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

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

Share

Powering Up Your Infographics

Visuals can play a crucial part in your presentation. Graphics add power to power point and value to your handouts. Graphics can help you reach and move an audience, by giving your data more impact and clearer meaning. As with any tool, however, it’s important to know the basics so you can use it most effectively. Nayomi Chibana, a journalist and writer for Visme’s Visual Learning Center, has written a handy basic guide in using graphics to their fullest advantage. Ms. Chibana has offered to share her How To with TPG readers.

Enjoy this free e-guide to powering up your INFOGRAPHICS!

Share

Presentations and Emotional Intelligence: Powering up your presentation

Any good presenter knows the importance of keeping the audience the focal point of the presentation. To be successful, a presenter has to understand not only his or her own subject, but what the audience already knows about it, what they are hoping to learn, and even possible misconceptions  that might stand in the way of their understanding or reaching common ground. It isn’t enough to just keep the audience in mind as you gather your materials and decide on content. To really move and motivate an audience with a presentation, you’ll need to be aware of how the audience is responding to you in the moment.

Emotional intelligence is sometimes defined as the capacity to be aware of, control, and express one’s self empathetically and appropriately; and to be able to use emotional information to guide behavior. How then is emotional intelligence used to strengthen presentation skills?

Next time you get ready to present, think about how you and your audience are responding to each other and how you can make use of that information to enhance your performance and your results. Some guides to consider:

BUILD IN TIME TO READ YOUR AUDIENCE: This sounds easier than it is. Many presenters think mostly (if not exclusively) about their own performance during a presentation. They understandably want that presentation to go smoothly and without mishap, so are focused on remembering details of what they planned to say, as well as how to get from point to point without missing anything. Master presenters, however, know the test of a great presenter isn’t whether the delivery proceeded without hesitation or that everything you thought you might include was delivered. The emotionally intelligent presenter is aware of the audience’s reaction. Make it a point in every presentation to gauge audience reaction as often as you can. You can do this either by literally stopping occasionally and asking for feedback (“Does this make sense”?  “Everyone agree?” ) or you can simply build in pauses that allow you to gauge reaction yourself.

YOUR AUDIENCE IS COMMUNICATING WITH YOU IF YOU LISTEN:  Audience feedback is often subtle, which is why for many presenters, it’s easy to overlook. Many audiences won’t interrupt your presentation or offer you the kind of verbal feedback that lets you know how you’re being received. The emotionally intelligent presenter checks for non-verbal signs. Are they maintaining eye contact? Are expressions neutral? Interested? Is body language open? Or are they shifting constantly in their seats, avoiding eye contact and giving you other signs of disinterest or disagreement?

TALK BACK: The point of being aware of audience reaction is to react to it. If you sense you might be losing your audience, don’t ignore the signs. Stop and react. If you sense boredom or disinterest, don’t stick to your script. You might quicken your pace or even skip ahead to a different section of your presentation. (“Why don’t we move ahead to some action items.”)  If you sense disagreement, you might react in turn by testing the resistance. “I can see there’s some skepticism. Anyone want to offer some reaction?” That will give you a clue as to whether the resistance or reaction is shared by others or an isolated problem you identified and can quickly address.

TAKE IT IN STRIDE: The purpose of getting audience feedback is to increase your chances of successful communication. Don’t take any negative feedback you get personally, even if you disagree with it or think it unfair. You might even end the presentation portion early in order to devote more time to the q and a section of the presentation, to make sure you’re addressing your audience’s concerns. (I can guarantee that no one will complain about not enough slides, handouts, or data once you’ve gotten through the basics of the presentation.) Keep your additional materials on hand in case someone asks a specific question the additional data can help you explain, but let the audience guide you in when and how much to use.

Emotional Intelligence is now identified as a crucial leadership skill. Remember that displaying it, proving your ability to connect with others right in front of them, will do far more in proving your leadership ability than all the slides, charts and graphs you could possibly display.

Share