reached at www.thepincusgroup.com

Briefing How To’s : Tips and Techniques to Deliver A Briefing Worth Listening To

Briefing, noun brief·ing \ˈbrē-fiŋ\: an act or instance of giving precise instructions or essential information.

Briefing isn’t just another word for presentation. A briefing is designed to point the listener toward “precise instruction or essential information” according to Webster’s definition. In practical terms, that means the essence of your job as a briefer is to facilitate some kind of action.

That means the first thing to ask yourself before putting together your briefing is why you’ve been asked to give it. You can’t develop your key points if you don’t know how or why this information is going to be used, or exactly what piece of information you gather will be the most useful to the person you’re briefing. The essential work for any briefer is in the preparation and in knowing your audience, what he/she or they might need, and then delivering it. If you want to hit the mark with every briefing you deliver, follow these best practices:

START AT THE END
You can’t brief well if you don’t know where you’re heading. Remember, this is a talk with a specific purpose, designed to deliver essential information for a decision maker. What’s the conclusion you’re going to reach? Get that up front and build your briefing from these “messages.” Don’t keep your target audience waiting and wondering what all this adds up to. You want to state your case and then spend the bulk of your time proving it by adding the essential information that led you there.

KEEP FOCUSED ON THE WIN
Remember this isn’t about everything your target audience needs to know. It’s about the ESSENTIAL things he/she or they need to know NOW in order to make a decision. Stay focused on the WIN, What’s Important Now. That means you want to distill your information to a few key points and back those up with your best verifying information. Then let the person you’re briefing guide you to any more detail in the question and answer portion of the briefing.

STAKE A CLAIM
This is no place for a wishy-washy, “on the one hand-on the other hand” type of dissertation. Briefings, remember, have a particular purpose. Don’t wait for your target audience to ask you, “So what’s your conclusion?” or “Which of these options do you think is best?” The whole point is to state a case and prove it. If your target wants you to talk about a different option, that’s fine as well, but be ready to make your case either way. You’ll have to stick your neck out to be a useful briefer. This isn’t just a random collection of information you’re delivering. Even if the best you can do is a briefing that concludes “we need more time” or “we don’t know yet,” make sure it’s clear why this is your conclusion and stand behind it.

REMEMBER TO BELIEVE WHAT YOU’RE SAYING
Never deliver a briefing with conclusions that you don’t believe yourself. This isn’t acting. Your usefulness to a decision maker demands credibility. Make sure you can deliver that to the best of your ability, in every briefing, every time.

Aileen Pincus is President and CEO of The Pincus Group, Inc., providing tailored presentation training and media coaching to executives worldwide, with headquarters in Washington, DC.

 

Presentation Confidence: Take The Fear Out Of Executive Presentations

We tend to avoid what we fear, so before you hand off that presentation to someone else or try side-stepping the responsibility altogether, consider what you’d be passing up. Each presentation in front of your peers, your boss, an important client is a unique opportunity to showcase your value. A home run in a presentation or briefing can do more to lift your reputation and cement trust for these important relationships than all of the hard work you’ve already put in getting ready for it.

That’s because your audience can see and hear your ideas for themselves. They can connect the messages with the messenger and get the full measure of their impact. Importantly, they will give credit for those ideas to you, the presenter. In short, presentation and briefing skills are essential tools every executive needs to master.

Embrace the presentation opportunities you have by conquering those fears and letting your expertise shine. Follow these pro tips to help:

Don’t memorize

If you memorize (instead of just getting comfortable with your ideas), all you’ll be concentrating on when you deliver your presentation is remembering what you were supposed to say. That’s going to interfere with being your best, most confident self. Instead, stay in the moment and give yourself permission to express your key ideas in a way that sounds natural and comfortable for you. Don’t worry about perfection. Your audience isn’t.

Do prepare (the right way)

Get your essential ideas down to (no more than) three main points. Practice delivering these orally. Pay attention to how you naturally communicate them, what details you use to explain each and how you transition from one main point to the next. There’s simply no substitute for hearing yourself present and building some muscle memory of how you want the presentation or briefing to flow. (Recording yourself is a great tool for this.) If you write out a full script, begin practicing with a greatly reduced one with just bullet points or notes with key points and phrases. It’s far more important to stay connected to your audience than it is to remember every detail of something you’d prepared.

