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

Share

Executive Presence: What Is It and How Can I Build It?

Developing and Displaying Your Executive Presence

Ever been in a meeting when an executive with real leadership skill walks into the room? Everything subtly changes. Voices quiet, smiles widen, backs straighten, and anticipation is heightened. That effect is less about title and more about the qualities others perceive in this executive. In the business world, those qualities loosely fit under an umbrella called “executive presence,” and while we may have trouble defining it, we all know it when we see it.

Many assume you’re either a natural-born leader, able to elicit that kind of a response in others, or you’re not. Those with strong executive presence however know this “soft skill” is no accident of personality. Those with executive presence understand the need to develop and display their leadership qualities so that they are obvious to ALL. For executive presence to have that kind of effect, it has to be obvious to even those who don’t work with you day-to-day. So what are the qualities we’re talking about when we speak of “executive presence” and how can we all hone and display these in the workplace, regardless of title?  Keep the following tips in mind when building your executive presence in the workplace.

Confidence
We all know leaders are supposed to be people with confidence, but it’s how they display that confidence that matters most. After all, many executives are supremely confident in their own opinions while getting it absolutely wrong!  Those with real executive presence display confidence not by insisting they’re right, but by soliciting the opinions and views of others and clearly valuing those opinions, regardless of outcome. An executive who can look someone else in the eye and truthfully state, “I’d really like to hear your opinion on this,” is someone everyone can appreciate. Confidence is not about having all the answers, it’s about knowing how to get them. If you’re someone who lacks confidence, give yourself every tool you can to change that. Be the FIRST one at the meeting and give yourself time to settle in. Think about how you’ll speak up, and then prepare to do so.

Clarity
Someone who displays executive presence is someone everyone can understand.  Being clear isn’t about “dumbing it down.” It’s about lifting up your key points so that ALL can understand them and be motivated by them. Leaders are those who have the ability to make even the complex understandable and to do it in a way they know will resonate with others.  Being persuasive isn’t about citing a long list of statistics until you’ve worn your audience down, or displaying how smart you are. It’s about tailoring your communication precisely based on what you know about your audience, their needs, and the best way to motivate them toward a conclusion.  Think “I know what you care about,” instead of “Here’s what you need to do.” You can help others get there as well by offering help to a struggling colleague: “So let me understand your point. You’d like us to move ahead while we’re resolving this issue, so we won’t fall behind?”

Authenticity
There’s a reason you’re speaking to others. Whether you’re in a meeting with co-workers or briefing the boss, or interacting with clients, others are going to form ideas about you and your abilities. Regardless of the reputation you’ve built, or your accomplishments or resume, people are going to have their own opinions of you. We all have a good deal of trust in our ability to do so through interactions, no matter how brief or seemingly unimportant. If you want others to believe you’re someone with leadership ability, someone worth listening to, stay authentic. Show people who you are and what you’re capable of, rather than trying to mold yourself to what you think others want to see. Those with real executive presence are those who are authentically themselves and show it.  Think “This is how I’d like to get there” rather than, “What do I need to do to get there?”

Remember, executive presence involves a large range of leadership qualities regardless of whether you currently have a leadership title.  Clear away the barriers that prevent people from seeing you as a leader. Show them you are one.

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

Share