Build in a breather

Many presenters need help controlling their fears at the very start of their presentations. Once they get into the body of their material, the content of what they’re saying helps them find their stride and pull through. If you’re most anxious at the beginning of your presentation, try a different approach. A question to the audience momentarily allows you to subtly shift the focus to your audience and might offer you the breathing room you need to settle in. (Of course the question has to be one you’re reasonably certain will draw the right response, or a survey with no right or wrong answer that helps you set up your points). You might also use a prop, or a handout to momentarily draw people’s attention to something you’re about to speak to. You might even start with a short video or other visual after the briefest of introductions.

Go with what works for you

Many executives heave a sigh of relief when the presentation or briefing is over and they can move on to answering questions. If that’s you, don’t feel constrained by formats. Keep the presentation shorter and lengthen the q and a. You’ll still need to deliver some key messages about your conclusions, but you can save the detail for when your audience signals they want it; by asking a question. Just tell your audience what you’re doing (“I have a brief overview and then I want to get right to your questions about what this means”). Remember to present with your audience first and foremost in mind: what is the essential information THEY need?

Treat the symptoms

Fear causes a physical reaction in us, as our brains signal to our bodies that we’re in some kind of danger. Our breathing becomes more rapid, our voices might shake, our palms sweat. It’s those ‘symptoms’ that many presenters fear displaying, so have a plan for handling those reactions. Know that no one can hear what you’re thinking, and are oblivious to your fear. Tell yourself you’re going to be great, remind yourself of past successes, and visualize how good it’s going to be to hear the congratulations afterwards (even if you don’t believe it). Tell yourself: You’ve GOT this! Remember no one knows what you were supposed to say, so if you forget something, just move on without apologies. If you forget something, it’s a good time to pause and ask, “any questions so far”? Don’t try to banish your nerves, channel them. It’s the same energy that will help fuel your performance. Expend a bit of it if you can just before your presentation (a quick walk, some deep knee bends and long, slow deep breaths).

Remember, the more presentations you do, the easier this will be. Don’t avoid speaking to your own ideas and your own capabilities. Remember how scary things were the first time you tried them, that you now do with ease. You can build this ‘muscle memory’ of success, one presentation, one briefing at a time!

Aileen Pincus is President of The Pincus Group Inc., an executive coaching firm offering training in presentation, speech, media and crisis communications. Free consultations at http://www.thepincusgroup.com 301 938-6990

Article Source: http://EzineArticles.com/9634281

Powerful Presentations Depend on Feedback

How do you know your Presentations are Powerful? Get REAL feedback

Presentations are powerful things. When they’re done well, they can persuade an audience, enhance the presenter’s credibility and motivate action. So how do you know when you’re hitting the mark with your audiences?

For most presenters, the answer is to simply ask a colleague or audience member afterwards. The problem is, a simple “How’d I do?” isn’t likely to be answered with an illuminating response. Many people are uncomfortable at giving anything but the most positive or at least neutral feedback (“I thought it was fine.”) Of course, getting helpful and precise feedback is one of the reasons executives hire presentation coaches. You can get good feedback though after your performances if you learn to ask the right questions.

Next time you present:

MAKE FEEDBACK EASY: You can construct a simple feedback survey on index cards to hand out after your presentation if it’s an outside audience. This removes the uncomfortable hurdle for some people of having to tell you in person, should they have anything but positive reactions. Always include at least one open-ended question about what could have been improved. For internal audiences, you might select a few people to ask the same questions via email.

ASK SPECIFIC QUESTIONS: If you know someone who’ll be attending your presentation, ask them ahead of time if they’ll listen for specific things you’re working on. For instance, if you’re working on reducing the “uhms and ahs” or other verbal fillers when you present, tell a colleague to listen for those as you present. If you make it clear that you’re welcoming that feedback precisely, you’re more likely to get accurate feedback on how you did.

PICK YOUR PRIORITIES: Don’t ask for more feedback than you can handle at one time. Select one or two priorities at a time, such as slowing your hurried pace, or making more eye contact with the audience. You’re much more likely to make real improvements by narrowing your focus.

TAKE IT IN STRIDE: The purpose of feedback is to better your performance as a presenter. Consider the feedback you get but don’t use it as a substitute for your own best judgement. If you have good reason for doing what you do, and it’s working for you, take that into consideration as well. Remember, presenting isn’t “acting”, so if any suggested changes make you uncomfortable, stay true to yourself.

Every time you present, you want your audience to see you at your best. Put the effort into improving this key executive communication skill so others can truly appreciate what you have to offer.